Chapter 4: The Legal Requirements of Boating
Vessel operators must make sure that their vessels are equipped
with the proper navigation lights and use the lights during these
- When away from the dock between sunset and sunrise
- During periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy
The different types of navigation lights are described in Navigation
Lights in Chapter 3. No other lights that may be mistaken
for required navigation lights may be exhibited. Note:
Blue or red flashing lights are restricted to use by law enforcement
The required navigation lights differ depending
on the type and size of your vessel. The common lighting
configurations for recreational vessels are discussed below.
For other configurations and requirements for larger vessels,
see the U.S.
Coast Guard’s Navigation Rules.
Power-Driven Vessels Less Than 65.6 Feet Long When Underway
If less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) long, these vessels
must exhibit the lights as shown in Figure 1. Remember,
power-driven vessels include sailboats operating under
engine power. The required lights are:
- Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of
at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet
(12 meters) long, at least one mile away—on a dark,
- An all-round white light (if less than 39.4 feet long) or both a masthead light
and a sternlight. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two
miles away on a dark, clear night. The all-round white light (or the masthead
light) must be at least 3.3 feet (one meter) higher than the sidelights.
Unpowered Vessels When Underway
Unpowered vessels are sailing vessels or vessels that are paddled,
poled, or rowed.
If less than 65.6 feet long, these vessels must exhibit the lights
as shown in Figure 2. The required lights are:
- Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least
two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet long, at least
one mile away—on a dark, clear night.
- A sternlight visible from a distance of at least two miles
If less than 23.0 feet (7 meters) long, these vessels
- If practical, exhibit the same lights as required
for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet in length.
- If not practical, have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white
light as shown in Figure 3, to be displayed in time to avoid a collision
All Vessels When Not Underway
All vessels are required to display a white light visible in
all directions whenever they are moored or anchored away from dock
between sunset and sunrise and/or during periods of restricted