Boating Basics Online - Basic Boating Safety Course
Chapter 4 - Required Equipment
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Navigation Lights

Specific lighting configurations are required for boats operating between sunset and sunrise or in times of restricted visibility. Do not assume that your boat came from the factory or showroom with all the proper equipment. It's your responsibility to make sure your boat shows the proper lights depending upon its size and the waters in which you are operating.

The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules, International-Inland encompasses lighting requirements for every description of watercraft. The information provided here is intended for power-driven boats and sailboats less than 20 meters (65.62 feet). The various options are illustrated.

The U.S. Inland Rules apply inside the demarcation lines at the entrances to inlets, bays, rivers, etc. The demarcation lines are shown on coastal charts as magenta dashed lines. Once outside of the demarcation lines, International Rules apply.

Figure 1
Light configuaration for power driven vessels

Motorboats
Motorboats less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) shall exhibit navigation lights as shown in Figure 1.

(Note: 2 masthead lights are optional for boats under 50 meters. Boats over 50 meters (164 feet) will display two masthead lights.)

 

Figure 2
Light configurations for sail boats
Motorboats of less than 12 meters (39 feet 4 inches) in length, may show the lights in either Figure 1 or Figure 2.

Boats of less than 7 meters (23 feet) whose maximum speed cannot exceed 7 knots may exhibit an all-around white light, and if practicable sidelights instead of the lights prescribed above, in international waters only.
Figure 3
Light configurations for sail boats under 20 meters
Sailboats and Watercraft Under Oars
Sailboats less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) may exhibit the navigation lights shown in Figures 3 or 4.
Figure 4
Light configurations for sailboats less than 20 meters
Figure 5
Sailboats may use a single combination light
Another option for sailboats is to use a single combination lantern at the top of the mast as shown in Figure 5.
Figure 6
Light configurations for sailboats less than 7 meters.

Sailboats less than 7 meters (22.96 feet) may carry an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light to be displayed in sufficient time to prevent collision (see Figure 6 - left picture).

If practicable, the lights prescribed for sailboats less than 20 meters should be displayed.

Watercraft under oars (such as a canoe) may display the lights prescribed for sailboats, but if not, must have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern (flashlight) showing a white light to be displayed in sufficient time to prevent collision (see Figure 6 - right picture).


Shapes and Lights
To alert other boats of conditions that may be hazardous, there are requirements to display lights at night and shapes during the day.
Figure 7
Light configuration for anchored boat

Anchored Boats
Motorboats and sailboats at anchor must display anchor lights. An anchor light for a watercraft less than 50 meters (164 feet) in length is an all-around white light, visible for 2 miles exhibited where it can best be seen (see Figure 7).

Watercraft at anchor shall exhibit forward where best seen, a ball shape (see Figure 8).
Figure 8
Anchored boat less than 7 meters.

Boats less than 7 meters (22.96 feet) are not required to display anchor lights or day shapes unless anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage, or where other boats normally navigate. Anchor lights are not required on boats less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) anchored in special anchorages in inland waters designated by the Secretary of Transportation.

Figure 9
Light configurations for sailboats under power.
Sailboats Under Power
Sailboats also propelled by machinery must exhibit forward where best seen a conical shape with the apex pointing down (see Figure 9).

Boats less than 12 meters (39.37 feet) are not required to exhibit the dayshape in inland waters.

Sailboats operating under machinery, or under sail and machinery, are considered power driven and must display the lights prescribed for a power-driven boat.

Figure 10
Boats restricted in their ability to maneuver.

Restricted Maneuverability
The Navigation Rules require boats restricted in their ability to maneuver to display appropriate day shapes or lights.

To meet this requirement, recreational boats engaged in diving activities may exhibit a rigid replica of the international code flag "A" not less than one meter in height or at night display the navigation lights shown in Figure 10.

boating safety course diver flagThis requirement does not affect the use of a red and white divers flag which may be required by state or local law to mark a diver's location. The "A" flag (blue and white as shown above) is a navigation signal indicating the boat's restricted maneuverability and does not pertain to the diver.

Navigation lights should be checked prior to departing the dock, and you should always carry spare bulbs. The U.S. Coast Guard doesn't care if they were working when you left, only that they are working when required.

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