navigation lights turning off

In 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that 81% of boating-related deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not received the proper boater safety instruction.

Of course, there are several federal regulations and laws that boat operators are expected to follow. Many of them have to do with required safety equipment, to include navigation lights.

Navigation lights aren’t just for nighttime boaters. They are necessary any time visibility is reduced. If it’s foggy or even overcast, you’re going to need to use your navigation lights.

But how do you know which lights you need for your boat, and where to put them? We’re going to walk you through all the information you need to increase your boating safety by installing the proper navigation lights.


When Must Navigation Lights Be Displayed?

Just like your new car needs to have navigation lights, so does your fishing boat. Navigation lights must always be used between sunset and sunrise. It does not matter how light or dark it is during those hours. A full moon does not count as proper illumination!

The specifications for daytime usage aren’t as clear. If visibility is reduced, turn on your navigation lights. This especially applies when there is dense fog or a torrential downpour.


Important Definitions

Before we get started on the specifics, we’ll fill you in on basic definitions. That way, you won’t be wondering, “What is a port sidelight?” or “Where on the vessel is the green sidelight?”

When purchasing and installing your navigation lights, you will need to know the specific colour (typically red, green, and white) and the arc of illumination. You will also need to know where on the boat each navigation light belongs.

  • Port (left) sidelights are red and shine straight ahead to 112.5 degrees aft.
  • Starboard (right) sidelights are green and shine straight ahead to 112.5 degrees aft.
  • Stern (back) lights are bright white and shine aft and 67.5 degrees on each side.
  • Masthead lights are bright white and must be located above the sidelights. They shine straight ahead and 112.5 degrees on both the port and starboard sides, creating an arc of 225 degrees in total.
  • All-round lights are bright white and shine 360 degrees, or all around!


A General Guide to the Range of Visibility

There are specific guidelines for navigation light placement and type based on the kind of boat you’re operating. Still, there is also a general rule of thumb regarding the range of visibility. Depending on the size of your boat, you may need lights that cast a wider and longer glow.

For smaller boats that are less than 39.4 feet, the range of visibility doesn’t have to be quite as long.

  • The masthead light needs to have a range of visibility of 2 miles.
  • The all-round light needs to have a range of visibility of 2 miles.
  • The sidelights need to have a range of visibility of 1 mile.
  • The stern light needs to have a range of visibility of 2 miles.

For boats that are 39.4 feet or longer, most of the same rules apply. However, the masthead light must have a range of visibility of 3 miles, rather than 2.

Regardless of the required range of visibility, the arc of the individual lights remains the same, and you can use the “Important Definitions” section above as a guideline for boats of any size.


Requirements for Different Boats

While you may feel inclined to look only to the type of boat you’ve chosen for yourself, it is crucial that you take a moment to read through all of these specifications. Why?

Navigation lights do more than just alert other boat operators to your presence. The placement and colours of navigation lights are meant to tell you and others what kind of boat you are nearing and what direction that boat is travelling in.

That being said, we’ll run through the requirements for most standard types and sizes of boats so that you can not only prepare your own watercraft but can anticipate those that surround you at any given time.

Keep in mind that any time a multi-colour light is permitted as a substitute for two or more lights, the same colour configuration must remain intact. (That is, green on the right, red on the left, and white facing forward, backward, and/or all around.)


Powerboats and Sailboats When Powered

Generally, powerboats need to have sidelights, a masthead light, and stern lights. While sailboats may not always be considered powerboats, any time a sailboat is operating under power, it must have the same light configuration as a powerboat.

For powerboats and powered sailboats that are less than 39.4 feet, a single all-round light can be used in place of the separate masthead and stern lights.

For powerboats and powered sailboats that are less than 65.7 feet, a combination light, also known as a bi-colour light, can be used in place of the separate sidelights and should be placed at the centerline of the vessel.


Sailboats Under Sail

For sailboats, sidelights and stern light are required, although there are legal variations depending on the size of the craft.

Sailboats that are less than 65.7 feet can substitute either a tri-colour light or a bi-colour light with a stern glarelight.

For sailboats under 23 feet, it is still ideal to have one of the above configurations, but if this isn’t possible, keep an electric torch or flashlight on deck. Make sure that you light it any time another boat is nearing to prevent a collision in a timely manner.


Oar-Operated or Paddle Boats

For kayaks, rowboats, and canoes, follow the same rules that apply to sailboats. This includes the rule regarding boats that are not equipped to hold navigation lights. Keep an electric torch or flashlight on deck.


Boats at Anchor

If you are outside a designated anchorage at night and decide to anchor, an all-round light must be visible for at least 2 miles. This will allow other vessels to see that you are not in motion and should not be approached.


Find the Navigation Lights You Need

Now that you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to invest in safety!

Contact our parts department today and see if we can help you find the navigation lights you need. We will do our best to ensure that you are up to regulations and can hit the water as safely as possible.

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