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Boat Navigation Light Safety

Boating at night is difficult in many ways. Not only is your field of vision limited, shore lights and water reflections are very deceptive. In fact, if you need glasses, you probably cannot operate well at night. Therefore, it is extremely important that all vessels have the appropriate boat navigation lights.

Boat lights are not just important in determining the proximity of other vessels, but they also help other boats see you as well. Just think of a car without headlights at night! The same is true with boats, and you will not be able to notice an approaching boat in the mist of dark night with black water around you.

Most recreational powerboats are required to have a set of different colored navigation lights located on certain areas of their boat. Each navigation light has to have a certain arc or angle of visibility and should be seen at a minimum distance. Listed below are the USCG (United States Coast Guard) navigation lighting requirements for different vessel length ranges:

  • Vessels of 50 meters or more in length
- 1 forward facing masthead light visible up to 6 miles
- 1 forward facing starboard sidelight visible up to 3 miles
- 1 forward facing port sidelight visible up to 3 miles
- 1 backward facing stern or towing light visible up to 3 miles

  • Vessels of 12 meters or more in length
- 1 forward facing masthead light visible up to 5 miles
- 1 forward facing starboard sidelight visible up to 2 miles
- 1 forward facing stern light visible up to 2 miles
- 1 backward facing stern or towing light visible up to 2 miles
- 1 all-round light visible up to 2 miles

  • Vessels of less than 12 meters in length
- 1 forward facing masthead light visible up to 2 miles
- 1 forward facing starboard sidelight visible up to 1 mile
- 1 forward facing port sidelight visible up to 1 mile
- 1 backward facing stern or towing light visible up to 2 miles
- 1 all-round light visible up to 2 miles

If your powerboat is underway or moving, you must have the following lights on to ensure other boats can see you:

  • 1 forward facing masthead light
  • If your boat is more than 50 meters, your must have a second masthead light
  • 2 sidelights (port and starboard)
  • 1 stern or towing light

If your powerboat is towing a smaller watercraft at night, your vessel must exhibit the same lighting but with another light above the stern or towing light.

Now that you know the proper lighting requirements for your size of watercraft, it is important to install the appropriate color and arc of light in each area on your boat. This allows others to verify the direction your watercraft is going. Depending on your specific lighting requirements, it is common for boats to exhibit the following colored light arrangement for each area:

  • Masthead Light – White with a 225° arc
  • Starboard Sidelight – Green with a 112.5° arc
  • Port Sidelight – Red with a 112.5° arc
  • Stern or Tow Lights – White with a 135° arc

Once you have installed your lights, you should test them to ensure that specific lights are showing as you circle your boat. If you face the back of your boat, you should only see the white stern or towing light. If you face the starboard side of your boat, you should only see the green starboard sidelight and white masthead light, and vice versa if you’re on the port side. If you’re on the front of your boat, you should see both sidelights and your white masthead light. We suggest referencing the graphic on this boat navigation lights guide.

Testing and ensuring your powerboat exhibits the appropriate lights around your boat ensures that other boaters will be able to tell the direction you are going. While you are required to install the appropriate navigation lights on your vessel, we also suggest installing lights around your JetDock boat lift and floating dock. This ensures you will be able to see your boat lift or floating dock in the event you have to dock your boat at night.

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