A boat’s navigation light equipment is one of its most crucial components. In times of limited visibility, such as fog or rain, it is essential to display the appropriate navigation lights so that other boats can see you and take appropriate action to avoid a collision.
Because nighttime accidents pose a serious risk and account for many boating collisions in US waters, operators should follow all boating and anchorage light regulations and ensure all the lights on the boat are working.
Navigation light requirements are determined by the vessel’s length and the boat’s power source. Generally, international and inland navigation light conditions are the same.
Several factors determine what navigation lights should be displayed, including:
Powered recreational boats require the following navigation lights when operating between sunset and sunrise or during periods of restricted visibility.
As shown in Illustration 1, power-driven vessels less than 50 meters in length should display lights.
As shown in Illustration 2, a power-driven vessel with a length of less than 12 meters may display navigation lights. Whenever possible, the masthead or all-around white light must be at least one meter above the sidelights in this lighting configuration.
A vessel with a length of less than 20 meters may have sidelights shown in a combination light, as shown in the illustration below.
In the context of sailing vessels, the term “power-driven vessel” is used to refer to vessels that are propelled by machines. It is mandatory for sailing vessels measuring less than 20 meters in length to display navigation lights, as shown in one of the following three illustrations.
Sailing vessels less than 7 meters in length or vessels under oars are not required to be equipped with the previously prescribed lights but may be fitted with those of a sailboat, as shown in Illustrations 3 and 4. Alternatively, it must carry a lantern that emits white light and can be used when necessary to prevent collisions.
If the boat is at anchor but not in a designated anchorage, such as a marina, the operator should ensure that he is visible to other boats approaching. An anchored boat measuring less than 7 meters in length ONLY must comply with this rule if it is anchored near or in a narrow channel, fairway, or other waterway used by other boats. Also, white light should be installed on anchorage vessels less than 50 meters long to ensure they are easily visible.
Additionally, a boat less than 20 meters in length is not required to have an anchoring light if it is anchored in inland waters in a designated anchorage space by the US Coast Guard Secretary.
Anchored boats must display a black ball shape on the forward half of their vessel whenever they are at anchor during the day.
Boats with restricted maneuverability have different symbol requirements based on their size. These boats must display the appropriate day shape to signal their condition, including a ball/diamond/ball symbol or beacon lights.
For smaller boats, if the size of your boat prevents you from displaying the symbols or lights, you may use a replica of the international code flag “Alpha,” which stands one meter tall. If the passengers are diving at night, the boat must display lights.
Sailboats over 23 feet in length, or 7 meters, must display the following navigation lights between sunset and sunrise or during restricted visibility periods:
Sailboats of this size can also display an all-around tricolor light configuration, visible from two miles away, often referred to as an all-around light. The light configuration has three sections: red at the port, green at the starboard, and white at the stern.