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It's the Law

Navigation Lights


The required navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.

Power-Driven Vessels When Underway

If less than 40 feet long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown below. 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 one mile away on a dark, clear night.
  • An all-round white light or masthead light. 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 placed as nearly as practical at the vessel’s stern.
  • The masthead light must be placed on or near the vessel’s stern.
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels less than 65.6 feet long

If between 40 feet and 164 feet long, these vessels must exhibit red and green sidelights and a masthead light. 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 on a dark, clear night.
  • A masthead light visible from a distance of at least five miles away on a dark, clear night.

Unpowered Sailing Vessels When Underway

All unpowered sailing vessels must exhibit sidelights and a stern light when underway.

If less than 65 feet long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown below.

The required lights are:

  • Red and green sidelights visible from at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet long, at least one mile away.
  • A sternlight visible from at least two miles away.
  • These vessels can combine the required sidelights and stern light by carrying one lantern at or near the top of the mast where it can best be seen.
  • Additionally, these vessels may exhibit two all-around lights at or near the top of the mast in a vertical line. In this arrangement, the top light should be red and the lower light should be green. These lights cannot be shown if the combined lantern is used.
  • An alternative to the sidelights and sternlight is a combined lantern, which must be exhibited near the top of the mast.
Navigation lights on sailboats
An alternative to the sidelights and sternlight is a combination red, green, and white light, which must be exhibited near the top of the mast.

If less than 23 feet long, these vessels should:

  • If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65 feet in length.
  • If not practical, have ready at hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light as shown below.
  • Vessel operators should never leave shore without a flashlight. Even if you plan to return before dark, unforeseen developments might delay your return past nightfall.
Fig. 3: Sailboat and rowboat operators at night with flashlight
Vessel operators shall have ready at hand a flashlight or lantern. Even if you plan to return before dark, unforeseen developments might delay your return past nightfall.

Manually Propelled Vessels

All manually propelled vessels that are paddled, poled, or rowed must have ready at hand one lantern or flashlight shining a white light as shown above

Any vessel under oars may exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered sailing vessels less than 65 feet in length. If not practical, follow the requirement for all manually propelled vessels.

All Vessels When Not Underway

All vessels are required to display a white light visible whenever they are moored or anchored outside a designated mooring area between sunset and sunrise.

Exception: Manually propelled vessels must have a white-light lantern or flashlight at the ready to prevent a collision.