Navigation lights

Navigation Lights | Hinelson Boat Electronics and Navigation
Boat lights - all about boat lighting How is the lighting system of a boat, what are the mandatory lights and types of lights The navigation lights of a boat are also called navigation lights. They are boat lights that are used to signal your presence during night navigation, from sunset until dawn or in conditions where visibility is poor. Thanks to the navigation lights it is...

Boat lights - all about boat lighting

How is the lighting system of a boat, what are the mandatory lights and types of lights

The navigation lights of a boat are also called navigation lights. They are boat lights that are used to signal your presence during night navigation, from sunset until dawn or in conditions where visibility is poor.

Thanks to the navigation lights it is possible to signal what kind of manoeuvre is intended to be carried out and also the direction that is being followed at sea, in order to avoid collisions and other situations that can represent a danger for oneself and for others, while the COLREG (International Regulation to prevent collisions at sea) establishes the disposition and the characteristics of the compulsory boat lights.

Types of boat lights

The lighting system of a boat generally consists of:

- A light called " masthead" which must be white in colour and facing forward and have 225 degree visibility, positioned centrally on the longitudinal axis and must be shown by any moving vessel.

- Left side (navigation) lightwhich shall be red in colour, having a visibility of 112 degrees and 30', positioned from the bow towards the port side and which shall be shown by every kind of buoyant ship.

- Right side light (navigation light), green, with visibility equal to 112 degrees and 30' from the bow towards the right, also shown by every kind of boat with a draft.

- Finally, the stern boat light (stern light), a white light which is directed aft and has a 135 degree sector of visibility, centrally located on the longitudinal axis and which must be shown by every vessel with a draft. As this light supplements the sectors of visibility of the way lights this light is also called a "crowning" light.

Boat lights special

The boat lights listed above are the "basic" ones, but boats often have also special navigation lights, which have certain very precise characteristics, related to specific work requirements (tugs, fishing boats, dredgers, etc.) or related to certain maneuvers or routes (ships in trouble, stranded, etc.), lights that correspond to specific day signals.

The boat lights considered special are:

- Towing lights, used by towing vessels - are yellow and have the same characteristics as the crowning lights, i.e. they are turned towards the stern, are positioned centrally on the longitudinal axis and have a visibility of 135 degrees.

- Anchor light , used by ships at anchor - this is a white light that is visible throughout the horizon at 360 degrees.

- Other types of special lights of green, red or white color that are used by ships performing certain types of work or in conditions that can be classified as special.

Luminous range of lights for boats(lanterns)

The brightness of the lights depends on the length of the vessels:

The white head light has a luminous range of about 6 miles in case the boat has a minimum length of 50 meters, 5 miles of luminous range when the boats have a length of less than 50 meters and 2 miles of luminous range if the boat is 12 meters long or less.

In the case of the side boat light, the light range is 3 miles if the boat is more than 50 meters long, 2 miles when the boat is less than 50 meters long and 1 mile if the boat is 12 meters long or less.

White stern lights, yellow towing lights and special lights, if the vessel has a length of more than 50 meters the light range is 3 miles, and if the length is less than 50 meters (even less than 12 meters) the light range is 2 miles.

How boat lights should be arranged

Arrangement of lights on mechanically propelled boats

- Mechanically propelled craft having a length of 50 meters or more, in addition to the normal navigation lights shall also be equipped with a second white masthead light abaft the first one provided and shall be placed higher, precisely 4 and a half meters.

- On the other hand, for boats longer than 20 meters, but less than 50 meters, the second masthead light is only optional.

- For boats that are 20 meters or less in length, the options are as follows:

- Side lights may be combined into a single central green-red light.

- Boats under 12 meters in length can combine the stern light with the masthead light in a single white light that takes the function of a anchor light if the boat is at anchor.

- Boats up to 7 metres in length and reaching a maximum speed of 7 knots have the option of displaying a single 360 degree white light in time to avoid a collision.

Air cushion vessels that are navigating under non-displacement conditions and submarines that are surfacing, in addition to displaying the basic navigation lights, must also display a 360° yellow flashing light.

Arrangement of lights in vessels towing or pushing another vessel

In the case of towing vessels, the number of navigation lights to be displayed shall be increased: one or two vertical lights identical to the white masthead light shall be added to the masthead light. In practice, one light must be added if the length of the tow (measured from the stern of the tug to the stern of the towed vessel) is up to a maximum of 200 metres, while if this length is exceeded, two lights must be added.

When a vessel is required to push another vessel, if the two vessels are rigidly connected they shall be considered as one unit of equal length and both shall display the corresponding lights, while if they are not tightly connected the vessel being pushed shall display only the side navigation lights towards the bow.

Arrangement of boat lights in sailing and rowing vessels

Among the mandatory boat lights that must be shown by vessels under sail-only propulsion are the side lights and stern light which may have these options:

- Possibility to add on the masthead two vertical lights (lanterns) for 360 degrees green below and red above, while sailing boats that have a length of less than 20 meters the side lights can be combined in a single green-red light, or the side lights and the stern light can be combined in a single white-green-red light placed on the masthead.

- Sailboats that are less than 7 meters in length and rowing boats that are prevented from displaying night lights for boats (regular lights) may use a flashlight or display a white light to avoid collisions.

Sailboats with motor propulsion are considered to be motorboats and must display the night boat lights provided for this type of vessel, while during the day they display a black cone with the apex pointing downwards.

Arrangement of boat lights on fishing vessels

Fishing vessels, both when at anchor and when underway, shall display the following boat lights:

- If trawling, i.e. with nets raking on the seabed the following boat lights are required : Two distinctive 360 degree lights (red at the bottom, green at the top), one masthead light higher up and distinctive stern lights if the boat is longer than 50 meters (side lights and stern light in case of stern).

- When not trawling, the navigation lights that must be displayed are: two distinctive 360 degree lights (red at the side and green at the bottom), sidelights and stern light in case of draft and a white 360 degree light placed toward nets that are positioned outboard more than 150 yards.

Arrangement of lights per boat in non-steering boats and boats that have difficulty maneuvering

A boat does not steer when there are certain impediments due to certain circumstances considered exceptional (e.g. engine failure), which limit or prevent the ability to maneuver. In this case the boat must display the following night lights per boat: two red 360 degree vertical lights, side lights and the stern light if the boat has a buoyancy.

On the other hand, a vessel has limited maneuverability when the nature of the actions it performs makes it less possible or difficult to perform the maneuvers and it is not able to leave the course free to other vessels. This category includes towing vessels, support vessels, cable-layers, dredgers, etc.

This kind of boats, when they have a limited maneuverability, in addition to the normal navigation lights must exhibit a group of three lights 360 degrees vertically red/white/red, while the small boats, except those with the diver immersed are exempt from the exhibition of these lights just described.

Disposition of boat lights in boats conditioned by their immersion

This category includes vessels which, owing to the depth of their hulls in proportion to the depth of the waters in which they are navigating, are restricted in their ability to change the course they are following.

These boats, in addition to the normal navigation lights must exhibit three red lights 360 degrees vertically while during the day must show a black cylinder.

Arrangement of mandatory boat lights in pilot ships

These are vessels that are in charge of embarking the pilots in the ports, provide assistance and guide the skippers on routes considered dangerous or in the landing phase that takes place in the ports. These vessels display two distinctive 360 degree lights: red in the lower part and white in the upper part, while the side and stern lights are shown only in case of buoyant navigation.

Arrangement of night boat lights in stranded and anchored vessels

Stranded vessels shall display the lights and signals that also show non-steering units and those provided for anchored vessels which are as follows:

- Two 360 degree white lights positioned one higher up on the bow and one lower down on the stern (vessels less than 50 meters in length may display only one of the two lights).

- When the length is more than 100 meters may keep the deck lighting lights on.

- During the day they must display a black balloon at the bow, regardless of length.


The mandatory boat lights vary according to the type of boat, i.e. by boat model, length of the boat and according to the use of the boat.

In addition to the mandatory navigation lights that are usually LED, there are many other types of boat lights that are found on board ships or that can be added to those already provided: courtesy lights for boats, LED boat lights and other types of boat lights suitable to improve the existing lighting system or to beautify your boat.

In any case it is essential to have the system of boat lights always in accordance with the rules and periodically check the correct operation, also for any doubt it is advisable to consult the rules and make sure to act correctly, while if you want to embellish/complete the existing system with other led lights for boats or other kind of lights it is good to rely on professional sellers who can also advise you on the most appropriate purchase and any mounting of the lights that you intend to buy and mount on your boat.

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