Specific lighting configurations are required for boats operating between sunset and sunrise or in times of restricted visibility.  It's your responsibility to make sure your boat shows the proper lights depending on its size and the waters on which you are operating.

The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules, International-Inland encompasses lighting requirements for every description of watercraft. The information provided here is intended for power-driven boats and sailboats less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) long. The various options are illustrated.

Navigation lights should be checked prior to departing the dock, and you should always carry spare bulbs. The USCG doesn’t care if they were working when you left, only that they are working when required.

navigation lights rules
navigation lights for boats

Power-driven vessels of less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) navigation lights at night

Power-driven vessels of less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) navigation lights at night

Power-driven vessels of less than 7 meters (23 feet) navigation lights

Power-driven vessels of less than 7 meters (23 feet) navigation lights

whose maximum speed cannot exceed 7 knots may exhibit an all-around white light (360 degrees) and, if practicable, sidelights instead of the lights prescribed above, in international waters only

Sailing Vessels of less than 20 meters (65.62 feet) navigation lights at night

Sailing Vessels navigation lights configuration 1
Sailing Vessels navigation lights configuration 2
Sailing Vessels navigation lights configuration 3

Sailing vessels less than 7 meters may carry an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light to be displayed in sufficient time to prevent collision. If practicable, the lights prescribed for sailing vessels less than 20 meters should be displayed.

Kayaks & canoes navigation lights

Kayaks and canoes navigation lights

A canoe or kayak may display the lights prescribed for sailing vessels, but if not, must have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern (flashlight) showing a white light to be displayed in sufficient time to prevent collision. 

Anchored vessels navigation lights

Power-driven vessels and sailing vessels at anchor must display anchor lights. An anchor light for a vessel less than 50 meters in length is an all-around white light visible for 2 miles and exhibited where it can best be seen.

Anchored motorboat - navigation lights

Vessels less than 7 meters are not required to display anchor lights or day shapes unless anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage, or where other vessels normally navigate. Anchor lights are not required on vessels less than 20 meters, anchored in special anchorages in inland waters designated by the Secretary of Transportation.

Anchored sailing boat - navigation lights

Law enforcement vessel

A flashing blue light indicates a law enforcement vessel. Do not impede its operation

Law enforcement vessel - navigation lights

Towing vessel navigation lights

If you see yellow lights or a flashing yellow light, stay away, it is a towing vessel with an object in tow.

Towing vessel navigation lights
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