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

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

If less than 65.6 feet long, 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.
  • An all-round white light 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 higher than the sidelights.
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels less than 65.6 feet long
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels less than 65.6 feet long

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 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.
  • 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.
 (sailboats) less than 65.6 feet long
Navigation lights on unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet long

If less than 23.0 feet long, these vessels should:

  • If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet in length.
  • If not practical:
    • Display an all-round white light or...
    • Have ready at hand a white light as shown in illustration 3, which must be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
  • 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.
Navigation lights on unpowered vessels less than 23.0 feet long
Navigation lights on unpowered vessels less than 23.0 feet long

All Vessels When Not Underway

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

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