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It's the Law

Navigation Lights


If underway between sunset and sunrise, or during periods of reduced visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc.), vessels must be equipped with and exhibit navigation lights. The required navigation lights differ depending on the type and size of your vessel.

Power-Driven Vessels When Underway

Remember, power-driven vessels include sailboats operating under engine power.

If less than 26 ft. long, the required lights are:

  • Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least one mile away.
  • An all-round white light as shown below or both a masthead light and a sternlight as shown below. These lights must be visible from a distance of at least two miles away. The all-round white light (or the masthead light) must be higher than the sidelights.

If 26 ft. long or longer, the required lights are:

  • Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least one mile away.
  • A masthead light and a sternlight visible from a distance of at least two miles away. The masthead light must be higher than the sidelights as shown below.
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels 26 feet long or longer

Unpowered Vessels When Underway

Unpowered vessels are sailing vessels or vessels that are paddled, poled, or rowed.

If 26 ft. long or longer, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown below:

  • Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least two miles away
  • A sternlight visible from a distance of at least three miles away
Navigation lights on sailboats
Navigation lights on unpowered vessels 26 feet or longer

If less than 26 ft. long, these vessels should:

  • If practical, exhibit the lights as shown above.
  • If not practical, have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light as shown below.
Fig. 3: Sailboat and rowboat operators at night with flashlight
Navigation lights on unpowered vessels less than 26 feet long

All Vessels When Not Underway

All vessels are required to use an all-round white light between sunset and sunrise whenever they are anchored in the waters of or connected to the Great Lakes. It is advisable to display a white light always when anchored or adrift at night.

All-round white light visible in all directions on an anchored boat
All-round white light visible from a distance of at least two miles away on an anchored boat