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Navigation Lights

The required navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or heavy rain. For requirements for larger vessels, see the U.S. Coast Guard's Navigation Rules.

Power-Driven Vessels When Underway

If less than 65.6 ft. 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 (or if less than 39.4 ft. long, at least one mile).
  • An all-round white light or both a masthead light and a sternlight 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 ft. higher than the sidelights.
Navigation lights on power-driven vessels

Figure 1. Navigation lights on power-driven vessels less than 65.6 feet long

Unpowered Vessels When Underway

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

If less than 65.6 ft. long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown in Figure 2. The required lights are:

  • Red and green sidelights visible from at least two miles (or if less than 39.4 ft. long, at least one mile).
  • A sternlight visible from at least two miles.
Navigation lights on sailboats

Figure 2. Navigation lights on unpowered vessels less than 65.6 feet long

If less than 23.0 ft. long, these vessels should:

  • If practical, exhibit the same lights as required for unpowered vessels less than 65.6 ft. in length.
  • If not practical, have on hand at least one lantern or flashlight shining a white light as in Figure 3.
Fig. 3: Sailboat and rowboat operators at night with flashlight

Figure 3. Navigation lights on unpowered vessels less than 23 feet long

All Vessels When Not Underway

All vessels are required to display a white light visible in all directions whenever moored or anchored away from dock between sunset and sunrise. Vessels less than 23 ft. long are exempt unless anchored in a narrow channel, fairway, or anchorage, or where other vessels navigate.

All-round white light visible in all directions on an anchored boat

All-round white light visible in all directions on an anchored boat

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.