What are the 5 navigational lights?

navigation lights
Types of 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:

Sailboats navigation lights

and underway, may display, from sunset to sunrise:

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

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