What Type of Boat Requires Navigation Lights?

If you’re taking your boat out on a voyage and expect to be on the water well into the night or in periods of restricted visibility like fog or rain, chances are you’re going to need navigation lights. The water can be dangerous at under these conditions without proper illumination, resulting in a number of issues such as getting lost or getting into a collision with another vessel, rocks, or the docks. For some boats, navigation lights are just a helping hand that make sailing safer and easier. For other boats, however, navigation lights are required. In other words, it is mandatory that certain boats have navigation lights on board at all times to ensure the utmost safety of its passengers as well as all other vessels on the water. Not sure if your boat is among those that require navigation lights? Learn why navigation lights are so important and whether or not you own a boat required to have them.

Why Do We Need Navigation Lights?

It might seem like this goes without saying, but navigation lights are used to help prevent collisions, to illuminate your surroundings during times of obstructed or reduced visibility, and to keep you, your vessel, and your passengers safe. When you use navigation lights you are able to see other vessels, obstacles in the water (rocks, etc), and other vessels can see you. In addition to illuminating your surroundings, navigation lights also give information pertinent to safe travel: size of a course or fellow vessel, the direction you want to sail in, and activity in and around the water are all important factors to consider to ensure you arrive to your destination safely.  

Without navigation lights, you vessel cannot get very far, and you may be subjected to hefty fines if you are caught sailing without the proper lights in place. What’s worse, if your vessel is not visible to others on the water, you are putting many lives in danger. Be smart and safe by securing the right navigation lights to your vessel at all times - it’s just common sense!

Navigation Lights Law and Basic Rules

As we dive into which boat type require navigation lights, we must also look at navigation lights law. The United States Coast Guard navigation rules specify that you are required to have appropriate navigation lights on during the night and other times of reduced visibility on the water.

On all vessels, your navigation lights will have a specific color, range of visibility, location, and arc of illumination as required by navigation lights law and regulations. To comply with navigation lights law, you should be aware of the following basic rules:

  • Sidelights on your boat are red and green. The red lights are located portside, while green are starboard. The lights shine from dead ahead to 112.5 degrees aft on either side of the vessel.
  • Stern lights are white. These lights shine aft and 67.5 degrees on each side in order to create a full circle of bright, clear light to greatly improve visibility.
  • All around lights are also white. Like stern lights, the all around lights automatically project a full circle of light, giving 360 degrees of shine.
  • Masthead lights are also white. They shine from 112.5 degrees on the port side of the vessel through dead ahead to 112.5 degrees on the starboard side. Masthead lights must always be located above side lights.
  • On some vessels, sidelights may be combined in order to create a single “bicolor” light

You should note that as person possessing a vessel that is taken on the water regularly, you are legally required to display the proper lights of the right color, intensity, and visibility on your boat at all appropriate times.

Does Your Boat Type Require Navigation Types?

Now that you’ve got the basic laws and requirements, how do you know if your boat requires navigation lights? The USCG (as presented by Boat US Foundation) have the following legal requirements:

Vessels Less Than 65.6 Feet in Length

  • Must have a Masthead Light(s). If the visible range is less than 39.4 feet, two masthead lights are required. If the visible range in miles is 39.4 or more, three lights are required. The arc of visibility must be 225 degrees.
  • Must have two All-Around lights with an arc of 360 degrees whether the visible range is miles is less or more than 39.4 feet.
  • Must have sidelights (red and green). If the the visible range is less than 39.4 feet, one pair of sidelights are required; if the visible range in miles is more than 39.4, two sidelights are required. Visibility arc must be 112.5 degrees.
  • Must have a stern light with an arc of visibility of 135 degrees. Two stern lights are required whether the visible range in miles is less or more than 39.4 feet.


Powerboats are required to have a masthead light facing forward as well as sidelights and a stern light. If the vessel is less than 12 meters in length, it must have an all-around white light and side lights. They must also carry the following:

  • Sidelights: Red on port side, green on starboard, and an continuous arc of 112.5 degrees from dead ahead to 22.5 degrees on each side.
  • Combination Lights: On powerboats, sidelights may be combined into a single “bicolor” light fixture to be carried at the centerline of the boat.
  • Stern Lights: A white light with a continuous arc of the horizon of 135 degrees and centered on dead astern.


For sailboats that are less than 7 meters long, regular navigation lights (as outlined above) will suffice. If, however, regular navigation lights cannot be used or installed practically, there is another option. Your sailboat must have a hand electric torch or lantern that emits a highly visible white light and must be displayed at all times to prevent collisions or other issues.

For some visual aids on navigation lights and the different scenarios your boat would use and require them, check this out.

Where to Find Navigation Lights

So now that you know what kind of boats require navigation lights, where they should go on your vessel, and the right lights for certain boats, where do you find them? We have already mentioned how many boats do not automatically come with navigation lights up to USCG safety standards. Fortunately, there are ways to find navigation and other boat light sellers that offer exactly what you need. You can find navigation lights online through sellers like Amazon, or else through boating equipment sellers near you. Freshly Salted also offers navigation and safety equipment like compasses in addition to useful navigation lights. Prices for navigation lights will vary with some of products falling under $20.00. On the higher end, navigation lights and equipment can cost up to $50-$100. Be sure to shop around and find the best lights for the best prices!

Finally, remember that it is your sole responsibility as the owner and/or operator o the vessel to display the correct navigation lights in the correct spaces on your boat. You cannot rely on your manufacturer, selling dealer, or importer to provide the correct lights from the get go. In fact, most boats do not come with the lights that meet the USCG’s legal requirements, leaving it up to you to ensure that the lights on your boat are up to code and compliant with boating and navigation laws. Be sure to look for reliable sellers and dealers and always check and recheck navigation lights legal requirements to ensure that the lights you choose, purchase, and install are the right kind.