a boat coming into dock with bow and stern navigation lights on for visibility

Boat navigation lights are used to reduce the probability of a collision with another vessel at night or during times of reduced and/or limited visibility. These lights are an essential tool that improves your overall safety when using your boat. On all boats, navigation lights will have a specific color, location, visibility range, and arc of illumination that is requires by marine light laws and regulations.

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The types of boats that require navigation lights are ones under 65.6 feet. The best types of navigation lights to use for your boat are:

  • Masthead lights, which are white in color and shine from 112.5-degrees on the port side of the vessel and on the starboard side.
  • Sidelights, which are red and green; the red light is located portside, and the green light is located starboard.
  • Combination lights are combined in a single fixture at the center of the vessel.
  • Stern lights, which are white lights that shine at 135-degrees, 67.5-degrees on each side of the vessel.

 

What are Boat Navigation Lights?

Boat Navigation Lights are used to reduce the probability of a collision with another vessel at night or during times of reduced and/or limited visibility. These lights are an essential tool that improves your overall safety when using your boat.

If your navigation lights were to stop working or not turn on, there is a way to fix and troubleshoot the issue. Make sure to check your boat’s fuses and breaker switches. At times it is necessary to replace it and check to see if the light works again. Sometimes your boat may have a circuit breaker toggle for the one your light is connected to, and when it has tripped, a simple switch back into its original position will help the light illuminate again. If that does not solve the problem, make sure to contact a specialist who can assist you, so your boat complies with marine light laws and regulations.

 

Why are Boat Navigation Lights Important?

Boat on the water at night showing why navigation lights are important for visibility

Navigation lights are extremely important when it comes to increasing your safety when using your vessel at nighttime or during limited visibility. Just like when driving a car at night, the headlights and backlights help your vehicle stay visible to others on the road and prevent yours from steering off the road and colliding with another. A boat’s navigation lights are the most important aspects to the navigation of a vessel. The navigation lights’ primary function is to aid in the prevention of any major accident from occurring.

The system for navigation lights was introduced in 1838 by the United States and then by the United Kingdom in 1849. In 1889, the International Maritime Conference was founded by the United States to establish guidelines and prevent future maritime accidents. Then, in 1897, those guidelines were officially adopted internationally. As a fun fact, the United Kingdom passed the color of the lights that were required by the navigation lights: red, green, and white.

 

Bow vs. Stern: Where are Navigation Lights Located on a Boat?

As for the location navigation lights are required to be, there is a specific pattern in which the navigation lights are set up on ships and boats. These patterns are a combination of red and green boat lights, white LED boat navigation lights, and yellow all-around lights. This pattern is in conjunction with the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities Buoyage Systems.

  • On the vessel, there is a green light on the bow side (otherwise known as the right side).
  • On the vessel, there is a red light on the starboard side (otherwise known as the left side).
  • On the stern (or back) of the vessel, there is a white light.

 

Types of Boats that Require Navigation Lights

Several different types of boats shown at the dock that all require the use of navigation lights

The size of a boat is very important to determine what type of navigation lights are required to ensure the safety of the vessel when sharing waterways. Let’s break it down based on the size of the vessel.

For Vessels shorter than 39.4 feet:

  • Masthead lights require 2 miles of visibility.
  • Sidelights require 1 mile of visibility.
  • Stern Lights require 2 miles of visibility.
  • Towing Lights require 2 miles of visibility.
  • These boats require a red, green, or yellow all-around light with 2 miles of visibility.

For Vessels larger than 39.4 feet but less than 64.6 feet:

  • Masthead lights require 3 miles of visibility.
  • Sidelights require 2 miles of visibility.
  • Stern Lights require 2 miles of visibility.
  • Towing Lights require 2 miles of visibility.
  • These boats require a red, green, or yellow all-around light with 2 miles of visibility.

Additionally, for vessels that are larger than 64.6 feet require navigation lights at a much stronger level of intensity to ensure its safety while navigating during times of night and limited visibility.

 

Boat Navigation Lights Rules & Requirements

Whether you are new to boating or are experienced, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) established specific rules and regulations that apply to all vessels that travel on chartered waters, depending on its specific type and size. According to the Collision regulations, an operator of a power-driven vessel of less than 39.4 inches and more than 39.4 inches in length may display navigation lights from sunset to sunrise.

Sailboats that are operating at night are required to have the following navigation lights at all hours:

  • Red and green sidelights.
  • A white stern light. If it is less than 20 meters in length, all 3 lights may be combined at the top of the mast.

For fishing vessels, the following navigation lights are required:

  • Red and green sidelights.
  • A white stern light.
  • All-around lights in a vertical line at the top of the mast, with the upper light being red and bottom light being white.

For vessels engaged in trawling, the following navigation lights are required:

  • Two all-around lights in a vertical line at the top of the mast, with the upper light being green and the bottom light being white.
  • Green and red sidelights.
  • A white stern light.

 

Navigation Lights for Powered Recreational Boats

For powered boats, the basic requirement is to make sure side lights, a masthead light, and stern light are in use. If a sailboat is operating under engine power, there are considered power-recreational and are guided to follow the basic light requirement for powered boats.

These boats must display a green sidelight at the starboard side and a red sidelight at the port side. These lights must shine light ahead at 112.5-degrees on either side and should be visible at 2 miles.

 

Navigation Lights Needed While Your Boat is Anchored

Catamaran boat anchored at night with navigation lights turned on

During periods while your boat is anchored, an all-around visible light for at least 2nm is required when at nighttime. During the day, a black anchor ball must be displayed. Navigation lights are not required when in recreational use during the daytime, unless they are outside of a designated anchorage, anchored in a narrow channel, or located in an area where other vessels normally navigate through. As stated in the rules and regulations, “a vessel of less than 50 meters in length may exhibit an all-around white light where it can best be seen.”

Sometimes instead of a navigation light, shining a light at deck level, in the cockpit or cabin, helps alert speedboat operators who may not be paying attention to the light at the top of a mast.

 

The Best Type of Boat Lights for Navigation Purposes

When researching the best navigation lights to get for your boat, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • The Lights: make sure to choose ones that are green, red, and white in color.
  • Casings and/or Coverings: they should be waterproof, dustproof, non-corrosive, rust-free, and not easily tainted.
  • Easily Installed: Make sure that the navigation lights come with easily installations to ensure a smooth process.
  • Light Fixtures and Sizes: To choose the right navigation lights, make sure that the ones you choose are the right fit in the designated figure for your boat.

It is best to follow instructions from manufacturers to ensure that you select the correct lights for your specific vessel. By keeping these thoughts in mind, you will enjoy traveling and navigating through various waterways in your vessel with the comfort knowing you will be safe during the night and times with limited visibility.

 

LED & RGB Boat Lights from Sardine Marine

One, two, and three pod LED color-changing underwater lights sold by Sardine Marine

At Sardine Marine, we recognized that boat lights serve many purposes. Whether you are boating for pleasure, rigging, anchoring, sailing, docking, or fishing, different types of LED and RGB lights can make the experience safer and more enjoyable. You can find boat RGB LED lights and super bright 12V LED lights in various sizes for any application. We offer LED boat navigation lights, strips, or under-gunnel boat lights and floodlights for sale.

The LED and RGB boat lights sold at Sardine Marine are all made from premium 316 stainless steel for a long life, more use, and plenty of visibility. You can find a variety of boat lighting supplies to fit any boating application, including:

  • LED boat lights
  • Boat navigation lights
  • Underwater boat lights
  • Boat running lights
  • Interior boat lights
  • Boat stern lights
  • RGB boat lights
  • Waterproof boat lights
  • Low voltage recessed boat lights
  • LED bow lights
  • LED stern lights
  • 12-volt boat lights

We supply high-quality nautical boat lights for every application. We have the marine LED lights for sale that you require for any boating, sailing, anchoring, rigging, docking, navigating, underwater, and fishing needs.

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By Jim Radack

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