Boat Lights At Night (The Rules For Safety)

Do We Need Boat Lights At Night?

Boat navigation lights at night are used for safety. They are designed so they can be seen easily. Boat lights vary according to boat type and size, boat use, navigation area, and geographic location. Boaters should learn boat light meanings and keep up-to-date on boat light requirements.

Boat navigation lights indicate a boat’s heading (Aspect) and what it’s doing. The boat’s red and green lights show the boat’s port and starboard sides. Let’s explain boat light type, actions, and requirements in detail.

Boat light at night
Side and stern light arc of visibility at night

Types of boat lights

Boating safety starts with proper boat navigation lights. If you are a boater, it’s important to understand the 4 types of common navigational lights on your vessel so that you can be seen by other boats in the water and avoid accidents or running aground.

Boat navigation lights
Boat navigation lights/ image: west marine

Boat navigation lights are split into four groups. There are Sidelights, Stern light, Masthead light, and All-Round light.

Sidelights show Red or Green to other vessels approaching from the side or head-on, while stern light only points out white light when you’re coming up behind someone else’s boat.

Masthead light should be mounted high on a vessel’s aft-most part of the structure that extends above deck level. The masthead light is a requirement on all power-driven vessels. It shines forward and to both sides and the color of this light is white.

The boat’s all-around white light is on the mast, stern, or somewhere else on the boat. This light can act as an anchor light when a boat is anchored.

Boat navigation light color

  • Masthead light color – White
  • Port sidelight color – Red
  • Starboard sidelight color – Green
  • Stern light color – White
  • All-Round light color – white

Boat light visibility range (Minimum)

  • Side lights; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 1 NM
  • Masthead light; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 2 NM
  • Stern light; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 2 NM
  • All-Round light; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 2 NM
  • Boat < 20m (65.7 feet) – Masthead light at least 3 NM; Other light at least 2 Nm
  • Boat > 20m (65.7 feet) – Masthead light at least 5 NM; Other light at least 2 Nm

Boat navigation lights indicate which side?

Your boat’s navigation lights will basically tell you what side of the vessel is a port and which side is starboard. The red light indicates a vessel’s port (left) side; the green indicates a vessel’s starboard (right) side. Stern light is seen only from behind or nearly behind the vessel. Masthead Light shines forward and to both sides.

What are boat lights used for?

Boat lights are typically used to guide boaters at night, but they can also be used for a number of other purposes. They can help you and other boaters determine which is the give-way vessel when encountering each other on the water during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or rain. So never forget boat lights at night — boat lights make you and others visible at night on the water. They are used only for boat safety purposes.

Boat lights and the law

To navigate safely in the water, vessels are required to show proper navigation lights. There’s no need to worry about boat lights being an inconvenience because they must be displayed from sunset to sunrise and during periods of limited visibility.

You must turn on boat lights when underway between sunset and sunrise, as well as during any period of restricted visibility such as fog, rain, or heavy snowfall. And when it is deemed necessary by any boat skipper, boat lights must be turned on during the day.

Why do boats have blue lights?

The reason boats have blue lights is to signify that they are law enforcement vessels. They may display a flashing blue light when engaged in direct law enforcement or safety activities, so as not to interfere with the visibility of their navigation lights.

What does a single white light on a boat tell you?

When you see a single white light on the horizon, it may mean that you are overtaking another vessel. In order to avoid collisions and other mishaps, give way to either side of the boat. Also, one single white light could mean that the other boat is at anchor.

What does a red flashing light mean on a boat?

A red flashing light means that it’s a WIG boat.

What size boat requires a stern light?

If your boat is 39.4 feet or longer, make sure to get a separate masthead light and stern light. However, If you’re on a power-driven boat less than 39.4 feet in length, then the masthead and stern light may be combined into a single all-round (360 degrees) white light. 

Where to put navigation lights on a boat?

  • Masthead – over the centerline of a boat (seen ahead from 225 degrees)
  • Stern – near the stern, lowest height on a boat (seen 135 degrees from behind)
  • Side – port/left side and starboard/right side (112.5 degrees sides arc)
  • All-round – over the centerline of a boat (360 degrees arc)

Safety tips when using boat lights

– Must be turned on when underway between sunset and sunrise

– Should be turned on when in poor visibility

– Must be turned on when deemed necessary

– Must be mounted in such a way that boat lights are not obscured by any other obstructions

– Used for boat safety only

– Can never be used as floodlights

– Must be mounted in such a way that the other boat operator can see them clearly

– Should be properly illuminated at all times

– Must be mounted securely

– Must never be covered by boat covers or other obstructions

– Should be turned off when a boat is at anchor (Turn on anchor light)

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