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Navigation Rules

Require vessels to display lights and shapes under certain conditions. Click here for in depth Navigation Rules.

Navigation Lights

Recreational vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise and other periods of reduced visibility (fog, rain, haze, etc.). The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Rules, International-Inland, specifies lighting requirements for every description of water craft. The information provided is for power-driven and sailing vessels less than 65.5 feet/20 meters in length.

Power-driven Vessels

(Sail Vessel under machinery power is considered a power-driven vessel).

If your power-driven vessel is less than 65.5 feet/20 meters in length, then it must display navigation lights per Figure 1.

Illustration of power-driven sailboat of less than 65.5 feet, displaying red navigation light on port side of prow, green navigation light on starboard side of prow, and white navigation light on top of mast visible from front and sides of boat.  Illustration of motorboat less than 65.5 feet, displaying red navigation light on port side of prow, green navigation light on starboard side of prow, and white navigation light atop boat visible from front and sides of boat.
Figure 1

If your power-driven vessel is less than 39.4 feet/12 meters in length, then it may display navigation lights per Figure 2.

Illustration of power-drive sailboat less than 39.4 feet, displaying red navigation light on port side of prow, green navigation light on starboard side of prow, and white navigation light atop mast visible from all directions.   Illustration of motorboat less than 39.4 feet, displaying red navigation light on port side of prow, green navigation light on starboard side of prow, and white navigation light atop boat visible from all directions.
Figure 2

If your power-driven vessel is less than 23 feet/7 meters in length and its maximum speed cannot exceed 7 knots, then it may display an all-round white light, and if practicable, sidelights instead of the lights prescribed previously. (For International Rules only)

For power-driven vessels less than 39.4 feet/12 meters in length, the masthead or all-round white light must be at least 1 meter above the sidelights.

Sidelights may be a combination light, instead of two separate lights as shown in figures 2 and 5.

Sailing Vessels

If your sailing vessel is less than 65.6 feet/20 meters in length, then it must display navigation lights as shown in Figures 3, 4, or 5.

Illustration of sailboat less than 65.6 feet, with red navigation light on port side of prow, green navigation light on starboard side of prow, and white navigation light on stern.
Figure 3
Illustration of sailboat less than 65.6 feet, with red, green, and white navigation lights on mast.
Figure 4
Illustration of sailboat less than 65.6 feet, with red and green navigation lights on mast, red navigation light on port side of prow, green navigation light on starboard side of prow, and white navigation light on stern.
Figure 5

If your vessel is less than 23 feet/7 meters in length, then it should display lights for a sailboat (Figures 3,4,or 5, if practicle). As an option, your vessel may carry an electric torch (flashlight) or lightened lantern that can show a white light in sufficient time to prevent collision. (see Figure 6)

Illustration of a sailboat less than 23 feet, using a flashlight or electric torch to serve as a white navigation light.
Figure 6

Vessel Under Oars

If your vessel is under oars, then it should display lights for a sailboat (Figures 3 or 4), if practicle. As an option, your vessel your vessel may carry a flashlight or lighted lantern that can show a white light in sufficient time to prevent collision. (see Figure 7)

Illustration of a vessel under oars, using a flashlight to serve as a white navigation light.
Figure 7

Lights and Shapes

To alert other vessels of conditions, which may be hazardous, there are requirements to display lights at night and shapes during the day.

Anchored Vessels

AT NIGHT: All vessels at anchor must display anchor lights. If your vessel is less than 164 feet/50 meters in length, then its anchor light is an all-round white light visible where it can best be seen from all directions. (Figure 8)

  Illustration of powerboat displaying anchor light at top of boat at night, which is an all-round white light visible from all direction.
Figure 8

DURING THE DAY: All vessels at anchor must display, forward where it can be best seen, a black ball shape. (See Figure 9)

Illustration of sailboat at anchor during the day, displaying a black ball shape suspended from its mast.  Illustration of powerboat at anchor during the day, displaying a black ball shape suspended from a line running between the center of the boat's cabin and the prow.
Figure 9

EXCEPTIONS: If your vessel is less than 23 feet/7 meters in length, then it is not required to display an anchor light or shape unless it is anchored in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage, or where other vessels normally navigate.

If your vessel is less than 65.6 feet/20 meters in length, then it is not required to display an anchor light if it is anchored in Inland Waters in a special anchorage designated by the Secretary of Transportation.

Sailing Vessels Under Power (Machinery)

During the day, vessels under sail also being propelled by machinery, must exhibit forward, where best seen, a black conical shape with the apex pointing down. (Figure 10)

Illustration of a sailboat during the day, being propelled my machinery, which displays a black conical shape with apex pointing down, suspended in front of a sail, where it is clearly visible.
Figure 10

EXCEPTION: If your vessel is less than 39.4 feet/12 meters in length, then it is not required to display the shape in Inland Waters.

REMINDER: If you are operating your sail vessel at night using machinery or sail and machinery, then your vessel must display lights required for a power-driven vessel. (See figures 1 or 2)

Restricted Maneuverability

The Navigation Rules require vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver to display appropriate day shapes or lights. To meet this requirement, if your vessel is engaged in diving activities during the day, then it must exhibit a rigid replica of the international code flag "Alpha" not less than 3.3 feet/ 1 meter in height. If the diving activities are at night, then your vessel must display the navigation lights shown in Figure 11. This requirement does not affect the use of a red and white divers flag, which may be required by State or local law to mark a diver's location. The "A" flag is a navigation signal indicating your vessel's restricted maneuverability and does not pertain to the diver.

Illustration of a boat engaged in diving activities at night, displaying a white navigation light between two red navigation lights on top of the boat cabin.  Illustration of a boat engaged in diving activities during the day, displaying a rigid replica of the international code flag "Alpha" which is a blue vertical stripe with a triangular notch out of the left middle, beside a white vertical stripe.
Figure 11

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