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What is a Properly Lit Sailboat at Night? (A Guide to Safety Regulations)

properly lit sailboat at night

Have you ever been out on the open water and seen a sailboat with its lights on at night? It’s a beautiful sight to behold.

But did you know that there are specific safety regulations in place for properly lit sailboats? In this guide, we’ll be looking at the importance of having a properly lit sailboat, what types of lights are needed, how to install them, and how to test for proper operation.

Let’s get started and learn how to stay safe on the waters!

Table of Contents

Short Answer

A properly lit sailboat at night is a boat that is equipped with the correct navigation lights, which are required by law.

These lights must be visible for two miles and should include a green light on the starboard side, a red light on the port side, and a white light aft.

Additionally, the boat must also have a white masthead light that is visible for three miles.

The masthead light should be mounted at least two meters above the hull.

What Are the Safety Regulations for Properly Lit Sailboats?

When it comes to sailing at night, safety is of the utmost importance.

Properly lit sailboats ensure that they are visible to other boats, which reduces the risk of collisions and other accidents.

In order to ensure that a sailboat is properly lit at night , there are certain safety regulations that must be followed.

First and foremost, the sailboat must have the correct lighting equipment installed and in good working order.

This includes running lights (red and green lights found at the bow and stern of the vessel), an anchor light (a white light mounted on the masthead or the bow of the vessel), a stern light (a white light placed at the stern of the vessel), and a masthead light (a white light placed at the highest point on the vessel).

The running lights, anchor light, and stern light must be visible for at least 3 miles in clear conditions.

This allows other boats on the water to easily spot the sailboat, even in the dark.

The masthead light must be visible for at least 2 miles in clear conditions.

This ensures that the sailboat is easily seen from all directions.

In addition to having the correct lighting equipment, sailboats must also be equipped with a white all-round light.

This light must be visible for at least 2 miles in clear conditions and must be mounted on the mast at least 9 meters (or 30 feet) above the waterline.

The all-round light is an important part of a sailboats lighting system as it allows other boats to easily spot the sailboat from any direction.

These are just a few of the safety regulations that must be followed when it comes to properly lit sailboats.

Following these regulations will help to ensure that a sailboat is visible to other vessels on the water and will help to reduce the risk of accidents and collisions.

It is important that all sailors understand and adhere to these regulations in order to remain safe on the water.

Types of Lights Needed for Proper Lighting

properly lit sailboat at night

When it comes to lighting a sailboat at night, there are a few key components that must be in place in order to ensure the safety of the vessel and the crew.

The most important of these components is the correct type of lighting equipment.

This includes various running lights, anchor lights, masthead lights, and stern lights.

Running lights are the red and green lights that are mounted on the bow and stern of the vessel, and are used to show the direction of travel of the boat.

They must be visible for 3 miles in clear conditions, making it easier to spot the boat in the dark.

Anchor lights are white lights that are mounted on the masthead or the bow of the vessel, and are used to show that the boat is anchored.

They must also be visible for 3 miles in clear conditions.

The stern light is a white light placed at the stern of the vessel.

This is used to show the direction of travel of the boat and should also be visible for 3 miles in clear conditions.

Finally, the masthead light is a white light placed at the highest point on the vessel.

This light is used to help identify the boat to other vessels on the water, and must also be visible for 3 miles in clear conditions.

Having all of these lights in good working order is essential for the safety of the boat and the crew.

It is important to make sure that all lights are visible from a distance of 3 miles in clear conditions, as this will make it easier to identify the boat in the dark.

It is also important to make sure that all lights are regularly inspected and maintained in order to ensure that they are in good working order.

How to Install the Lights

Installing the lights for a properly lit sailboat at night is an essential part of staying safe while sailing.

It is important to ensure that all of the lights are in good working order and that they meet the safety regulations for visibility.

The first step is to select the right lights for your vessel.

There are two main types of lights running lights and anchor lights.

Running lights are the green and red lights found at the bow and stern of the vessel, while anchor lights are white lights mounted on the masthead or bow of the vessel.

Once the lights are selected, the next step is to install them.

Start by attaching the anchor light to the masthead or bow of the vessel.

The anchor light should be securely mounted and wired in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.

Next, attach the stern light at the stern of the vessel.

This should also be securely mounted and wired in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.

Finally, attach the running lights.

These should be mounted at the bow and stern of the vessel.

It is important to test the lights after installation to make sure they are working properly.

Make sure that the lights meet the visibility requirements of 3 miles in clear conditions, as this is the minimum distance that the lights must be visible from.

Once the lights are installed and tested, youre ready to set sail in the dark!

Importance of Properly Lit Sailboats

properly lit sailboat at night

When it comes to sailing, safety is of the utmost importance.

This is why it is essential for all sailboats to be properly lit at night.

Having the correct lighting equipment installed and in good working order is a critical component to ensure visibility and the safety of everyone on the water.

Not only does having properly lit sailboats maintain the safety of the sailors on the boat, but it also helps to prevent collisions with other vessels.

It is much easier to spot a sailboat on the water at night when it has the correct lighting equipment, such as running lights, anchor lights, stern lights and masthead lights.

All of these lights should be visible for at least 3 miles in clear conditions, making it much easier to spot a sailboat on the water.

Additionally, having properly lit sailboats at night is also important for law enforcement and marine patrol officers.

It makes it easier for them to identify and inspect boats, ensuring that all safety regulations are being followed.

This helps to keep the waterways safe for all boaters.

For these reasons, it is important for all sailboats to be properly lit at night.

By having the right lighting equipment installed and in good working order, it can help to maintain the safety of everyone on the water, as well as help to prevent collisions with other vessels.

It also makes it easier for law enforcement and marine patrol officers to identify and inspect boats, helping to keep the waterways safe for all boaters.

Different Types of Lights and Their Functions

When it comes to lighting a sailboat at night, there are several different types of lights that must be installed and in good working order in order to ensure the safety of the vessel and its occupants.

The most common types of lights used on sailboats are running lights, anchor lights, stern lights, and masthead lights.

Running lights are the green and red lights found at the bow and stern of the vessel.

These lights are typically used to signal the direction of the boats movement, and must be visible for 3 miles in clear conditions.

The green light is typically placed on the port side (left side) of the boat, and the red light is placed on the starboard side (right side).

Anchor lights are white lights mounted on the masthead or bow of the vessel.

They are used to indicate that the boat is at anchor, and must also be visible for 3 miles in clear conditions.

Stern lights are white lights placed at the stern of the vessel.

These lights indicate the boats direction of travel, and must be visible for 2 miles in clear conditions.

The masthead light is a white light placed at the highest point on the vessel.

This light is typically used in conjunction with the stern light to indicate the direction of travel, and must be visible for 2 miles in clear conditions.

In addition to these lights, boats may also be fitted with a variety of other lights such as tricolor lights, sidelights, all-round lights, and deck lights.

These lights are typically used to indicate the presence of the vessel in low-visibility conditions, and must be visible for 2 miles in clear conditions.

It is important to ensure that all lights on a sailboat are in good working order and visible from a distance in order to make the vessel visible to other boats and comply with safety regulations.

A properly lit sailboat at night is one that has the correct lighting equipment installed and in good working order.

Benefits of Properly Lit Sailboats

properly lit sailboat at night

Having a properly lit sailboat at night is essential for staying safe on the water.

With the right lighting equipment installed and in good working order, you can be easily seen by other vessels and prevent possible collisions.

Additionally, having the right lights on your sailboat can help other boaters determine your vessels size, direction, speed, and even your intentions on the water.

Having the right lights can also give you a sense of security while youre out at night.

Knowing that youre visible to other vessels reassures you that youll be able to be seen and spotted if you need assistance or if theres an emergency.

When youre out on the water at night, having a properly lit sailboat can also make navigation easier.

By having the correct lighting equipment installed, youll be able to easily spot buoys, markers, and other vessels, making it easier for you to stay on course and reach your destination in a timely manner.

Having the proper lights also helps to keep your sailboat in compliance with safety regulations.

If youre stopped by the coast guard or other law enforcement, having the right lights can help to avoid any potential fines or penalties.

Overall, having a properly lit sailboat at night is essential for staying safe on the water.

Not only does it make it easier for other vessels to spot you, but it can also help with navigation and make sure that youre in compliance with safety regulations.

Properly lit sailboats can also give you a sense of security and peace of mind, knowing that youre visible to other vessels in the area.

How to Test Lights for Proper Operation

Testing lights on a sailboat at night is an important part of ensuring that the craft is properly lit and visible to other vessels.

It is essential for safety, as well as compliance with regulations set by the United States Coast Guard.

Before each voyage, it is important to inspect all of the lights and make sure that they are in proper working order.

The first step to testing lights is to turn them on and check that they are functioning correctly.

It is important to make sure that all of the required lights are present and that they are bright enough to be seen in clear conditions for up to 3 miles away.

The running lights should be a green light at the bow and a red light at the stern, while the anchor light should be a white light mounted on the masthead or the bow of the vessel.

The stern light should be a white light placed at the stern, and the masthead light should be a white light placed at the highest point on the vessel.

Another important step in testing lights is to make sure that they are not obstructed in any way.

This includes checking for any wires, cables, or other objects that could block the lights from being visible.

This is especially important for the masthead light, as it needs to be accessible in order to be seen from a distance.

It is also important to check the wiring of the lights to make sure that they are securely connected and not corroded or damaged.

Finally, it is important to check the bulbs of the lights to make sure that they are all functioning correctly.

It is important to check the wattage of the bulbs to make sure that they are bright enough to meet the standards set by the United States Coast Guard.

It is also important to make sure that the bulbs are not cracked or damaged in any way, as this could affect their visibility.

Following the steps outlined above will help to ensure that all of the lights are in proper working order and can be seen from a distance in clear conditions.

This is important for safety, as well as compliance with regulations set by the United States Coast Guard.

Final Thoughts

Having the correct lights installed and in proper working order on your sailboat is essential for safety and visibility on the water at night.

Knowing what type of lights you need, how to install them, and how to test them for proper operation is key.

While it may seem daunting to install and maintain all these lights, the benefits of having a properly lit sailboat at night far outweigh the effort.

So take the time to review safety regulations, and make sure you have the right lights installed and operating correctly to ensure a safe and enjoyable sailing experience.

James Frami

At the age of 15, he and four other friends from his neighborhood constructed their first boat. He has been sailing for almost 30 years and has a wealth of knowledge that he wants to share with others.

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Harbor Sailboats

Navigation Lights at Night

by Harbor Sailboats | Dec 4, 2020 | Blog | 1 comment

properly lit sailboat at night

Great article! Boat lights are the means of communication between sailing vessels. These lights are also a tool to let my presence known even from a distance.

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How to sail at night

  • How to sail at night

Captains are often asked if it's possible to sail at night. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is yes, unless you are just starting out. You just need to know the specifics of night sailing — the rules of boat lighting, beacon signals, have navigation and nautical charts handy, and most importantly, follow basic safety rules on board. So, do you know what night sailing entails?

You can't do it without the correct lights

While on land, lights are primarily there to help us see, at sea it's the other way around. All boats must be properly lit for other vessels to see. And, a boat doesn't work like a car either, where we shine our headlights on the road ahead to see what's in front of us. At sea we rely on navigation, nautical charts, lighthouses and the captain's knowledge.

Basic boat lights include running lights, steaming lights and anchor lights. There are clearly defined and standardized rules for lighting a ship  under sail at night . So the question of how to light a yacht at night has a very simple answer. Running lights, or side lights, show other vessels where your port and starboard sides are, with red indicating port and green starboard, and you must also have a white stern light on.

Lighting the yacht at night is very important because, unlike during the day, the helmsman cannot judge the distance and direction  of other boats by sight. Running lights make the position and direction of the surrounding vessels visible, as well as their approximate distance, and helps to avoid possible collisions. Radar is also highly practical in this respect, as it shows the size and distance of the vessel.

However, when sailing there can be situations where the sails need to be lowered, and with that, the lighting also needs to be changed. If travelling under motor power , a steaming light  (masthead light)  must be turned on , which shines at the same angle as the side lights. When a sailboat is not under sail, it has to abide by the rules set out for power boats by COLREG (The International Rules for Preventing Collisions at Sea).

Lighting regulations when at anchor are again different. When at anchor at sea , only the anchor light should be on . According to the regulations this could be either a 360-degree white light atop the mast, or a light suspended from the boom, above the foredeck or on a furled genoa. If the boat is moored in port, the light is not normally used.

Night sky at sea with a yacht.

Navigation, GPS and maps

Nowadays, GPS and navigation aids integrated into the boat or that work as mobile apps are commonly used to determine the position of the boat. Modern technology is very accurate and reliable, but it is still worth understanding, reading and checking your position on  paper nautical charts . After all, almost any skipper will tell you that their GPS or navigation system has at some point told them they were on land, even when tens or hundreds of metres from shore.

Man on board a sailboat by a plotter.

Thanks to nautical charts, you will not only know of possible danger spots, but also lighthouses , enabling you to easily and accurately determine your position with the help of a compass. Each lighthouse is different, being lit and flashing in a unique way. A nautical chart will tell you how to identify a lighthouse by the number of flashes, their frequency and the colour of the light. To determine your exact position, you’ll then need two lighthouses in sight that serve as reference points for each other.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Lighthouses are not only practical, but they are often buildings with impressive architecture that are well worth stopping off at. Take a look at  15 lighthouses you must visit .

Lighthouse at Cyclades Islands, Greece.

Safety is paramount when sailing at night

Even during the day, there are clear rules regarding the movement of the crew on board. Basically, the crew should not stand unless they are engaged in manoeuvres. In all other cases, they should be sitting on benches, at the side of the boat when heeling, or in the cabin. Apart from the fact that a standing crew member could obstruct the helmsman's view, it also poses a greater risk of falling overboard . If you're interested in getting to know this subject in more detail, check out our article Sailing Etiquette A to Z .

At night, the rules are even stricter to ensure the crew remain as safe as possible and avoid damaging the yacht. If a crew member is on deck at night while sailing, they should wear a lifejacket  and ideally be attached to the boat with a lifebelt or harness.

Except for really experienced seafarers, the rule of thumb is that there should be at least  two people on board when sailing at night. And the captain should schedule shifts so that there are always two  rested crew members on board. After all, you need to be doubly vigilant when sailing at night, and staying awake all night is certainly not conducive to alertness — especially when manoeuvring  or entering port. For the same reasons alcohol is prohibited when night sailing. While during the day, crew members other than the helmsman can toast Neptune or have one glass of wine or beer, drinking alcohol is not permitted during a voyage at night. By all means celebrate a successful journey upon arrival in port at a local tavern, but it definitely pays to keep a clear head at sea.

Specifics of night sailing and boat handling

Steering and controlling the boat  is not particularly different during the day and at night. There are just a few nuances to make sailing that bit smoother. If you're on a vessel you know well, that’s one thing, but if you're on a charter boat , it's worth marking the sheets and other lines so that you know your way around in the dark.

Sailing at night, it is also important to assess  the weather conditions well. What you would normally do during the day can be significantly more challenging at night and requires a more careful assessment of weather conditions and weather patterns. It is always better to choose smaller sails and if you have even the slightest doubt about anything, postpone the trip. 

When  entering a harbour  or sailing close to shore, be doubly cautious. There are several risk factors. During the day, the surrounding boats, the rocks and the potential hazards on the surface and below are visible. At night you have to rely on navigation, charts and lighting. When entering the harbour, charts and GPS can provide you many clues but lights can cause issues. For example, you might get dazzled by the light from the shore, the anchor lights of other boats are easily confused with the lights on land, and, last but not least, you may encounter poorly lit fishing boats. However, if you keep in mind all of these potential risks, you will arrive safely in the harbour.

Man steering a ship.

The magic of night sailing

When compared to sailing during the day, night sailing places more demands on the captain's experience and knowledge of sailing regulations. But it is also a truly romantic experience. Millions of stars glistening in the night sky and the waves sparkling in the moonlight. If you're lucky, sailing out of the mist from land on a clear night with a near full moon, it will seem almost like daylight.

Sunset at sea, a sailboat and a shining lighthouse.

If you're serious about sailing and steering your boat, there are other benefits to night sailing. Navigating at night sharpens the senses and enhances the sailing experience as well as your experience of the sea itself. It truly gives a whole new meaning to sailing. But if all you want is to just enjoy yourself, night sailing is one of the most romantic experiences you can have. Check out our article on how to enjoy romance on board a yacht charter .   

   

Are you new to the sea? We will recommend experienced captains who will take care of you on the ship. Give us a call.

Denisa Nguyenová

Denisa Nguyenová

Faq how to manage a night sailing.

The Night Vision Techniques

Explore the techniques and tools for safely sailing under the stars with our comprehensive guide to night sailing, from preserving your night vision to navigating in the dark and following proper etiquette.

The Night Vision Techniques: A Comprehensive Guide to Night Sailing

Sailing under the stars can be a magical experience, but it also presents unique challenges and requires a different set of skills than daytime sailing. In this article, we’ll explore the essential techniques for maintaining your night vision, as well as tips for navigating and staying safe during your nocturnal adventures on the open sea.

Table of Contents

Understanding night vision, preserving your night vision, navigating at night, safety tips for night sailing, night sailing etiquette.

Before we dive into the techniques for maintaining your night vision, it’s important to understand how our eyes work in low-light conditions. Our eyes have two types of photoreceptor cells: rods and cones. Cones are responsible for color vision and function best in bright light, while rods are more sensitive to light and are responsible for our ability to see in low-light conditions.

In darkness, our eyes undergo a process called dark adaptation, which allows the rods to become more sensitive to light. This process can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the individual and the level of darkness. Once our eyes have fully adapted, we can see much better in the dark, but it’s important to note that our night vision is still limited compared to our daytime vision.

Now that we understand the basics of night vision, let’s explore some techniques for preserving it while sailing at night:

1. Limit Exposure to Bright Light

The most important factor in maintaining your night vision is to limit your exposure to bright light. This includes both natural sources, such as the moon and stars, and artificial sources, such as cabin lights and electronic devices. To minimize exposure to bright light:

  • Keep cabin lights dimmed or turned off when not in use.
  • Use red or amber lights instead of white lights, as these colors are less disruptive to night vision.
  • Avoid looking directly at bright light sources, such as the moon or other boats’ lights.
  • Limit the use of electronic devices with bright screens, or adjust the brightness settings to minimize glare.

2. Allow Time for Dark Adaptation

As mentioned earlier, it takes time for our eyes to fully adapt to darkness. Before setting sail at night, spend some time in a dimly lit environment to allow your eyes to adjust. If you need to transition from a brightly lit area to a dark one, close your eyes for a few minutes to help speed up the adaptation process.

3. Use Peripheral Vision

Our peripheral vision is more sensitive to light than our central vision, making it more effective for detecting objects in low-light conditions. When scanning the horizon or searching for objects in the water, try looking slightly to the side of the object rather than directly at it. This will allow you to use your peripheral vision and increase your chances of spotting the object.

4. Keep One Eye Covered

If you need to briefly expose yourself to bright light, such as when checking a chart or using a flashlight, try covering one eye to preserve its night vision. This technique, known as the “pirate’s patch,” can help minimize the impact of bright light on your overall night vision.

Navigating at night presents its own set of challenges, but with the right techniques and tools, you can safely and confidently sail under the stars. Here are some tips for night navigation:

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Night Sky

Learning to recognize constellations and other celestial landmarks can be a valuable skill for night navigation. Familiarize yourself with the night sky and practice identifying key constellations, such as the North Star (Polaris), which can help you determine your latitude and direction.

2. Use Electronic Navigation Tools

While celestial navigation is a valuable skill, modern electronic navigation tools, such as GPS and chartplotters, can provide more accurate and reliable information. Make sure your navigation equipment is in good working order and that you’re familiar with its operation before setting sail at night.

3. Keep a Close Eye on the Weather

Weather conditions can change rapidly at sea, and poor visibility due to fog, rain, or clouds can make night navigation even more challenging. Keep a close eye on the weather forecast and be prepared to adjust your plans if necessary.

4. Maintain a Proper Lookout

Maintaining a proper lookout is essential for safe night sailing. In addition to scanning the horizon for other vessels and obstacles, pay close attention to the water’s surface for signs of changes in depth or the presence of debris. Remember to use your peripheral vision and avoid staring directly at bright light sources.

In addition to the navigation tips above, there are several safety precautions you should take when sailing at night:

1. Ensure Your Boat is Properly Lit

Make sure your boat’s navigation lights are functioning properly and are visible from all angles. This will help other vessels see you and avoid collisions.

2. Wear Reflective Clothing and Gear

Wearing reflective clothing and gear, such as life jackets and harnesses, can help make you more visible to other boaters and increase your safety on the water.

3. Keep a Sharp Ear

In addition to maintaining a proper lookout, use your sense of hearing to detect potential hazards. Listen for the sound of waves breaking on nearby shores, the hum of approaching engines, or the calls of other sailors.

4. Be Prepared for Emergencies

Before setting sail at night, make sure you have a well-stocked emergency kit on board, including flares, a VHF radio, and a flashlight with spare batteries. Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures and be prepared to act quickly in case of an emergency.

Finally, it’s important to be considerate of other sailors and follow proper etiquette when sailing at night:

  • Keep noise levels to a minimum, as sound travels farther over water at night.
  • Be mindful of your boat’s lights and avoid shining them directly at other vessels.
  • Give other boats plenty of space and avoid crowding popular anchorages or mooring areas.

Night sailing can be a thrilling and rewarding experience, but it requires a different set of skills and precautions than daytime sailing. By understanding the principles of night vision, practicing proper navigation techniques, and following safety guidelines, you can confidently set sail under the stars and enjoy the unique beauty and freedom of the open sea at night.

Boat Navigation Lights Rules: Illustrated Beginners Guide

When navigating at night, the lights on other boats are your first clue about the moving dangers around you. And your navigation lights are your first line of safety in avoiding collisions in the dark, and they tell others vessels what you are and what you are doing. The rules sound complex, but with a little understanding you can get the basics for any situation.

So what are the basic navigation light rules? For most small vessels, motoring requires red and green (port and starboard) lights, and a white light visible in all directions around the boat. This is almost always a stern light and a masthead light on sailboats. Boats under sail require port and starboard lights, and a white stern light. Sailboats below sixty-five feet may show a tricolor light at the masthead instead of side and stern lights when sailing.

That's it, in a nutshell. There's a little more to it, as the rules change with different sizes and there are some specifics about angles of display for the colors. Identifying other ships at sea requires more study, but the basics are the same. And it's not much trouble to make sure you've always got the proper lights on your vessel.

Infographic for Marine Navigation Lights Rules based on sailboat size

On this page:

What are the official colregs rules for your sailboat, what about the uscg (united states coast guard) rules, lighting at anchor, identifying the boats around you.

The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea , abbreviated "COLREGS" is very specific about the lights required, their shapes and sizes, and the distance they must be visible. For the smaller boat, the following definitions apply.

  • Masthead Light - a white light placed centerline on the boat showing an arc of 225 degrees with 112.5 degrees either side of the front of the vessel.
  • Sidelights - A red light on the port side and a green light on the starboard. They must show an arc of 112.5 degrees from centerline of the bow.
  • Stern light - A white light on the stern of the boat showing an unbroken arc of 135 degrees from centerline of the vessel.
  • All-round light - A light showing in an unbroken arc of 360 degrees.

The good news is you need not measure these angles. Any properly installed USCG or COLREGS approved light which will cover the correct arcs. If you have to replace the original light from your boat, make sure it's with an approved replacement.

Lights When Sailing

properly lit sailboat at night

The specific rules for a sailboat under sail are in COLREGS Rule 25 and vary slightly with the size of the boat. A sailboat powering is considered a power boat and falls under in Rule 23.

  • Under 23 feet (7 meters) - side lights and a stern light, possible. If these lights can not be displayed a light must be kept at hand to help avoid a collision. This can be a bright flashlight.
  • Over 23 feet - Side lights visible to one nautical mile and stern light visible for two.
  • Vessels under 65 feet may combine both sidelights into a single lantern on the bow.
  • May show a tricolor light on the masthead instead of sidelights and a stern light. It's one or the other though, do not show these lights at the same time .
  • Masthead light must be visible for three nautical miles, all other lights must have a two nautical mile visibility.
  • Side lights must be separated.
  • May not show a masthead tricolor light.
  • Masthead light must have five nautical mile visibility, all other lights must be visible for two nautical miles.
  • Optional masthead lights - any vessel under sail may display a red light over a green light at the masthead with sidelights and stern light. The red over green may NOT be displayed with a masthead tricolor light. It's one set or the other.

Lights When Motoring

properly lit sailboat at night

For all navigational purposes a sailboat under power is considered a power boat. This includes motor sailing - if the engine is on and providing propulsion you are on a power boat, even if the sails are up . This applies to navigation lighting, sound signals in fog and limited visibility, and rights of way.

Sailboats under 50 meters under power need to show:

  • A masthead light
  • Stern light

A power-driven vessel under 23 feet (7 meters) that does not exceed seven knots of speed may display an all around white light, though sidelights should be used if available.

properly lit sailboat at night

The USCG has published its own "Rules of the Road" that are based on the COLREGS. In addition, it has rules for the "Inland Waterways" for rivers, inland lakes and the Great Lakes.

The good news is this has no impact on what you have to do with your own boat.

They mostly relate to lighting changes on towed vessels like barges and tugs. For example, a vessel towing or pushing another vessel in the ocean under COLREGS shows two masthead lights, sidelights and a stern light, whereas in Inland Waterways the towing or pushing vessel displays two yellow towing lights instead of a white stern light.

If you sail on lakes, rivers or the Great Lakes where towed commercial traffic is common you should learn the inland lights, but coastal or ocean sailors will never see these.

When you anchor outside a designated mooring field, you should display an all around white light at the masthead or as high in the boat as practical.

properly lit sailboat at night

If your boat is large and has a very tall mast, you may wish to display another light closer to the waterline. Boats approaching in the dark may not see a light on a mast sixty or seventy feet in the air when they are close to your boat.

We use a simple garden path light on our stern when we anchor, left in a rod holder or flag socket. It comes on automatically at dusk and is a cheap and easy way to be more visible. There is no specific rule stating you can not display more lights than required, or the nature of any lights beyond the required all around light.

The COLREGS also specify that a round black "daymark" should be displayed in the rigging of any vessel at anchor. Very few small vessels observe this, however it is the correct display for a vessel in an anchorage.

If you tie to a mooring in a marked mooring area you are not required to display anchor lights, but there is no harm in doing so.

The other important reason to know your lights is to figure out what's going on around you at night. The water may be ablaze with white, red, green and other lights at night and they are your first key to avoiding collisions and problems.

All combinations of lights for fishing boats, commercial vessels, and so on are outside this post‘s scope. The odds are small you will encounter a submarine, seaplane or hovercraft at night, but there are regulations regarding specific lighting for each of those vessels!

There are a few fundamentals to help you figure out what that is you see on the horizon, which way it is going, and whether it is a danger to you.

Port Wine is Red

The fundamental rule is that red sidelights will ALWAYS be on the port side of a vessel, and green lights will always be on starboard. However, some vessels can use all around red and green lights for other purposes, though those will be higher than sidelights.

Diagram for identifying boats at night

The light‘s on a ship is not important, some large tankers and freighters will have their sidelights far aft and put them on the superstructure for better visibility. It is not safe to assume that sidelights you can see are on the bow of large vessels .

When you can see the color, you know which way the bow is pointing. If it's red, it's pointing more or less to the left and will travel in that direction. A green light shows it is heading more or less to your right.

If you can see the red and green lights at the same time, you are looking directly at the bow of the vessel. When you are far away, this isn‘t as alarming as if you are close crossing. Seeing red and green lights together on a vessel is something you never want to see for long.

Be aware of red and green lights used in combination with other red, green and white lights. These may not be running lights and could have other significance.

Tankers, Freighters and Large Ships

Tankers, freighters and large ships will have side lights, a stern light and a masthead light. In addition, on vessels over 50 meters there will be a second masthead light further aft and higher than the forward light. The masthead light positions are a better tipoff to the bow direction and how far from the bow the sidelights might be. Remember - on a large vessel the sidelights may not be at the bow or even close to it.

USCG Inland Rules allow for a second all-around white light on large vessels on the Great Lakes instead of a second masthead light.

Fishing Boats

Fishing boats engaged in fishing will have more complex light displays. When they aren't fishing, they will show lights like any power vessel, but Rule 26 spells out light combinations that vary by the fishing activity being done. In general:

  • Boats which are Trawling but not making headway will display a green all-around light over a white all-around light , and a masthead light aft of these lights. Boats making headway while trawling will show these lights, plus sidelights and a stern light.
  • A vessel fishing other than trawling will show a red all-around light over a white all-around light . When making way they will also show sidelights and a stern light.
  • If a vessel has gear more than 150 meters away from the boat, it will show a second all around light in the direction of the gear. The best rule is to give fishing boats as wide a berth as you can at night. They're easy to pick out if you check the top light configurations but their course may be difficult to predict.

Towing and Pushing

Towed vessels can be the most dangerous to cross, but they have the most lights to tell you what is happening. Refer to COLREGS or the USCG Rules of the Road Rule 24 for all combinations You can pick a tow/push vessel out with the following lights:

  • Two or three masthead lights in a vertical line. Three masthead lights shows a tow over 200 meters. Additional masthead lights may show for larger tow vessels.
  • A towing light (yellow light with the same characteristics as a stern light) directly above the stern light.
  • The will also have side lights and a stern light.
  • The towed vessel will show sidelights and a stern light. Lighting may vary under USCG inland rules, where towing lights may replace stern lights. Learn these differences if this is your regular cruising ground. If you think there is a tow ahead of you, always go well behind the aft most set of lights. Never go between a tow and avoid crossing ahead if possible as it may restrict their maneuverability.

Special Situations

There are several rare situations you may encounter. As a general rule, if there are a lot of lights and you don't understand them look for the sidelights on a moving vessel. If you can find them and figure out the direction it is moving, it makes the vessel easier to avoid. Stay well clear of lights you do not understand if you can avoid them without risk.

Most of these signals are used by larger, commercial vessels and you will not need them.

They use these light combinations with other light combinations. For example a towing vessel may also be restricted in maneuverability, and a vessel constrained by draft will show running lights if moving.

  • Not Under Command - two all around red lights in a single line
  • Restricted in Ability to Maneuver - red, white then red in a single line
  • Constrained by draft - three all around red lights

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Navigation Lights for Sailboats (And How To Read Them)

Navigation Lights for Sailboats (And How To Read Them) | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Capt Chris German

June 15, 2022

Navigation lights on a sailboat can be confusing. If you understand the reason behind why they are the way they are however, they can make a lot more sense.

At their heart, sailboats are really just a power boat and as such must adhere to all power boat rules such as navigation lights. Other times however, a sailboat is classified in a special category. They have a set of additional lights they CAN show as an option, but are not always required to do so.

That’s about as clear as mud if you ask me and I contend that that is where the confusion about lighting a sailboat begins.

Just because you can show a light to identify yourself in times of low visibility, does not mean you have to and then we add in a little sibling rivalry between power and sail and things get downright adversarial when it comes to navigation and the night.

Table of contents

The USCG says You’re a Power Boat Whether You Like It or Not

Much to the consternation of many a sailor who has earned a commercial license to drive their sailboat, when you received your credential from the USCG it says you are a master of steam and power across the top with no mention of wind as a source of propulsion.

It is not until you read the back pages of your little red book that feels like a passport and looks like a US Sailing credential, that you will see the term “sail auxiliary”. That is because most of the time the U.S. Coast Guard knows that you are primarily reliant on your mechanical power to propel your vessel.

It's a sad thing, but the days of commercially viable sail boats are done and all but the most select few even have sails let alone use them as their primary power source. All sail boats by law are powerboats, but not all powerboats are sailboats.

Navigation Lights for a Power Boat

As a power boat, you are required to show certain lights and have been required to do so before power was even invented. 

In the days of man powered vessels like the viking ships who relied on oars while in close quarters to power their vessels, they needed to show other boats, friend or foe, where they were by showing lanterns in the dark to identify themselves. As you know, it is a time honored rule among all the nations of the world both past and present, that you must avoid a collision at all costs while at sea and even the viking knew that you should not run into things.

By lighting the front and back of your boat, you could warn other boats of your presence as well as identify which way you were heading. As such there is a very specific rule in the Code of Federal Regulations Number 46 (CFR46 by common name) that spells out with detail how many, the color, the luminosity or brightness, the angle of visibility and the location of all of the lights required for navigation on every single boat, seaplane, submarine and other nondescript vessel conceived by man to date that they must show while underway in reduced visibility.

And there is no flexibility in the rules.

As such a power boat, and by extension all sailboats, MUST, without question show one green light on the starboard bow and one red light on the port bow and one all around white light or lights while operating in reduced visibility. These lights should shine at all 360 degrees of visibility with the bow lights shining at an angle of dead ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam and the stern lights shining 225 degrees dead aft. A forward facing masthead light that is white in color shall shine forward to comply with the directive that all vessels must carry an all around white light. For more read here .

As you can see, there isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to lights that must be shown.

Sailboats get a little flexibility with lights

Sailboats however, are a little different when they are in fact sailboats, which is only when you are entirely reliant on the wind for power and in no way reliant on any mechanical or manual means of propulsion. And for good reason.

Back in the day when men were men and sailboats were wooden, fire was a major concern. Sails were coated with wax and other flammable substances and the wood on boats was saturated with oils and grease. Even the ropes were plant materials saturated with oils to keep them pliable and strong.

Add those highly flammable substances to a parching environment like the sea and you had what was essentially a giant floating tinderbox.

Then tell that giant floating tinderbox that they need to identify themselves to the world at large at night using oil lamps with flames because batteries and lights were not invented yet. It didn't take very long or very many ships burning to the water line for the Governments to say to the sailboats, you get to do things a little different.

As such, sailboats are given special dispensation when it comes to lights aloft. They don't have to show an all around white light in their rigging because no one wanted to set their rig on fire with oil lamps 60 feet up in their rig.

However, when a sailboat takes their sails down such as when they are powered or at anchor, they must resume the display of an all around white light or lights aloft. That became a real challenge with aluminum masts and the disappearance of rat lines on the shrouds because there was no easy way to climb the rig and check the bulbs up the mast on a regular basis. 

Red over Green Sailing Machine

I have no idea where the history of this particular light comes from, but if you ever take a deck exam with the USCG, you better remember this mnemonic. An all around red light over an all around green may be displayed on a vessel during times of reduced visibility to indicate that a vessel is operating under sail power alone. 

I won’t even speculate on how or why they came up with this particular light configuration, but if you want to use these lights as a sailing vessel, you can do so, but that means that you will need three all round lights at the top of your mast, an all around white, an all around red and an all around green, just in that order.

The red over green is to be displayed in addition to the running lights or the red and green bow lights with the 225 degree stern light. As always, when the motor comes on, so does the steaming light or the forward facing white light that is also usually about ¾ of the way up on your mast to complete the requirement of an all around white light that indicates a power vessel.

What is a “steaming light” and why are you mentioning it now?

Most sailboat electrical panels will have a switch that is labelled “steaming light” and it will only come on when your anchor light is off. This is probably the most confusing part of sailboat navigation lights so if you are confused about this, you're in good company as most people are. 

A “steaming” light is named thusly, going back to the days of steam powered sailboats where when they fired up their boilers and doused the sails, they became a power boat once again. There aren’t too many steam powered boats, let alone steam powered sailboats, but the name stuck and it is a vestige of a bygone era.

Either way, when you fire up your motor, you turn on your “steaming light” and that locks out the all around white light which is used for anchoring to minimize the number of switches on your panel and reduce the number of wires in your mast. The fewer wires, the less chance of something not working or becoming disconnected.

The steaming light and the anchor light both go up the mast, but you can’t use an all around white light while using the 225 degree stern light at the deck level because to other boaters you would look like you have two white lights from the stern and that would be confusing.

The anchor light is used exclusively for anchoring while the steaming light is used to indicate you are a power vessel while underway.

As to why I am mentioning it now in the article, is because this would have blown your mind if I started with this subject cause it can be really confusing stuff.

Aspect Recognition with Lights

Remember when I said earlier that lights can help you tell others which way you are heading as well as tell you which way other boats are heading? That is called the aspect of the vessel and the USCG tests you on this for your deck exam as well. 

Knowing that the bow lights go 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on both sides or 112.5 degrees on each side, and the stern light faces 225 degrees aft for a total of 360 degrees of visibility, you can tell a lot about where a boat is heading and who has the right of way.

One thing that's easy to remember is red means stop and if you see a vessel's red light, it means stop as you are the give way vessel and approaching the other vessel from his port side. Conversely it works with green as well as that means you are approaching from the other vessel's starboard side and you are the standon vessel.

If you see a red and green light equally low on the horizon, that means your heading dead on into another vessel's path and conversely if all you see is a white light low on the horizon, it means you are overtaking another vessel power or sail, we don’t care because it is an overtaking situation. However, any time you do see a white light aloft in addition to the red and green bow lights, you know you are encountering a power boat.

Then there are angular approaches as well, where you see white and red or white and green light low on the horizon. You know in that case you are seeing a portion of the bow lights and stern lights from the side approaches of a vessel. Based on which direction those lights are heading, you can deduce which way that boat is going in relation to your boat.

So put it all together and you see a green light and a white light low on the horizon with a red over green light aloft, you know that you are approaching a sailboat that is traveling to your port and that might make you the standon vessel. That is of course, if we didn’t concern ourselves with windward and leeward and port tacks and starboard tacks, but that is a discussion for another article. So stay tuned when we talk about sailing rules and the right of way. But for now, do good, have fun and sail far.

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Capt Chris German is a life long sailor and licensed captain who has taught thousands to sail over the last 20 years. In 2007, he founded a US Sailing-based community sailing school in Bridgeport, CT for inner city youth and families. When Hurricane Sandy forced him to abandon those efforts, he moved to North Carolina where he set out to share this love for broadcasting and sailing with a growing web-based television audience through The Charted Life Television Network.

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Navigation Lights for Sailboats (And How To Read Them)

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Boat Lights At Night (The Rules For Safety)

Boat navigation lights

Boat navigation lights at night are used for safety. They are designed so they can be seen easily. Boat lights vary according to boat type and size, boat use, navigation area, and geographic location. Boaters should learn boat light meanings and keep up-to-date on boat light requirements.

Boat navigation lights indicate a boat’s heading (Aspect) and what it’s doing. The boat’s red and green lights show the boat’s port and starboard sides. Let’s explain boat light type, actions, and requirements in detail.

Boat light at night

Types of Boat Lights

Boating safety starts with proper boat navigation lights. If you are a boater, it’s important to understand the 4 types of common navigational lights on your vessel so that you can be seen by other boats in the water and avoid accidents or running aground.

Boat navigation lights

Boat navigation lights are split into four groups. There are Sidelights, Stern light, Masthead light, and All-Round light.

Sidelights show Red or Green to other vessels approaching from the side or head-on, while stern light only points out white light when you’re coming up behind someone else’s boat.

Masthead light should be mounted high on a vessel’s aft-most part of the structure that extends above deck level. The masthead light is a requirement on all power-driven vessels. It shines forward and to both sides and the color of this light is white.

The boat’s all-around white light is on the mast, stern, or somewhere else on the boat. This light can act as an anchor light when a boat is anchored.

Boat Navigation Light Color

  • Masthead light color – White
  • Port sidelight color – Red
  • Starboard sidelight color – Green
  • Stern light color – White
  • All-Round light color – white

Boat Light Visibility Range (Minimum)

  • Side lights; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 1 NM
  • Masthead light; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 2 NM
  • Stern light; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 2 NM
  • All-Round light; Boat < 12m (39.4 feet) – At least 2 NM
  • Boat < 20m (65.7 feet) – Masthead light at least 3 NM; Other light at least 2 Nm
  • Boat > 20m (65.7 feet) – Masthead light at least 5 NM; Other light at least 2 Nm

Boat Navigation Lights Indicate W hich Side ?

Your boat’s navigation lights will basically tell you what side of the vessel is a port and which side is starboard. The red light indicates a vessel’s port (left) side; the green indicates a vessel’s starboard (right) side. Stern light is seen only from behind or nearly behind the vessel. Masthead Light shines forward and to both sides.

What Are Boat Lights Used For ?

Boat lights are typically used to guide boaters at night, but they can also be used for a number of other purposes. They can help you and other boaters determine which is the give-way vessel when encountering each other on the water during periods of restricted visibility such as fog or rain. So never forget boat lights at night — boat lights make you and others visible at night on the water. They are used only for boat safety purposes.

Boat Lights and The Law

To navigate safely in the water, vessels are required to show proper navigation lights. There’s no need to worry about boat lights being an inconvenience because they must be displayed from sunset to sunrise and during periods of limited visibility.

You must turn on boat lights when underway between sunset and sunrise, as well as during any period of restricted visibility such as fog, rain, or heavy snowfall. And when it is deemed necessary by any boat skipper, boat lights must be turned on during the day.

Why Do Boats Have Blue Lights?

The reason boats have blue lights is to signify that they are law enforcement vessels. They may display a flashing blue light when engaged in direct law enforcement or safety activities, so as not to interfere with the visibility of their navigation lights.

What Does a Single White Light on a Boat Tell You?

When you see a single white light on the horizon, it may mean that you are overtaking another vessel. In order to avoid collisions and other mishaps, give way to either side of the boat. Also, one single white light could mean that the other boat is at anchor.

What Does a Red Flashing Light Mean on a Boat?

A red flashing light means that it’s a WIG boat.

What Size Boat Requires a Stern Light?

If your boat is 39.4 feet or longer, make sure to get a separate masthead light and stern light. However, If you’re on a power-driven boat less than 39.4 feet in length, then the masthead and stern light may be combined into a single all-round (360 degrees) white light. 

Where to Put Navigation Lights on a Boat?

  • Masthead – over the centerline of a boat (seen ahead from 225 degrees)
  • Stern – near the stern, lowest height on a boat (seen 135 degrees from behind)
  • Side – port/left side and starboard/right side (112.5 degrees sides arc)
  • All-round – over the centerline of a boat (360 degrees arc)

Safety Tips When Using Boat Lights

– Must be turned on when underway between sunset and sunrise

– Should be turned on when in poor visibility

– Must be turned on when deemed necessary

– Must be mounted in such a way that boat lights are not obscured by any other obstructions

– Used for boat safety only

– Can never be used as floodlights

– Must be mounted in such a way that the other boat operator can see them clearly

– Should be properly illuminated at all times

– Must be mounted securely

– Must never be covered by boat covers or other obstructions

– Should be turned off when a boat is at anchor (Turn on anchor light)

Boat lights are more than just a way to see where you’re going at night. They can be used to communicate with other boats, and they can help you avoid collisions.

Boat lights are essential for safe night boating. They help other boats and vessels see your boat, and they also help you see where you’re going. There are different types of boat lights available, and it’s important to choose the right ones for your vessel.

What Are the Most Popular Boat Lights?

Here’s a look at some of the most popular boat lights and what they offer.

LED Boat Lights: LED boat lights are becoming increasingly popular due to their energy efficiency and long lifespan. They’re also much brighter than traditional incandescent bulbs, making them ideal for night boating. Many LED boat lights come in waterproof versions, so you don’t have to worry about them getting wet if you encounter rough waters.

Solar Boat Lights: Solar boat lights are a great eco-friendly option since they’re powered by the sun. They typically have built-in batteries that store solar energy during the day so that the light can shine at night.

Battery-Powered Boat Lights: Battery-powered boat lights are another popular option, especially for smaller boats. These lights typically use either disposable or rechargeable batteries, depending on your preference. Some battery-powered models even come with solar charging capabilities, so you can keep them charged even when there’s no sun available.

What Lights Should Be on When Boating at Night?

There are many different types of lights (including navigational lights) that are required or recommended to be used when boating at night. The type of vessel, the size of the vessel, and the area in which the vessel is operating will all play a great role in what specific lights need to be used. In general, however, there are a few basic rules that apply to all kind of vessels.

All these requirements exist so that other boats can easily identify your vessel and know its intentions (whether it is stopped, coming towards them, or moving away). By following these simple guidelines you can help keep everyone safe on the waterway.

Which Side of a Boat Has a Red Light at Night?

The side of a boat with a red navigation light at night is the port side. The port side is the left side of the boat when you are facing forward.

When Boating at Night What Does a Single Green Light Mean?

When you see a single green light, be sure that you are approaching a sailing vessel. In this case, you have to take action and you must give way. Remember, A sailing boat is always the stand-on mode except when it is going to overtake you.

What Lights are Required on a Boat at Night in Florida?

In Florida, boaters are required to display a white light visible in all directions from sunset to sunrise. Boats must have a white light visible from 360 degrees whenever they are safely moored or anchored away from jetty.

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What are the proper sailboat lights at night?

As a sailor, it is essential to be aware of and adhere to proper sailboat lighting when navigating at night. These lights are necessary to ensure safety and avoid collisions with other vessels.

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) specifies lighting requirements for different types of boats. There are different lighting rules for vessels under power and those under sail. In this article, we’ll discuss the proper sailboat lights at night.

Sailboats are required to have three lights at a minimum: a masthead light, a red port light, and a green starboard light. The masthead light is white and is located at the top of the mast. This light should shine forward and aft and be visible from 2 nautical miles away. It is important to ensure that the masthead light is not obstructed by the sail or any other structure onboard.

The red port light is located on the left or port side of the boat and is visible from 1 nautical mile away. The green starboard light is on the right or starboard side and is also visible from 1 nautical mile away. These lights should shine out from the vessel and be visible from dead ahead to 112.5 degrees abaft the beam on either side.

In addition to these lights, sailboats that are underway may show an optional stern light. This light is placed at the stern of the vessel and is white. It should be visible from 2 nautical miles away and can be used to indicate that the sailboat is underway and not at anchor.

If a sailboat is not underway but still poses a potential hazard, it should display an anchor light. This is a white light that is visible from 2 nautical miles away and should be located near the top of the mast. This light indicates that the sailboat is anchored and should be avoided by other vessels.

It is important to note that the visibility of the lights depends on the weather and other conditions. In foggy or hazy conditions, the lights may not be visible from the specified distance. It is always a good idea to maintain a lookout and be aware of other vessels in the vicinity.

Proper sailboat lighting at night is critical to ensuring safety and avoiding collisions with other boats. It is essential to understand the required lighting regulations and to ensure that all lights are functioning correctly before heading out on the water. Remember to always maintain a lookout and be aware of other vessels around you. Happy sailing!

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Home » Blog » Sail » Sailing at night: tactics and tips

Sailing at night: tactics and tips

By Author Fiona McGlynn

Posted on Last updated: December 2, 2021

As an early-to-bed person, I find a night passage offers special and sublime opportunities for stargazing, precious alone time, and quiet contemplation. However, I’ve also found myself wet, cold, and not-so-quietly contemplating the lights of a ship bearing down on us. Does that tanker see us? Fortunately, after 3,000 nautical miles of trial and error while sailing from Canada to Mexico, my partner, Robin, and I have learned a few tricks that make night passages more comfortable and serene.

sailing at night

Feed the crew

Good hot food makes all the difference in keeping energy (and spirits) up on a night passage, especially when very little cooking is involved.

Minimize galley time – It takes three days for most sailors to get their sea legs, so we like to have no- to low-effort meals and snacks planned for those first days at sea. Less time spent in the galley also means we have more time for the boat, rest, and sleeping. To minimize galley time, we prepare all our food for the first 24 hours at sea ahead of time. One of our go-to evening meals is soup, made in advance and kept warm in a thermos on deck. After the first 24 hours, quick-to-make meals (canned soup, beans on toast, curry in a bag) are a good bet.

Splurge on fun treats – We stock a “sin bin” with trail mix, chips, and chocolate and also prepare some of our favorite nibbles (muffins, scones, cinnamon buns). Milk chocolate is good for a jolt of energy, but doesn’t keep us up past our watches.

properly lit sailboat at night

Stay hydrated

Water is very important for keeping the mind alert on night watch. In fact, dehydration is often mistaken for fatigue.

Keep a water bottle on deck – One of our friends has a rule that anyone who yawns on the boat must take a drink of water. Every member of the crew should keep a water bottle on deck when on watch. As well as making water accessible, this is a good way to monitor intake.

Serve warm drinks – One of our favorite hot drinks is Chai tea, kept in a thermos in the cockpit. We make it by adding an inch of fresh ginger to three cups of water, bringing it to a boil, and then adding cardamom, honey, and black pepper to taste. The spices and honey give us a boost without the diuretic and stimulating effects of caffeine. Cider (the soft kind!), tea, and hot chocolate are great too.

Sleep, glorious sleep

Sleep can feel scarce when sailing overnight, but we take steps to manage it.

Sleep before leaving – First, we make sure we’re well rested before we leave. We never start a passage with a sleep deficit.

A workable watch schedule – Sailors use many different watch schedules and tailor them to the number of crew on board. To find out what works best for us, we started with shorter watches (of perhaps 1 to 2 hours) and increased the length over time. We usually sail with just the two of us (plus autopilot) and find 3-hour watches work well, but on many occasions we’ve gone to shorter watches because one of us was not able to stay alert for the full 3 hours. If you’re hand steering, definitely err on the side of shorter watches. And when you feel like you can’t keep your eyes open, it is always better to wake your partner than risk snoozing at the wheel.

Avoid alcohol and stimulants – One of the principal ways we improve the quantity and quality of our sleep on board is to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulating drugs. The half-life of caffeine is 4 to 6 hours in humans, so the chances are, someone who drinks a cup of tea at the beginning of a 3-hour watch will still be feeling the effects at the end of it. When this happens, it’s then tempting to use alcohol or sleeping pills to get to sleep. Alcohol has been proven to reduce the quality of sleep. The result is waking up feeling more tired and feeling the need for more coffee, and thus the vicious loop repeats.

Try light sleep aids – One sleep aid to consider using is the seasickness medication Gravol. Someone already taking Gravol for seasickness might consider timing the dose at one-half hour before the end of a night watch. This gives the Gravol time to kick in, aiding sleep at just the right time. By the time the off-watch is over, the Gravol has been partially processed and, you hope, the effect is less drowsiness and no seasickness. For those not taking Gravol, a cup of chamomile or valerian tea half an hour before the end of their watch will help sleep come more quickly.

Get comfy – We made sure we had a safe and comfortable sea berth by setting up a snug leecloth on a berth close to the boat’s center of gravity, where the the off-watch sleeper would feel the least motion (see “ Make your own Leecloth ,” January 2017). Earplugs and an eye mask help reduce stimuli to further aid sleep.

Staying awake

Staying awake on night watch can be difficult, but we engage in a number of activities to help us keep our eyes open.

Stay occupied – If we don’t keep ourselves lightly occupied on night watch, we find it difficult to stay awake, so we create watch routines that keep us focused and alert. Filling out our ship’s log is one such task. I’ve learned that one of the most effective things I can do to avoid dropping off is to keep my brain engaged in some light listening (podcasts, music, audiobooks) through a single earbud. This keeps me awake while I scan the horizon and listen for any changes in the boat or environment. If you’re in need of something to listen to, check out the salty audiobooks at Audioseastories.com , GoodOld Boat’s online store.

Keep moving – When I get overly drowsy, I stand up and dance in the cockpit. Though I might look ridiculous, it gets the blood moving and keeps me sharp a bit longer. If dancing is not your thing, stretching or jogging in place also works.

Set alarms – When I find I’m feeling a bit droopy-eyed, I set a wristwatch alarm to go off every 10 minutes, just to catch me in case I do accidentally doze off. Of course, if I do fall asleep, I realize as soon as I wake that my best option is to wake someone else to take the watch.

sailing at night

What to wear

It’s hard for me to appreciate the beautiful starlit sky when I have wet feet. I prefer to stay warm and dry.

Rubber boots and foulies –My favorite piece of gear is a 1980s yellow Mustang survival suit I picked up in a thrift store. While higher-tech options are available, I love my survival suit because it’s like wearing a giant sleeping bag on deck. I have foulies (foul weather gear), too, which are great for more active sailing, but when I’m hunkered down in the cockpit all night, my chief concern is staying warm. The other great thing about the survival suit is that I stay warm even if it gets wet. I once took a wave down the back of my survival suit and, though wet, I was warm again in less than a minute.

Buy some bum padding – Deck cushions can get in the way while sailing, so we usually stow them. I sometimes wear a pair of padded cycling shorts under my foulies to provide some insulation from the hard, cold cockpit seats.

No cotton garments! – Or atleast don’t wear them on chilly nights. When the least bit damp, cotton can get cold and clammy. We choose wool, polyester, and other technical fabrics for layering as they don’t hold moisture against the skin.

Clip in – A tether and harness are musts for enjoyment and comfort while sailing at night. We much prefer the view of the ocean from the boat than the boat from the ocean. Plus, the off-watch rests easier knowing the on-watch is tethered safely to the boat.

Warding off the green

Perhaps the number-one thing we do to ensure our comfort while afloat is avoid getting seasick. Many remedies are available, including Gravol, Dramamine, Transderm-V patch, ginger, and acupressure wrist bands. We try any drug or remedy on dry land before taking it while sailing, just in case we experience a negative side effect. One seasickness medication on the market made my vision blurry. Once you’ve found something that works for you, start taking it at least 12 hours before setting sail so it has time to properly kick in. We are often helped by spending a couple of nights in a slightly rolly anchorage before heading out.

Bits and bytes –  Two pieces of technology are a boon for any sailor venturing out under the cover of darkness.

Autopilot – An autopilot helps minimize crew fatigue. Handsteering becomes far more challenging and tiring at night, when limited visibility can affect orientation. An autopilot allows for longer and more restful watches.

AIS – If you have it, AIS is a terrific additional source of information at night. It’s a great comfort to know the course and speed of the twinkly bright lights bearing down on us in the darkness. We can easily hail the vessel in question, by its name, if that’s listed on the AIS target, or by private hailing its MMSI number using the DSC-enabled VHF. Once in contact, we ask whether they can see our boat and whether they plan to alter course in the near future. We like to set our AIS alarm so we don’t miss any vessels that will approach within 2 nautical miles.

Passage planning

The decisions we make before leaving the dock undoubtedly have the greatest impact on the comfort of our night sail.

Choosing a weather window – Poor weather and sea conditions become considerably less fun in the dark, so we plan around adverse weather. We avoid night passages when the swell period (in seconds) and height (in feet) are close in number. For example, a 7-foot swell with a 12-second period will be a lot more comfortable than a 7-foot swell with a 7-second period.

Sail in your comfort zone – If you’re comfortable sailing in up to 20 knots of wind, limit overnight passages to wind conditions of 15 knots or less. Conditions can feel a lot bigger at night and so we do not push ourselves past our comfort limits, and we sleep better as a result.

Use the full moon – We’re much more comfortable on night passages when the moon is full or nearly full. All that light makes it easier to spot obstacles and we’re psychologically more at ease when we are able to see our surroundings.

Leave and arrive in daylight – The approaches to many ocean ports are littered with crab traps, long-lines,dead-heads, kelp, and other debris. We prefer to heave-to for a couple of hours rather than risk fouling our propeller attempting an entrance in the dead of night.

Passages of manageable length – If you’re new to sailing at night, it’s a good idea to slowly build up to longer and longer sails. As you start planning multi-night voyages, think about the best way to break the passages down. Many solo sailors we know choose to never sail more than one night at a time so they can pull in and have rest days after each night passage. Personally, we like trips that are three days or longer, because we find it takes that long to adjust our sleeping patterns. Experiment with different passage lengths until you find a style that leaves you feeling rested.

Strategies for sailing at night

Whether we feel safe and comfortable at night has a lot to do with how we set our sails. Proper planning makes the difference between restful slumber and a sleepless night for the whole crew.

Prepare before dark – We complete the necessary tasks —like setting the sails and organizing the cockpit — in daylight so the crew on night watch has fewer things to focus on.

Brighten up – To avoid things that go bump in the night, invest in some good lighting. We were sailing down the Mexican coast and noticed a large trawler tailing us. We tried to radio the trawler only to realize that it was our buddy-boater, Jim, who had cunningly invested in high-wattage lights that made his 35-foot sloop appear to be a much larger vessel. We’ve found red lights and headlamps help us to get around the boat without impairing our night vision.

Set sails for comfort – We don’t sleep well with a slamming mainsail on a rolling boat. We play with different sail plans and courses to make our boat as comfortable and quiet as possible. We use a boom preventer , for example, to reduce the motion and noise of the mainsail. When sailing dead downwind makes things very rolly, we’ll head up a bit for a smoother ride. Our VMG (velocity made good) might suffer, but that’s preferable to having a tired crew. When we’re dealing with light and variable wind at night, we find it well worth the extra fuel cost to run the engine, so the person below can get some sleep.

Slow down at night – We usually take in a reef before dark. We might lose some speed, but our boat is a lot more manageable if the wind picks up later — and we don’t have to put in that reef at night.

Schedule maneuvers – When possible, we plan our maneuvers, such as tacking and gybing, so we can do them before it gets dark. We schedule them for watch changes to minimize the number of times we need to wake someone mid-sleep for help on deck.

By adopting these strategies, we’ve begun to really enjoy sailing at night. In fact, we’re finding now that we even prefer it, because it means we don’t lose a day of shore time upon arrival in a new port. With the right preparation, you can make nights at sea not only pleasant, but also special and beautiful times. So make things comfortable for yourself, try some tips to see what works best for you, and then sit back and enjoy the stars.

Originally published in Good Old Boat magazine in March/April 2017. For more great how-tos and DIY subscribe to Good Old Boat magazine using this exclusive Waterborne promo code .

Fiona McGlynn

Fiona McGlynn is an award-winning boating writer who created Waterborne as a place to learn about living aboard and traveling the world by sailboat. She has written for boating magazines including BoatUS, SAIL, Cruising World, and Good Old Boat. She’s also a contributing editor at Good Old Boat and BoatUS Magazine. In 2017, Fiona and her husband completed a 3-year, 13,000-mile voyage from Vancouver to Mexico to Australia on their 35-foot sailboat.

Monday 7th of December 2020

try Tradional Medicines Ginger Aid Tea. Make Thermos and keep it handy when some one starts to feel queazy have them sip a cup or two of warm Ginger Aid tea. Helps settle the stomach and keeps you warm a win win.

Sunday 3rd of June 2018

While I also do just about everything mentioned in the article, as a singlehander, there are no crew changes, so making sure hot drinks (I like decaf Irish Breakfast tea with a couple of cinnamon sticks thrown in) and light snacks are within reach of the cockpit are very important. I also added glow in the dark draft strips to my sails and I've added glow in the dark stickers to the stanchion bases. I love night sailing—it's almost a religious experience being out there, sailing in calm seas under a full moon and a sea of stars above. One word of warning though, if you're new to astronomy, don't be surprised if that North Star you've been following turns out to be the 9:40 flight from Chicago...just saying.

Friday 16th of June 2017

Good article.

The very best, THE VERY BEST, anti seasick remedy for me has been Motion Ease, sold at West Marine and Walmart. After many remedies were tried and were unsuccessful, Motion Ease was the first remedy that I found successful. We were in 38+knots of wind between Nassau and Eleuthra and the cook brought sandwich "fixins" into the cockpit. I was already seasick and could only manage a slice of bread and cheese wadded up in my fist. My wife remembered I had bought Motion Ease several years before but I had never tried it. She went below and brought up the tiny bottle. I rubbed one drop behind each ear and within 15 minutes I was eating a Dagwood sandwich! The remedy is applied to the skin area behind each ear and works even if you are already seasick. About $5 at Walmart, maybe more at West Marine.

Friday 30th of June 2017

Thanks for the recommendation Jim! I've never tried Motion Ease but will definitely give it a go now.

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Seven Tips For Night Sailing

7 Tips for Night Sailing

By: Pat Reynolds Cruising Tips , Learn To Sail , Safety

Now that we’re into the summer months, lots of you might want to stretch your skill set and do a bit of night sailing. It’s a bit of a different animal so we’ve cobbled together seven things to keep in mind as you head off into the wild black yonder.

  • Dress accordingly It may be obvious for some, but don’t forget the big ball of yellow heat will be replaced by a cold little white ball that will not help the warmth cause at all. Your ability to enjoy the pleasure that a gorgeous night on the water can provide is directly proportionate to you being dressed for the environment. Don layers, with a spray jacket on top and life should be good.
  • Carry a decent searchlight Night boating involves becoming accustomed to the available light and acclimating to it. It’s actually one of the cool things to experience during a sail in the dark, so constantly shining a spotlight like you were hand-holding your car’s headlights is not where it’s at. That said, there are instances where having a high-powered light on board can make things considerably safer. Coming into a harbor, verifying a navigational aid or identifying something foreign in the water are all common situations that benefit from a good light.
  • Stand a watch Of course someone should always be keeping an astute lookout whenever the boat is underway, but this is hyper-important during the restricted visibility that night sailing involves. If you’re lucky enough to have a bright full moon than things are a bit easier but short of that, it’s dark out there folks! Someone needs to keep a mandated watch. By the way, if that person is you, be prepared to have one of the most quality “alone-times” you’ve ever had. People are known to find the meanings of their lives on night watches. You might well return from your nice sail and promptly quit your job, dump that angry spouse and finally get in shape!
  • Don’t push Many old salts attach a different attitude and mentality for night sails. During the day the fun might be to vigilantly trim and adjust, catch lifts, shift weight and monitor that knot-meter for that rewarding uptick – 3/10s of a knot – Yes! “ Herman are you secretly racing that little boy in the sabot? ” “ No, of course not. ” But Herman is racing that little boy in the sabot! Anyway, at night it’s good to downshift and run the boat at a lower percentage. Enjoy the serenity this time of day has to offer and understand that downsizing the operation a little will make for a safer and more fulfilling experience.
  • Make sure Waypoints are Clear & Safe Most sailors rely on electronic aids to see them around the waterways and at night they become even more important. They can also, in certain situations, make things less safe. A few years ago, the famous Newport to Ensenada race reported their first deadly accident when a group of sailors ran into a small island off the coast of San Diego. After an investigation, it was determined that the sailors, in all likelihood, didn’t account for the land-mass (island) when they entered in their waypoints. They might have been sleeping or just not paying attention when their cruising boat tragically ran up on the rocks. This would never have happened during the day, but sailing at night brings with it these kinds of considerations.
  • Know the Light Patterns Fortunately charts and boats are all set up for sailing at night so it’s absolutely essential that the skipper and at least some of the crew know what the language of lights is saying out there. Boats are equipped with lights situated in such a way that other boats can tell what’s going on and charts are filled with light-related information that will clue mariners in on where they are. It can be confusing to look into a harbor located outside of a city and try to understand what is going on. “ Why is that harbor entrance light switching from green to red like that? Oh, that’s Washington blvd… ” Know what to look for and how the lights behave and the confusion will be greatly reduced.
  • Wear a PFD We understand that not everyone wears their pfd for whatever reason – it’s not comfortable, it’s filthy from lying on the floor for the past month, it sucks away at your already limited sex appeal – we get it. We don’t agree with the decision, but okay. For night boating, swallow your reasoning and put that thing on. Things can get slick on the boat at night and God forbid you end up in the drink, that little pea head of yours is very hard to see in the night. If you’re floating around for a while screaming “over here!” things are vastly better. Attach a battery powered personal beacon/light to it while you’re at it. Follow our advice and should you end up overboard you’ll be back in the boat in no time!

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Night sailing – the essential guide for offshore cruisers

Yachting World

  • April 19, 2017

Chris Tibbs on how to prepare for and enjoy offshore night watches

properly lit sailboat at night

With a full moon and following wind, night sailing can be one of the great pleasures to be had when passagemaking; but on a dark night in a gale it can be very stressful and leave you longing for dawn.

Whether you are crossing the Channel or crossing an ocean, sailing in the dark is something that everyone experiences at some stage in their sailing career and with some simple preparations you can make it easier and safer.

Have you ever been asked by a non-sailor: “What do you do out on the ocean at night?” It often comes as a surprise to find that sailing has always been a 24-hour pastime.

Traditionally, passages were made at night and planned so that landfall was at dawn to assist with identifying the lights and confirming the yacht’s position. Then the skipper could enter port safely during daylight.

With GPS we now rather underestimate the usefulness of lights for position fixing and, as more yachts are fitted with AIS, crossing shipping lanes has become less difficult now that you are not solely reliant on identifying each ship’s navigation lights.

Of course, not all vessels have AIS!

How to prepare for long passages

Generally night sailing falls into one of two categories: the first is a one-off night sail, such as the start of a summer cruise to get the boat to your cruising ground, or perhaps a RORC or JOG cross-Channel race. The second is a long passage where there will be a number of days between the start and finish with consecutive night sails.

properly lit sailboat at night

For me there should be little difference when setting up the boat although there will be a difference in watchkeeping.

Whether cruising or racing, the crew spending consecutive nights at sea requires a more rigid watch system – covering the full 24 hours – than the one-night crew. But the principles of watch-keeping do also apply to single nights at sea.

One of my pet hates used to be the Friday night cross-Channel races. Crews would arrive all enthusiastic after a hard week at work, but by 0200 tiredness had set in and we would see ourselves slowly working our way to the back of the fleet with only one or two awake enough to be competitive.

Most boats are logical in their layout and it is always a pleasure when a new but experienced crew comes on board as they will rarely need telling twice which rope is which.

Yes it is good to label clutches but soon after joining everyone should know by feel and position which rope is which.

Close your eyes and feel – size becomes very apparent and the covers will feel different. Hold the spinnaker halyard in one hand and the topping lift in the other; feel the different sizes and textures.

It is always good to keep the same ropes in the same position so at night in the dark, when the label is obscured anyway, it is easy to pick up the right one.

Humans are not particularly good at seeing at night and it takes a long time to get full night vision.

properly lit sailboat at night

The eyes are incredible complex and there are three phases in adapting to the dark.

Initially our pupils dilate to allow as much light in as possible; this may take from a few seconds to a minute to happen.

The next phase takes place in the cone cells of the eye. In the absence of light we get chemical changes in the cell and it can take ten minutes for the cone cells to adapt to the dark.

Lastly we have rod cells which are responsible for black and white vision and these contain rhodopsin which is reactivated in the absence of light. This will take several hours to fully adapt to the dark.

Although we are all different, as a rough guide it takes about ten minutes to get most of our night vision, which gets slowly better over the following few hours. This can be put back to zero very quickly by the use of bright lights.

How to use lights on board at night

All crew members should have a flashlight and it’s worth keeping a powerful spotlight on deck for rig checks and emergencies.

When sail trimming try and use as weak a flashlight as possible and also warn the helmsman and lookouts before using it.

properly lit sailboat at night

We have had great success in painting the lenses of flashlights with red nail varnish: the red light is much kinder on the eyes and nail varnish is more readily available than red flashlights.

Red lights are also crucial below. Some yachts will have split lights with red to be used at night. In the past, I have used stick-on red film from a photographic shop.

Generally we cover half of the lights red when cruising, but for long offshore passages we will cover all the lights with red film to avoid the wrong switch being used.

It would be nice to have two complete circuits to turn off the white lights completely, however ten minutes with a pair of scissors and all lights are covered.

Head torches leave both hands free, but I actually hate them on deck when sailing. If spoken to it is the natural reaction to turn and look at the person speaking, instantly ruining their night vision. Some head torches will have red bulbs but any bulb shining straight into your eye is damaging for your night vision.

Use light sparingly as the less you use, the less you tend to need. With the latest instruments and multifunction displays you can control the brightness of the image: keeping it to a minimum helps night vision and also consumes less power.

I am told that in training, some Mini Transat and Figaro sailors will practice sailing blindfold.

Night sailing tips for cruisers

I have been involved with the ARC for many years and it seems that most crews will routinely drop spinnakers and reduce sail for the night. All very prudent but nights are long in the tropics – approaching 12 hours of darkness.

I am not one for fixed rules, so I would rather see a boat set up for simple sail handling and allow conditions to dictate the sail plan. This also depends on the number of crew on board and the watch-keeping regime.

It makes sense to mark halyards and control ropes. I like to sew in a whipping of a contrasting colour onto the line marking the correct position just out of the clutch. This can be felt as well as seen and is particularly useful when reefing.

I also like to mark halyards at the maximum hoist to avoid anyone getting too enthusiastic and winding the splice or knot into the sheave. This is something racing boats have done for years and for cruisers would be useful for both day and night sailing.

Luminous draft stripes can be added to sails to help with sail shape and small amounts of reflective tape can also be stuck around the boat to help see and identify equipment.

On my boat the wheel is marked with a turk’s head knot to feel the centre point, to which we have also added some reflective tape to make it visible in low light.

If you make sail changing and trimming simple you can usually do it with just the ambient light and a small flashlight. The decklight knocks out any visibility forward. A tricolour light should light up the windex and if conditions are marginal, a steaming light can be used to check spinnaker trim, although any lights forward spoil night vision and, of course, a steaming light indicates to others that you are motoring not sailing.

When planning a voyage, make life easier and safer by maximising your moonlight hours: sailing under a full moon and clear sky is as easy as sailing during the day.

Crew preparation

Sailing is no fun when tired and hungry. There seems to be a tendency on cruising yachts to run short-handed with single-person watches. Of course, single-handed sailors circle the globe in ever faster yachts, but the average cruising yacht is not really very well set up for single-handed sailing.

properly lit sailboat at night

Hot drinks and snacks at night are essential.

The typical cruising yacht has a number of roles to perform, so the ideal deck layout in terms of sailing efficiency will be compromised by the requirements of the cabin space below.

This tends to encourage slow sailing: if it is hard to single-handedly reduce sail, it makes sense to automatically reef at night so you do not have to call anyone to help.

Two or three hours is long enough to be up on your own and with shorter watch times, there is the opportunity to change sail during a change of watch when there are two people on deck.

When my wife and I are double-handed passagemaking, we stick to three-hour watches, as this is as long as I can keep concentration. But it is tiring. For ocean crossings we tend to have an extra person to help.

Night raids and the importance of the midnight snack

When racing you have to push 24 hours a day to be competitive, although you can be a bit more conservative at night to help preserve the boat and crew.

When I skippered Concert in the BT Global Challenge, we would occasionally do a ‘night raid’. This involved handing out a few extra treats for dinner then, putting the best drivers on the helm, we would really push through the hours of darkness. This usually paid off with a few miles gained.

I would be happy to cross an ocean on freeze-dried food but I think I am in a minority! Food and drink is important for fuel and also for enjoyment.

Food at night is particularly important for energy and well-being. Sealed personal drink flasks stay hot for a couple of hours, the biggest danger being burning your mouth in the first hour. Snacks are also good on night watches: our bodies are used to sleeping at night and a snack helps to keep us going.

One trick that I like is a Cup-a-Soup in a wide-mouthed flask with a few teaspoons of couscous added. Put the lid on and leave it five minutes and you have a tasty and filling savoury snack!

How to be a watchkeeper

Watchkeepers should not take the responsibility lightly. You need an experienced watchkeeper crossing the Channel due to the level of shipping and navigation required on the passage. Further offshore a less experienced watchkeeper has more time to call the skipper.

Why longer passages are easier

Everyone on board has to get enough sleep. It may be possible, physically, to go 24 hours without sleep, but decision-making suffers and it is easy to make mistakes.

I prefer, if possible, to have at least two people on a watch, this avoids having to call extra crew for small sail changes or manoeuvres. It does also mean that when you are off watch, your sleep is not disturbed. With two on watch, three or four-hour watches pass quickly, split between steering, lookout, and navigation.

Racing is a bit different as there is generally a bigger crew. I am not a fan of everyone on the rail all night, and rotating the crew so everyone gets some sleep is important.

For longer races like the Fastnet I would have a rigid watch system so everyone gets some good sleep. If anything goes wrong then it always seems to happen at about 0400 when people are at their lowest ebb.

I would also get into the watch system early, probably before Portland, to get into a rhythm. Our bodies are very complex and need time to adjust; a short passage of two or three nights can be more tiring than a transatlantic.

Personally I find it takes about three days to get settled. I then get one really good deep sleep and I am fine for the rest of the voyage. I tend to find short passages – anything less than three days – more tiring, which is why I prefer a bigger crew for sailing a few hundred miles than I do for sailing longer passages.

7 Top tips for Safety at  night

• Prepare your boat: mark all halyards and brief crew on cockpit layout • Be patient with night vision: it takes three hours to fully adapt and moments to ruin • Red lights: either use red see-through film, red light bulbs or even nail polish • Get into watches early on the voyage: the body needs time to adjust to a new rhythm • Good food is especially important at night when the body is conditioned to be sleeping • Think safety and preparation: don’t run a one-person watch if the boat’s not easy to sail solo • Avoid getting overtired: concentration and decision making is essential at sea

properly lit sailboat at night

Chris Tibbs is a meteorologist and weather router, professional sailor and navigator, as well as an ARC safety inspector. He is currently doing a circumnavigation with his wife, Helen, on their own boat, Taistealai.

Boat Navigation Light Types

  • Boating Safety Equipment
  • Types of navigation lights

What are the 5 navigational lights?

navigation lights

Port and starboard sidelights

One of the essential safety features of any watercraft are the port and starboard sidelights. These lights play a crucial role in ensuring the visibility and navigation of vessels, especially during nighttime or low visibility conditions. On the port side, a red light illuminates the surroundings. This distinct red light provides a clear indication of the port side of the vessel. On the starboard side, a green light identify the starboard side of the vessel. 

What side does the red and green light go on a boat?

A white light placed at the stern of the boat. This white light is seen only from behind or nearly behind the vessel.

Masthead light

A white light projecting towards the front of the boat.

Stern light - Masthead light

All-round light

A white light projecting all around the vessel.

All-round light

What is a navigation light?

Just like for vehicles on our roadways, there are rules that apply to the lights that must be displayed by boats. 

These lights provide critical information to the operators of other vessels when they see you. Depending on the lights required to be displayed on your boat based on its length and type of propulsion, the information that these lights provide to others can tell them whether you are at anchor or underway or engaged in some other activity, whether you are a power-driven vessel or not, what your heading is, etc. Other vessels around you make collision avoidance decisions based on the information available to them, that's why it is so important that the information your navigation lights are giving them is the correct information.

If you are caught by the police not showing lights or showing improper lights, you will likely be fined. Worse yet, if the information your navigation lights are providing is incorrect and an accident occurs as a result of this, there could be serious repercussions.  

When must navigation lights be displayed?

Navigation lights must be displayed:

At night (between sunset and sunrise)

When periods of restricted (poor) visibility (fog or heavy rain)

What are the rules of navigation lights on boats?

Port and Starboard lights must be visible from one nautical mile, and masthead and stern lights must be visible from two nautical miles. 

Boat Navigation Lights rules and requirements

Powerboats navigation lights.

A power driven vessel   of less than 12 meters in length, and underway, may display, from sunset to sunrise:

All-round light   (white) forward and,

Sidelights   (red – green).

Powerboats navigation lights

Sailboats navigation lights

and underway, may display, from sunset to sunrise:

Sidelights   (red – green) and,

  • Sternlight   (white).

Sailboats are considered powerboats when they have the engines on - even if the sails are up. 

Masthead light  (white) forward,

Sternlight  (white).

Sailboats navigation lights

Commercial boats navigation lights

Commercial boats navigation lights

Police boat lights - Blue flashing light 

All law enforcement agencies (Police) and some government agencies must display an all-around blue-flashing beam engaged in duties in Canadian waters.

Police boat lights - Blue flashing light 

Tugboat lights - Yellow lights

Is a navigation light used for towing. It's a yellow over a white navigation light placed at the forward end of a towing vessel or vessel being towed.

Tugboat lights - Yellow lights

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Night sailing tips for first timers

Toby Heppell

  • Toby Heppell
  • September 4, 2020

Cruising after dark doesn't need to be stressful. Toby Heppell shares his tops tips for night sailing

Sailing at night

Sailing at night can be a magical experience. Credit: Paul Wyeth

Do you find night sailing stressful? It needn’t be if you follow a few basic rules and plan ahead.

Stay on deck while night sailing

As always with pilotage, the right place to be is on deck, not least to avoid uncharted objects such as other craft, mooring buoys and fishing pot markers.

Most pilotage errors occur at night rather than in the day so a thorough pilotage plan is essential.

Even with a navigation station filled with electronic aids it is still possible to become disorientated while trying to reconcile the view on deck with that on the chart.

A man helming a yacht at night

Where possible, the right place to be is on deck. Credit: Paul Wyeth

You need a pilotage plan.

The most important principle is this: if you know the position of the yacht and you are armed with a chart (electronic or paper) and a compass, you know the range and bearing to the next mark.

This means that when you reach a known position, such as a navigation buoy, you know where to head to find the next one.

Simple, except that a surprising number of navigators waste time scanning the lights ahead with no plan to find the one they want.

Fishing pots

Unpredictable and unlit, these are the biggest danger at night.

Avoiding them is largely a matter of common sense.

Sometimes they are laid in deep water, but mostly they lurk in less than 50m.

a container marking a lobster pot

Fishing pots, hard enough to spot in the daylight, become all but invisible at night

Avoid shallows if you can, especially near fishing harbours, and inside passages around headlands, even if you are confident of your position thanks to radar and plotter.

Even if you know where you are, there’s still the same risk of the engine stopping with a crunch, or finding yourself moored by the rudder or prop in a strong tide.

Light pollution

Light pollution is a well-known source of navigation stress, particularly when looking to enter an unfamiliar harbour after dark.

If it has been a while since you have done this, it is well worth returning to your own harbour after dark and noting the different complexion the various landmarks take on when not visible to the naked eye.

A large, unlit buoy may be sited just in front of a particularly well-lit hotel rendering it difficult to spot.

Another feature of light pollution (but of sailing at night more generally too) is the reduction in our ability to judge distances.

This is particularly acute when coming into harbour.

A navigation buoy’s light may well get lost in the background of a sea of lights when, during the day it would be clear and obvious the nav buoy was some way offshore.

Night vision

The sensitivity of our eyes increases the longer they are in the dark and it can take many minutes for maximum sensitivity to be acquired, and the improvement is dramatic.

Unfortunately it can be lost in a few seconds of exposure to bright lights.

Eyes have cones that are used for colour vision in daylight, and more sensitive rods that come into their own at night.

The rods are not sensitive to red light and this means that if you switch to red illumination your eyes can continue to adapt while you move around the boat.

The bad news for those of pensionable age is that your eyes will only be about a third as sensitive to low light as in your youth.

A red light illuminating a compass

Is red light at night always best?

Binoculars will boost illumination by about 50 times and go a long way to redressing the balance.

However, it still pays to have your youngest crew on lookout.

It is worth noting too, that in this high-tech age, our cockpits are often filled with screens all giving off light.

Most of these screens can be dimmed or put into night mode, but sailing in the dark can be such a calm experience that the harsh light of screens can detract.

Keep your electronics on and functioning and use as appropriate.

If they are on and lit up in the cockpit they tend to draw the eye and can have the effect of making you less aware of that which is going on around you.

Poorly lit craft

Inshore, yachts can be hard to spot.

Coming into places like Southampton, Portsmouth or any other significant port with strong background lighting and a tight channel for leisure craft you are likely to be up against a significant confusion of lights.

Yachts are especially awkward if they opt for a tricolour at the masthead instead of proper running lights in close quarters.

You are looking ahead for trouble, not up in the sky!

Tricolours are great on passage though, increasing the likelihood of being spotted and minimising power drain – remember, do not use your tricolour when under power.

Fishing boats’ navigation lights are often made hard to see thanks to a bright deck light to enable the crew to work on deck.

A ship lit up on the Solent

Many larger ships are well lit up at night making them easier to spot. Credit: Colin Work

Watch them closely and expect erratic course changes.

Try to give them plenty of space to stay safe.

Around the UK other than the decklights making it hard to discern their heading from a distance, fishing craft should not cause too much worry.

But, you will want to avoid ending up astern of them in case they are trawling, so do take plenty of time to discern their direction of travel.

In some parts of the world fishing craft of various sizes do sometimes operate without proper lighting, so if you are entering a busy seaport always take it slowly.

Cruise ships and ferries are invariably lit up like Christmas trees.

It can be hard to pick out the red and green amongst the plethora of other lights onboard, so take time to work out what they’re up to and consult AIS if you have it.

Given their size, if you are close to shore even without seeing their nav lights it is usually fairly easy to make a decent guess at their bearing relative to you by glancing at your chart to get a sense of the main nav channels.

Safety on deck while night sailing

For the most part you will have your own rules about when lifejackets go on, whether that be worn the whole time, when the windstrength is above ‘x’ knots etc.

The strong recommendation is to always wear a lifejacket when on deck after nightfall, and this is sensible.

Some choose not to in calm weather and if they are in the cockpit.

As ever, what you decide will be between you and your crew.

Theo Stocker, YM editor, wearing a lifejacket while night sailing

Wearing a lifejacket when sailing after dark is advisable

For my part I would strongly recommend a lifejacket at all times after dark.

Clipping on via your harness is also strongly recommended.

If you are sailing a long passage at night then do be aware of your harness clip scraping along the deck if you are moving around – it’s a very irritating noise for those trying to get some kip below.

It’s not always easy to force discipline on yourself, but it really does make sense to call on your crew if you need to go up on deck for any sort of sail adjustment.

Safety is not about buying things.

It is about an attitude of mind.

We must constantly be on the lookout for trouble at night so that we can forestall it, just as we do in the daytime.

If you are setting out on a passage that may well extend into the night, it is worth considering what food you intend to take.

There is a lot to be said for preparing an evening meal before set off.

Something like a pre-made stew can be easily heated and give you a boost to cover the last miles.

It can also help you warm up on deck or make for a hearty meal once you are tied up.

Food and hot drinks are essential when night sailing

Have snacks and hot drinks easily to hand

Whatever you choose, make plenty of it, that way you have enough to get you through the night, or you can have a bit to keep you going but still have a meal left when you arrive at your destination.

Hot drinks are axiomatic.

Boiling a kettle and having somewhere safe to place a mug while you make an instant coffee has to be easy.

If it isn’t and you are reduced to pre-heating thermos flasks, there is something wrong with your boat or your arrangements.

Keep the drinks coming.

They maintain morale and give people something to do.

Effect on weather

All air usually cools at night, even over the sea.

This will be more obvious when it has been a sunny day not far from land.

The result is that there are fewer gusts and a decrease in the average wind strength as the thermally enhanced breeze disappears.

On a night with low-lying cloud or hill fog, some lighthouses will not be visible.

Note the height of the lantern from the chart and be ready for the occasional disappointment.

Continues below…

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Halos around the moon can be really obvious at night.

A big one is often a sign of an approaching front.

If the wind is light, think about starting the engine and keeping up boat speed.

In conditions when the air is moist, a degree or so of cooling after dark might be just enough to shut down poor-to- moderate visibility into mist or even fog.

Distant lightning is more easily seen at night, so don’t be too alarmed if you see it flashing around the horizon.

Sailing and sail handling while night sailing

Once darkness falls, moving around on deck should be reduced and so it makes sense to have out sails that are well within the conditions at the time.

Many skippers like to shorten sail before dark, regardless of conditions, so as to minimise the chance of having to handle sails at night.

However, you should still be willing and able to change sails, or take in or let out reefs, if necessary, particularly if you are on a long passage.

It is a very good idea to mark your halyards so that you can roughly get them in the right place for reefs etc.

A yacht sailing as the sun sets

Some skippers like to shorten sails as night falls to minimise the chance of sail handling. Credit: Graham Snook/YM

You should also have a working set of deck lights, so you can illuminate everything when doing big jobs.

If you are not far from your final destination and daylight is disappearing, it might be worth switching the engine on and getting sails down and tidy before the dark really takes hold.

But if you’re confident in your passage plan then this is far, far from crucial.

Reducing sail, however, helps with your own ability to see and be seen.

In busy areas many sailors like to have quite a bit of the headsail rolled away as this improves visibility looking forward – a good idea for busy ports in daylight too.

At the beginning of the night, the skipper should make sure everyone understands what adjustments can be made unsupervised by those on deck and when more crew should be called up to assist.

This may vary, depending on the crew’s experience.

Intuitive sailing

There are additional strips you can get added to sails that glow at night to allow you to properly set them at night, but this is really only necessary for racers and those looking to make very long night passages.

In truth, there is usually enough light to get some decent sense of how your sails are set, and if you have reduced sail before night falls, then the consequences of getting things wrong is just a slowing of pace.

Having a torch handy to check trim and telltales is a real help.

properly lit sailboat at night

Toby Heppell got his first boat aged four and grew up sailing on the East Coast. He has been a sailing journalist for over 15 years. Credit: Richard Langdon

Though some are tempted to switch on the motor once dark falls, sailing in the dark is a really fun and tranquil experience and can improve your sailing skills during the day.

Without the ability to see gusts approaching on the water, your sail trim is going to be far more reactive than it might otherwise be.

Feel becomes key when sailing at night.

Sailing by feel is something of a specialism for blind sailors.

Lucy Hodges, Blind Sailing World Champion, once offered me this advice: ‘A key area for me when sailing are the hairs on the back of my neck. I always make sure that my neck is exposed. With a bit of practice you may be surprised how quickly you can lean to feel changes in wind pressure and direction.’

The key to sailing by feel, is using all of your senses.

Feeling the roll of a boat is essential, if you feel the boat is starting to heel, and if the hairs on your neck have not changed, the wind might not have altered and you probably want to adjust course slightly.

If the boat begins to heel and the hairs on your neck feel different, the wind may have increased so you might adjust trim.

Of course with visual inputs too, we do not need to sail entirely on feel when night falls, but it does stand as a great example of how different and rewarding sailing at night can be.

It can really help you feel more in tune with your boat.

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Lighting while sailing at night.

properly lit sailboat at night

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I had an interesting experience while racing recently that posed an interesting question. I was sailing (on a port tack) towards the turning mark of a long distance course in the dark. We were lit like a sailboat should be, running lights and sternlight as well as a masthead red over green sailing light. Closing us on a steady bearing (risk of collision) was a vessel showing sidelights and a white light higher than the side lights. My watch Captain judged that this was a vessel under power and that we (under sail) would have the right of way. When it was apparent that the other vessel wasn't going to give way we crash tacked and got out of its way. As it went by, we saw a sailing vessel (on a starboard tack) with its anchor light on. When I later asked the skipper (he was in the same race) what he was doing, he said that they often sailed with the anchor light on so they could see the masthead wind indicator to ensure they were trimmed right. He claimed he had the right of way (starboard tack vice port tack) He never considered that it would confuse other vessels because his anchor light was on. It was a close call. Thoughts? How do you folks see wind direction and set trim at night? Gaz  

properly lit sailboat at night

He was wrong. My tricolor provides the same convenient illumination of the masthead fly while remaining legal, although there is some risk inshore that people won't look high enough to see the tricolor. Tell him to get a wind instrument (or another if he already has one) and mount it where the trimmers can see it. That said, I'm not sure what good that will do. We get more value from someone on the windward rail (or cabintop in light air) playing a flashlight over the telltales.  

properly lit sailboat at night

Boaters in our area constantly do this and it drives me crazy. They will sail with thier steamming light on or with the anchor light on or with both on. They think that it makes them more visable (Or so that they can see thier masthead) but all it realy does is add to the confusion. We don't race, but the results are the same.  

properly lit sailboat at night

Plumper said: How do you folks see wind direction and set trim at night? Click to expand...

properly lit sailboat at night

He's an idiot. By sailing with the anchor light lit, he's effectively saying that he is under power and given up his rights as a sailboat. A sailboat, under 12 meters IIRC can use an all-around white light in addition to a bicolor to indicate that it is under power, rather than using a bicolor, stern and steaming light. If you have proper wind instruments aboard, you shouldn't need to light up the windex, since the wind instrument display head, at deck level, usually in the cockpit will give you the same information. If he's too cheap to invest in one...he's gonna get hit one of these days.  

properly lit sailboat at night

The little Windex lights work great. You can buy the Windex brand name which mounts with your Windex. The only disadvantage is the extra pair of wires to run up the mast. They just light up the Windex and are not very noticible otherwise. Running with your steaming or anchor light on is of course wrong and if I had someone in our race fleet who did it I was politely mention it once then protest if he/she continued. I should add that occasionaly I have seen the steaming light put on to help wort out a problem on the fore deck but the helnsman should be aware that night vision will be affected and they have no rights. Gary  

properly lit sailboat at night

I'd think you should have protested to the race committee - and had him thrown out as a unsafe participant. Not everyone can afford or wants a Tridata ST60+ or equivent with repeaters in the cockpit, that doesn't give them permission to conflict with the law, and be unsafe. OTOH - a flashlight shined at him before it became a crash tack would have shown he was a sailboat - you too have a responsibility to be safe. Assuming the other boat sees you, knows the rules and will obey them has probably dented more sailboats than anything else on the water.  

properly lit sailboat at night

Plumper said: I had an interesting experience while racing recently that posed an interesting question. snip Thoughts? How do you folks see wind direction and set trim at night? Gaz Click to expand...

Shining a flashlight on another boat in the dark is not on. That would completely blind the guy that is about to run into you. Not a great move. Perhaps shining a flashlight on your own sails is more appropriate. Does it matter whether the white light at the top of the mast is a dim windex light or an anchor light? If it is at all visible from another boat it would confuse things wouldn't it? When scanning with binoculars those "low wattage" lights might not seem so low. I suggest that if there are any other boats in the vicinity then using any light at all to illuminate your windex is wrong.  

Plumper said: Does it matter whether the white light at the top of the mast is a dim windex light or an anchor light? If it is at all visible from another boat it would confuse things wouldn't it? When scanning with binoculars those "low wattage" lights might not seem so low. Click to expand...
I suggest that if there are any other boats in the vicinity then using any light at all to illuminate your windex is wrong. Click to expand...

I think that any light you are going to be able to see from 50 feet straight down is going to be visible from elsewhere.  

You don't have to see the light from the cockpit, you only need to see the windex. The windex light points straight UP at the windex, so that the light reflects off of the windex. The underside of the windex is tagged with reflective materials, so the light doesn't have to be very bright. Like I said, I believe it should be possible to design a windex light that illuminates the windex without being visible from off the boat.  

You could paint the forward 180 degrees of the windex light and it would be fine...for seeing the windex. You could have it on a switch and douse it when approaching another boat. You have to understand it's like a 2 watt light. The trilight or the running lights on the hull would be far brighter than this, and as it is commonly *behind* the trilight, and *below* its housing, you would only see it from the stern, meaning you'd see a very dim yellowy light, with a freaking bright white stern sector of a trilight above it. I've used these. They are dimmer than penlights used in cockpits. If a binnacle light at the helm doesn't cause a collision, neither will this.  

Plumper- If the light fixture is properly designed, with the light pointed up, it will not really be visible from any boat, unless your boat is knocked down. The way a Windex light works, it shines the light on the Windex arrow and the guides, so that you can see how it is oriented. It doesn't require any light be cast in a downward direction at all. Valiente- Anchor lights can be used as a combination steaming and stern light on boats less than 12 meters that are under power.  

BTW, generally, shining a light at another boat is a bad idea at night. If you blind their helmsman, it can take up to an hour for them to recover any signifcant night vision. Shining it on your sails is a much better idea. The only possible exception to this is the bridge of a large ship...where you'll likely not blind them, but will bring your boat to their attention. The bridge on most large ships is far enough away that your light won't blind them, at least at any position where you'll be able to shine it at the bridge.  

sailingdog said: BTW, generally, shining a light at another boat is a bad idea at night. If you blind their helmsman, it can take up to an hour for them to recover any signifcant night vision. Shining it on your sails is a much better idea. The only possible exception to this is the bridge of a large ship...where you'll likely not blind them, but will bring your boat to their attention. The bridge on most large ships is far enough away that your light won't blind them, at least at any position where you'll be able to shine it at the bridge. Click to expand...

As a person with many hours watchkeeping on large ships (thousands) I think shining the light on your sails is better. Not because the light will blind the BWK but because the sails will glow and the light is just a pinpoint.  

properly lit sailboat at night

I use a flashlight when I want to see the windex. Easy, cheap and there when you need it. As for ruining the night vision of crew on a boat that's about to run you down....I wouldn't worry about it. Quickly sweep the light across their bridge -- the "flash" won't effect night vision that much, but it may get their attention, which is what you're trying to do in the first place. A strong light on the sails should be the first thing -- followed by the more agressive tactic above.  

Billyruffin, "the "flash" won't effect night vision that much" Wrong answer - it will effect night vision. Does the flash of a camera effect vision? Do it and you'll be liable if the blind helmsman runs you or anyone else down. Redlight your sails if you want to get attention. Night blinding a helmsman might get you more attention than you want.  

properly lit sailboat at night

I've got two problems I think I can solve with one light, but is it legal? When putting together my boat, I installed this light on the masthead http://www.boatersworld.com/product/197260193.htm?bct=t13098025%3Bcielectrical-boat%3Bcilighting%3Bcinavigation-lights It is a two bulb fixture and I currently have it wired as an anchor light with both bulbs coming on at the same time. The problem is that I can't see my windex at night and my stern light attracts hoards of insects, plus it does impair my night vision a bit. If I wire it so that just the rear facing portion comes on when sailing and kill the stern light, am I still legal? How much risk do you think I'll have with no deck level stern light?  

I use the windex when cruising as a short cut. When racing with a crew, who cares? If you are beating you know how far you can bring the jib in - bring it all the way in and sail the telltales. At night, that means someone on the rail uses a flashlight so the helm can see the telltales. If you are reaching, the helm sets the course and someone on the rail lights up the telltales so the trimmers can see (or calls guidance back to the trimmers). The windex is a big picture tool, not a tactical trimming tool. You don't need it lit up all the time.  

You probably should be cranking on the wheel long before this (right after you sound five short blasts and flash your light five times).  

Billyruffn - you make an excellent point! I always get annoyed when a pedestrian walks in front of a moving car when the motorist doesn't see them, almost gets run over and then yells "I have the right of way!" I always told my kids, "You may have the right of way, but if you're dead it really won't matter. Never argue with a ton of metal, you'll lose..." In our case, never argue with 20 tons of Bayliner bearing down on you...  

Your lights were incorrect also If I recall correctly, rules of the road specifically prohibits using running lights and tricolor mast head lights at the same time. I read through the first page of responses and was surprised that no one had pointed this out. Ardie in Virginia  

We normally sail with an LED tricolor (to save A-Hrs). On a 3400 nm passage to the Marquesas we saw only one freighter, first by her lights then on radar. Hailing them on VHF, they couldn't see our 44' fiberglass boat (with a good radar reflector) at 2-3 nm until we briefly turned on our strobe . A Windex illuminator might cause confusion in close quarters, but we worry a log more about being seen at all -- we always assume we are invisible.  

The purpose of a boat showing lights while under way at night is to identify to other boats the type of boat, its' form of propulsion, and course it is following. By showing a different set of lights the sailor trying to light his windex is in violation of various rules of the road and would be found liable in any collision. He surely should have been disqualified from the race, the same as if he had been using a sail that was not allowed by the rules. I have used the small windex light at the masthead for illuminating the windex for many years and it is very effective and virtually invisible to other boats.  

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COMMENTS

  1. What is a Properly Lit Sailboat at Night? (A Guide to Safety

    A properly lit sailboat at night is a boat that is equipped with the correct navigation lights, which are required by law. These lights must be visible for two miles and should include a green light on the starboard side, a red light on the port side, and a white light aft. Additionally, the boat must also have a white masthead light that is ...

  2. Shining the Sailboat Lights At Night: What You Need To Know

    Sailboat-Specific Navigation Light Rules. Sailboats must have the same red and green lights as powerboats. The difference is that you'll need other ones on the stern and mast. If your boat is less than 65 feet, you can use either a combination of a bicolor light with red and green along with another at the stern or a tricolor one on top of ...

  3. Navigation Lights at Night

    The most common of our navigation lights are our "running lights". This is a red light on the port side of the boat and a green light on the starboard side that shine from the bow to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam of the boat. This creates a 112.5-degree arc on either side of the vessel. To complete a 360-degree circle, our white stern light ...

  4. The Nighttime Navigation Gear Checklist

    Proper navigation lights are crucial for nighttime sailing, as they help you to see and be seen by other vessels. At a minimum, your boat should be equipped with the following lights: Bow lights: Red (port) and green (starboard) lights mounted on the bow of your boat, visible from at least one mile away. Stern light: A white light mounted on ...

  5. What you need to know about sailing at night

    All boats must be properly lit for other vessels to see. And, a boat doesn't work like a car either, where we shine our headlights on the road ahead to see what's in front of us. At sea we rely on navigation, nautical charts, lighthouses and the captain's knowledge. Basic boat lights include running lights, steaming lights and anchor lights.

  6. The Night Vision Techniques

    In addition to the navigation tips above, there are several safety precautions you should take when sailing at night: 1. Ensure Your Boat is Properly Lit. Make sure your boat's navigation lights are functioning properly and are visible from all angles. This will help other vessels see you and avoid collisions. 2. Wear Reflective Clothing and Gear

  7. Boat navigation lights rules and requirements at night

    1 lantern, combining the sidelights and stern light above. Option 1. Option 2. Option 3. Optional - A sailing vessel may exhibit at or near the top of the mast, two all-round lights in a vertical line: the upper one red and the lower one green. These lights are shown along with the sidelights and sternlight.

  8. Required Navigation Lights: Sailboats Under Sail

    Red and green sidelights, one sternlight, and two all-round lights in a vertical line (upper red, lower green) also meet the navigation lights requirement for sailboats that are not operating under engine power (Rule 25). One combination red, green, and white light exhibited near the top of the mast meets the navigation lights requirement for ...

  9. Boat Navigation Lights Rules: Illustrated Beginners Guide

    Any properly installed USCG or COLREGS approved light which will cover the correct arcs. If you have to replace the original light from your boat, make sure it's with an approved replacement. Lights When Sailing. The specific rules for a sailboat under sail are in COLREGS Rule 25 and vary slightly with the size of the boat. A sailboat powering ...

  10. Navigation Lights for Sailboats (And How To Read Them)

    As such a power boat, and by extension all sailboats, MUST, without question show one green light on the starboard bow and one red light on the port bow and one all around white light or lights while operating in reduced visibility. These lights should shine at all 360 degrees of visibility with the bow lights shining at an angle of dead ahead ...

  11. Night Sailing: A full guide to sailing in the dark

    A moonless night sky descends to wrap us in a blanket of bright heavenly bodies, untarnished by light pollution. Conversely a full moon can cast its own spell - there is nothing like the magic of sailing down the reflective path of a moonbeam. A few hours of night sailing can hugely extend your cruising range.

  12. Boat Lights At Night (The Rules For Safety)

    Boat navigation lights at night are used for safety. They are designed so they can be seen easily. Boat lights vary according to boat type and size, boat use, navigation area, and geographic location. Boaters should learn boat light meanings and keep up-to-date on boat light requirements. Boat navigation lights indicate a boat's heading ...

  13. What are the proper sailboat lights at night?

    Sailboats are required to have three lights at a minimum: a masthead light, a red port light, and a green starboard light. The masthead light is white and is located at the top of the mast. This light should shine forward and aft and be visible from 2 nautical miles away. It is important to ensure that the masthead light is not obstructed by ...

  14. Expert Boat safety Tips for Navigating Your Boat at Night

    Use as Many Eyes and Ears as Possible. Keeping a sharp lookout is key to boating safely in the dark. If you have passengers onboard, give them the job of keeping their eyes fixed on the horizon to look for unlit buoys, boats at anchor, running boats, floating objects, and other possible dangers. Having multiple sets of eyes on the lookout ...

  15. Sailing at night: tactics and tips

    Water is very important for keeping the mind alert on night watch. In fact, dehydration is often mistaken for fatigue. Keep a water bottle on deck - One of our friends has a rule that anyone who yawns on the boat must take a drink of water. Every member of the crew should keep a water bottle on deck when on watch.

  16. 7 Tips for Night Sailing

    Don layers, with a spray jacket on top and life should be good. Carry a decent searchlight. Night boating involves becoming accustomed to the available light and acclimating to it. It's actually one of the cool things to experience during a sail in the dark, so constantly shining a spotlight like you were hand-holding your car's headlights ...

  17. Night sailing

    Sailing is no fun when tired and hungry. There seems to be a tendency on cruising yachts to run short-handed with single-person watches. Of course, single-handed sailors circle the globe in ever ...

  18. When Should You Use Navigation Lights on a Boat?

    Navigation lights must be displayed on a boat if you are operating your boat at night or in poor visibility. The term "night" here refers to the period between sunset and daybreak. During the daytime, poor visibility can refer to heavy fog or even inclement weather, such as rain or snowfall. In this article, Drive a Boat Canada explains all ...

  19. Boat Navigation Light Types

    Sailboats navigation lights. and underway, may display, from sunset to sunrise: Sidelights (red - green) and, Sternlight (white). Sailboats are considered powerboats when they have the engines on - even if the sails are up. Sidelights (red - green) and, Masthead light (white) forward, Sternlight (white).

  20. Boating at Night: Rules, Safety Tips and Lights

    Slow down. The most important safety precaution you can take when boating at night is to slow down. In the dark, visibility is significantly reduced and it becomes much more difficult to accurately judge distance. Slowing down gives you more time to react if an obstacle looms suddenly out of the darkness, so make sure to boat at a safe speed!

  21. Night sailing tips for first timers

    Stay on deck while night sailing. As always with pilotage, the right place to be is on deck, not least to avoid uncharted objects such as other craft, mooring buoys and fishing pot markers. Most pilotage errors occur at night rather than in the day so a thorough pilotage plan is essential. Even with a navigation station filled with electronic ...

  22. Lighting while sailing at night.

    Shining lights in the pilothouses of other vessels. sailingdog said: BTW, generally, shining a light at another boat is a bad idea at night. If you blind their helmsman, it can take up to an hour for them to recover any signifcant night vision. Shining it on your sails is a much better idea.