Boat Navigation Lights – Anchor, Steaming, Side, Stern Lights

Collision requirements (colregs) require you have certain lights on during low visibility times like at night or in a fog. The running lights change based on if you are under power as well. Under sail, a boat is allowed to conserve energy by running a minimal set of lighting. The lights involved are the anchor, steaming, side, and stern. Masthead light is an ambiguous term I will avoid.

The anchor light lies at the top of the mast or tallest structure. The light radiates all around, 360 degrees. For a boat at anchor, the light is white. For a sailboat under sail, the light is tri-color. Under either scenario, the anchor light is the only light. Under power, a white all around anchor light combines with side lights for navigation.

The steaming light is halfway up the mast or tallest structure. She radiates white light forward 225 degrees. She does not radiate any colors. Use the steaming light solely under power combined with colored side lights and a stern white 135 degree light.

Side lights are a pair on each side towards the bow. Port is red, starboard green. Red means stop for a viewing vessel and yield to the red lighted vessel. You have the right of way aboard the red sighted boat. Green means the opposite. The viewing vessel has right of way, and the showing boat must yield. Under power, use the side lights with either a all-around anchor white light or the combination 225 degree steaming/135 degree stern whites.

The stern light is at deck level towards the boat’s transom. She is a white, 135 degree light. Under power, use her in combination with side lights and the steaming forward, 225 degree, white light. As a final twist under sail, a stern light combines with two anchor lights (one green, one red). The red light must be higher on the mast than the green light.

Navigation lights include the anchor, steaming, side, and stern lights. Depending on whether you are under power or sail or anchored, a boat shows different combinations of these lights. Generally, in each situation you need lights showing for all 360 degrees which penetrate 2 miles away. And when navigating, red means stop. Yield to a vessel showing red. No matter what be careful. Be a defensive sailor making sure you avoid peril.

Boat US provides the great animations below.

  • Under Power
  • Click on “running lights.” See the combination of the given anchor, steaming, side, and stern lights needed for running under power. Note that another option includes an all around anchor light with no stern light. See the description pictures.
    Animation Description
  • Under Sail
  • Click on the “running lights.” Portside is the same as for power boats under power. Starboardside-top is the setup for under sail. Note another option is a tri-color anchor light with given green, red, and white orientations.
    Animation Description

One Reply to “Boat Navigation Lights – Anchor, Steaming, Side, Stern Lights”

  1. Aye it’s Fox Axel the pirate. I ave a lession for all ye two bit slim witted dogs. Me sailed Sea Belle silently along in starry darkness. Me wast in the Bermuda Triangle. In me good eye I saw a red light in the distance. Avast, a star. Neh, the redness grew brighter and moved along the horizon. Me thought now she must be a UFO! Me lurched down from the poop deck below for me pirate spyglass.

    When I came up the red light was close to starboard. Me heard a wild wench, swab voices. Begad! We pirates never bother with navigation lights. I could not swerve or tack. The swabs stuck me athwart ship gashing a hole in Sea Belle. Me sunk down to the briny deep. Know what navigation lights are so ye can plunder fools. And put lights on when ye are not plundering.

    Arghh, after me sunk into the briny deep. The swarthy swabs fished me out. When dey got me on deck, they released somehow that me was a pirate although I hid me hook under me cloak. I cursed dem for running into me, the bilge rats and would have made dem walk a plank iffen dey had one on hand. Whilst in shock at seeing me in me full pirate regalia, I managed to grab the wee lad and ransom him for some grub and grog. Then, I started to charm them with me pirate talk and wild seafaring ways, and dey all agreed to join me on the high seas. Iffen anybody else dats wishes to join me fleet who gots some pirate in im, find me on Monkey Isle.

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