What Boat Lights Are Required At Night?

Whether it’s by choice or unavoidable circumstances that you stayed out at night sailing, you’ll need to boat lights to get home safely. Maybe you wanted to catch that beautiful sunset, or you love the thrill of sailing at night; one thing is clear, you want to get home safe and sound.

Boat lights ensure that while you’re on that night cruise, you can see and be seen clearly by other sailors so that you don’t end up crushing on other boats or end up getting lost. Unlike roads and streets flooded with lights all over, waterways are unlit and can be very dark.

Waterways can witness some ever-changing hazards like tides, and while sailing, traffic of other boats might cross your path. This makes it all-important to always have your boat lights on when navigating at night.

What boat lights are required at night?

When sailing at night, you’ll need three types of lights, green, red and white. The green light should be on the starboard (right), the red light on the port side (left), while the white light is to be placed at the front, rear, and top of the boat.

All these lights should be visible on a dark and clear night. They should be seen from a distance of one mile from a smaller boat of under 39.4 feet and a distance of two miles from boats bigger than 39.4 feet.

Regardless of the size of the boat you’re sailing in, you should always have these lights fitted. It doesn’t matter if you’re planning on boating at night or not; these lights should be in perfect working condition.

This is because you could find yourself out sailing before sunset, and suddenly it gets foggy out there, or you get stranded and have to wait until dark.

With boat lights on, you and your passengers are assured that your boat will be visible to other boats. This will help you avoid any collisions with other boats and ensure you get home safely.

That’s not everything you need to know about boat lights. You might also need to know what they mean, when they are used, and what other options you have while sailing at night. The following are some details relating to boat lights that will help keep you safe on your next sail.

What do these boat lights mean when you encounter a powered vessel while sailing at night?

1. White Light Only

When you’re boating at night and encounter a powered vessel with the white light on, it means that you’re either approaching an anchored boat or one that is driving in front of you. for this case, you can overtake the boat and move to the other side of the waterway.

2. Red and White Lights (Portside Lights)

If you encounter a powered vessel that has both its white and red lights on, it means that your boat needs to give way. In this situation, you’re on the wrong way and have to give way to the other vessel.

In this scenario, you can slow down your boat and let the other boat pass. In boat terms, your boat is the give-way vessel in this situation.

3. Green and White Lights (Starboard side Lights)

In this scenario, it means that you have the right way, and the other vessel should give way to you. In boat terms, your boat is the stand-on vessel. However, it’s important to note that the other boat might not give way because of their reasons, and you should always be ready to act.

For example, the person sailing in the other boat might not see your green light, or they might not know boat lights rules well. Being on the right way is not enough reason for you to stay calm and let the other boat act.

You could end up colliding with the other boat if neither you nor them give way. For this reason, it’s important always to be alert in case the other boat delays in doing what is expected of them.

What do these boat lights mean when you encounter an unpowered vessel while sailing at night?

If you encounter an unpowered vessel such as a kayak or a canoe, you’re likely to see a green light, red light, but you won’t see all of them. Regardless of the light you see from these unpowered vessels, you have to give way.

This is because the unpowered vessel is not developed as your powered boat, which means that it’s incapable of maneuvering like yours.

Also, even if the unpowered vessel decides to give way to your boat, it might not do it before you come across them. Giving way to the unpowered vessel helps you and them to avoid an unnecessary accident.

What other boat lights do you need to sail at night?

Docking Lights

These lights are also commonly known as boat headlights. They are usually fitted at the front of the boat and aid with visibility at night. With docking lights, your boat is visible to other boats. Every boat owner is advised to have at least two of these lights.

Anchor light

This is the light that ensures your boat is visible to other boats when it’s anchored. The anchor light serves the same purpose as a parking light among cars. This light is mostly a white all-rounder lighter and is fitted at the top of the boat.

What if a color blind person is sailing the other boat?

It’s highly discouraged for a color-blind person to sail any boat. This is because they can’t differentiate the different boat lights and hence could end up causing an accident without intending to.

This scenario is highly unlikely because you can never be awarded a captain’s license if you can’t pass a color blind test.

However, if you’re color-blind and would like to sail at night, it’s better for you and for others that you take the passenger’s seat. Also, you can always bring a friend with you to guide you whenever need be.

What if the boat lights stop working mid-sailing?

Powered boats, like other machines, are subject to technical difficulties. For this reason, it’s important always to have a backup plan. If your lights become inoperable when you’re sailing at night, you might want to have a flashlight with you.

Shinning this flashlight to incoming boats will give them the idea that they need to slow down and help you or give way to you. For situations like this, you can also use flares, other lights, or parachute lights.

These are commonly known as the distress signals in waterways and can be very helpful when you need help.

However, it’s helpful to be keen not to use these signals when you’re not in danger. This is because they attract heavy fines and other forms of punishment from maritime authorities.

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What other safety precautions are necessary when sailing at night?

Use a lookout

It’s important to have a lookout with you to increase your chances of getting home safely. With one of your passengers acting as the lookout, you’re likely to spot anything in advance. Other boats aren’t the only thing you should be worried about when sailing at night.

Other hazards such as shipwrecks, icebergs, docks, unlit piers, and jetties could cause a problem to you and your passengers when you do not spot them early enough. However, with a lookout, they will inform you in advance so that you can divert to a much clearer and safer route.

High beams

When sailing at night, it’s important to have your high beams turned off. This is because when they’re on, they can end up confusing other sailors since they portray an anchored boat to many. Also, some high beams can be very bright, which makes matters worse for other sailors.

When the high beams shine their bright light on other sailors, they could end up giving them night blindness. This could result in collisions between boats or other accidents like hitting a shipwreck.

Driving speed

Generally, it’s helpful to sail at a much slower speed at night than during the day. This is because the visibility during the nights is mostly limited. When sailing at a higher speed, you could miss a boat light or another barrier and end up causing an accident.

Use a compass

A compass on board is one of the most important tools you’ll need for safe navigation. With a compass, you can tell the direction you’re coming from and the one you’re heading with ease. This will work even when it gets foggy or darker in the waterways.


Even though sailing at night can be scary for some people, it doesn’t need to be when you follow all the guidelines. Having your boat lights in good conditions and knowing how to interpret them will give you a much-needed edge in the waterways at night.

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