Just as a car or motorcycle needs lights to travel at night,
so do boats.
Vehicle lights not only increase your vision of whatís ahead,
they allow you to be seen by others ó both absolutely necessary. In a boat,
itís being seen by others that is most critical. Chances are youíve never
seen your boat at night unless you were in it, so youíve no idea how
effective yours is.
venture out again at night, turn on all your lights and walk around the
marina or slip. Youíll probably be shocked at what you see (or not see.)
If others canít see you, you and your passengers are in real
danger. Donít take for granted that the navigation lights installed by the
manufacturer are (1) bright enough and (2) installed correctly. This is not
their focus. Lights mounted incorrectly could cause you to be invisible or
cause other boats to misinterpret the direction you are traveling... both
disastrous situations. So, how should you go about checking your boat to be
absolutely sure you can be seen at night? One good way is to see if you can
read a newspaper from five feet away. If you canít, theyíll do you no good.
Minimum legal requirements for small powerboats: (1980 Inland
Rules, Effective 24 December 1981): Less than 39 feet must show sidelights
of red (port) and green (starboard) from dead ahead to 112.5 degrees aft on
each side as well as a white all-around light visible for 360o. The colored
sidelights must be visible for at least one nautical mile, while the white
light must be visible for two nautical miles. On most powerboats, a bi-color
light on the bow combines both the sidelights into a snug fitting with one
bulb and a white light mounted on a staff at the stern or on top of a radar
arch or hardtop.
Our antique and classic powerboats follow the Inland Rule
from the 1930ís. Boats 26 feet or less use a combination red and green bow
light covering 112.5 degrees (10 points) from dead ahead to both the left
(red) or right (green) side of the boat. On the stern is an all- around
white range light covering 360 degrees (32 points) mounted high enough to
clear windshields, bimini tops, etc. On boats 26 to 65 feet there is a white
bow or mast light covering 225 degrees, separated red and green side lights
and an all around white forward range mast light. The side lights should be
visible for one mile and the white lights visible for two miles.
Begin by making sure your lights are correctly mounted. Often the bi-color
light may be aimed incorrectly so the red or green lights ďleakĒ to the
wrong side. Only when headed directly toward another boat should both the
red and green lights be visible. Otherwise, youíre giving the other boat bad
information and action may be taken because of it that could jeopardize your
On runabouts, the all-around light is often mounted on a post
at the stern. Under ideal conditions, this may meet legal requirements,
however, if you put up your Bimini top and cockpit enclosure, you may be
blocking the white light from view forward.
Next, check the visibility range. Here, your concern is
likely to be the colored sidelights, since the colored lenses reduce the
apparent power of you bulbs. The white stern light usually provides
sufficient visibility, but in many cases, you donít have to walk a mile away
from your boat to know those little red and green pinpoints wonít meet the
one nautical mile requirement. Even if they did meet that requirement, think
about the crew on the bridge of a big ship peering through a spray-encrusted
pilothouse window. Can they see you and your family clearly? If you canít
answer yes to all of these points, then itís time to upgrade your navigation
lights with those that will make you almost impossible to miss.
If yours is a bi-color light mounted on the deck at the bow, you may want to
replace it with individual sidelights mounted on cabin or covering boards.
This not only provides better separation, but gives additional height for
Consider two things when upgrading sidelights: wattage and
lens. Get the most powerful bulb you can. They range from up to 25 watts for
12-volt systems with both powerful halogen and conventional filament bulbs.
Lighthouses amplify the power of their lights by using fresnel (fren-nay)
lenses that focus the beam. More sophisticated navigation light lenses also
provide this effect. Less expensive lights rely on plain plastic lenses.
Whether youíve installed new lights or are using those that
came with your boat, remember to include them as part of your regular
maintenance program. Always carry spare bulbs of the proper size and power.
Most lights are sealed against moisture, but be sure the rubber or foam
gasket is in good condition. If you see condensation inside the light, you
can be sure you have a leak. Spray the electrical connection for the bulb
with corrosion protection such as WD-40 or Corrosion Block. If there is a
metal reflector inside the light, polish it to a shine. When underway at
night, you can usually see the colored glow from each of your bow lights. If
you canít, check to make sure both are working.
Remember, navigation lights are your first line of defense
when using your boat at night. Make absolutely sure theyíre powerful, and
keep them in good condition.