Rules of the Road – Navigation Lighting; Part 3 of 16

Everyone understands that navigational lighting is required so that they are aware another boat is in the area, and that they see you as well, but WHY specific rules for specific lights? The answer is that it aids the captain with (a) identifying what type of vessel is in the area, (b) knowing what type of vessel will aid in avoiding a collision – “right of way” can now be determined, (c) it can also let the captain know what activity the boat is involved in (i.e. fishing, anchored, diving, etc.)


When are navigation lights required?

Navigation lights are required from sunset until sunrise and in weather conditions where visibility has decreased.


What lights are required on power vessels?

(for this article we are addressing vessels under 65.5 ft)


Type Color Arc Comments
Masthead White 225°

3 mile view if ≥ 39.4’

2 mile view if < 39.4’

Light should be placed along the centerline of the vessel; except if the vessel is less than 39.4 ft – it can be off center but should be placed as close to center as possible
All round light White 360° This can be used instead of a masthead if boat is less than 40 ft.
Stern White 135°

2 mile view

Side Red (port)

Green (starboard)


2 mile view if ≥ 39.4’

1 mile view if < 39.4’

Can be placed together on bow with screen between, or on each side near bow; must be seen 2pts abaft


What lights are required on sailing vessels?

*** note: sailing vessels that are using power are considered power boats and are required to use lighting listed above ***

Length Color Arc Comments
< 26 ft White 360° Aft of center


  Red (port)

Green (starboard)



26-65 ft White 225° Bow


  White 360° Stern


  Red (port)

Green (starboard)

112.5° Separate

Anchor Lights

When at anchor all vessels are required to display a WHITE anchor light. These are to be located in the centerline of the vessel. For sailboats they are at the top of the mast.


Steaming Lights

Sailing vessels will have a single WHITE light mid-way up the mast that is displayed while under sail. This light should be extinguished when at anchor.

What lights are required on canoes and kayaks < than 21 feet?

Canoes and kayaks are required to carry and white flashlight.


It is important to know that the captain of the vessel, not the manufacture, is responsible for making sure that the correct lights are in place and functioning.


The captain should check that the lights are functioning properly about once a month and should carry spare bulbs and other parts.


Posted: March 19, 2014

Category: Recreation, Water
Tags: Boating Safety, Navigation Lighting

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