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Navigation Lights

Navigation lights are used to prevent collisions at night or in times of reduced visibility, and are an essential tool in keeping you and your vessel safe. Nav lights allow you to see other nearby vessels, and allow other vessels to see you.

Nav lights also provide information about the size, activity, and direction of travel. By understanding the characteristics of Nav lights, you can determine an appropriate course of action as you approach another vessel.

You are required to display the appropriate lights at night or during times of reduced visibility.


On any vessel, navigation lights have a specific color, (white, red, green, yellow, blue), arc of illumination, range of visibility, and location, as required by law and regulations. For the purposes of this course, we will concentrate on pleasure boats under 65 feet in length. Knowledge of navigation lights is important to a small-boat skipper for separate, but important, reasons:
  • You are legally responsible for displaying lights of the proper color, intensity, location and visibility on your boat.
  • You are required to display the appropriate lights at night or during times of reduced visibility.
  • Knowing the type and heading of another boat.
Legal Requirements:

Vessels are required to show the proper navigation lights from sunset to sunrise in all weather conditions, good and bad. During these times, no other lights that could be mistaken for lights specified in the Rules of the Road can be displayed, nor any lights that impair the visibility or distinctive character of navigation lights, or interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout. The Rules also state that navigation lights must be shown in conditions of reduced visibility, and may be shown at other times considered necessary.

Lights must adhere to the standards listed in the following chart:



It's Your Responsibility

It is the responsibility of the owner/operator of a vessel that she show the proper navigation lights for her size and the waters in which she is operating. It is not the responsibility of the manufacturer, importer, or selling dealer. Many boats are delivered with lights that do not meet legal requirements with respect to technical characteristics or placement on the vessel. Remember also, that the angles of visibility must be met when the boat is underway-if your boat rides at a significant bow-up angle, take that into consideration when installing and/or checking your lights.