Navigation Light Equipment
Nighttime accidents are a significant danger and account for many of the boating collisions in U.S. waters. For this reason, operators should follow all navigation lights and anchorage lights regulations and ensure that all lights on the boat are working well before heading onto the water. On its website at www.uscgboating.org, the U.S. Coast Guard provides a summary of the most important rules regarding lighting for recreational boaters. The following is an overview of requirements for navigational and anchorage lighting on recreational watercraft.
Federal regulations require that recreational watercraft be fitted with navigation lights that meet the standards set out in the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules, if operated after sunset or before sunrise, or in periods of restricted visibility. Navigation light requirements are based on vessel length and the boat’s power source. In general, international and inland navigation light requirements are the same.
The figures below indicate the location, color and direction of required lights for recreational boats by length.
Power-driven vessels that span less than 50 meters in length should display lights as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Lighting Requirements for Vessels Measuring 50 Meters or Less
A power-driven vessel that is less than 12 meters in length may display navigation lights as shown in Figure 2. In this lighting configuration, the masthead or all-round white light must be at least 1 meter higher than the sidelights.
Vessels that measure less than 20 meters in length sidelights may display sidelights in a combination light as shown below.
Figure 2. Lighting Requirements for Vessels Measuring 12 Meters or Less
Power-driven vessels that are less than 7 meters long and do not exceed speeds of 7 knots may display an all-around light that is white in color and, if possible, sidelights.
Like power-driven vessels of the same size, sailing vessels that span less than 50 meters in length should display lights as shown in Figure 1 above. Sailing vessels under machine propulsion are considered to be power-driven vessels.
If a sailing vessel is less than 20 meters in length, it is required to display navigation lights as shown in one of the three figures below.
Figure 3. Lighting Requirements for Sailing Vessels Measuring Less Than 20 Meters in Length- Option 1
Figure 4. Lighting Requirements for Sailing Vessels Measuring Less Than 20 Meters in Length- Option 2
Figure 5. Lighting Requirements for Sailing Vessels Measuring Less Than 20 Meters in Length- Option 3
A sailing vessel of less than 7 meters in length or a vessel under oars is not required to be fitted with the previously prescribed lights, but can be fitted with the lights of a sailboat as shown in Figures 3 and 4 above. If it is not, it must carry a lighted lantern that shows a white light and can be used to prevent collisions when necessary.
Day Shapes for Sailing Vessels under Power
If propelled by an engine and under sail, a vessel should exhibit a black cone shape with the apex pointing downwards. The symbol should be shown on the front half of the vessel in the place where it can best be seen by other watercraft.
However, sailing vessels that are propelled by an engine but are less than 12 meters in length are not required to display a symbol in inland waters.
Boats that are at anchor at night are required to display anchor lights. For anchored boats that measure less than 7 meters in length, this requirement only applies if the boat is anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway, or any other waterway where other boats usually navigate. Anchored vessels that measure less than 50 meters in length should be equipped with an all-around white light that is easily visible from all directions.
If a boat is less than 20 meters in length, an anchoring light is not required if the boat is anchored in inland waters in a special anchorage space designated by U.S. Coast Guard Secretary.
Boats that are anchored during the day are required to display a black ball shape on the forward half of the vessel where it can best be seen.
Vessels Restricted in their Ability to Maneuver
Symbol requirements for boats that are restricted in their ability to maneuver vary by the size of the vessel. U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules set forth that any vessel that is restricted in maneuverability should display the appropriate day shapes to indicate their condition, which includes a ball/diamond/ball symbol or lights.
Smaller boats that are unable to display the symbols or lights because of their size should exhibit a replica of the international code flag “Alpha” that is 1 meter tall. If the passengers are diving at night, the boat is required to display lights as shown in the figure below.
For divers, state or local mandates may require that a red and white Divers’ Flag be displayed as well. This flag is used to mark the location of the diver, as the Alpha flag only signals the boat’s limited maneuverability.