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Recreational Boat Navigation Lights

Susan J

Have you ever wondered what those lights are for on your boat?  If you’re a novice boater, you may not be familiar with Coast Guard standards or know what these boat navigation lights mean, and this can potentially pose a hazard. Even an expert on the water can use a refresher course every now and then.

You might be asking why these lights are required in the first place.  Your car needs light to operate at night or in the rain or fog. The same is true for your boat–for safety. Making sure you can be seen by other boaters can help avoid a bad situation.

red and green navigation lights on the bow of a boat

Coast Guard Regulations

Regulations vary according to the type of vessel, but let’s say for the sake of this blog, that we’re speaking of the average recreational boat around 18’ in length. Recreational boats are required to use navigation lights from sunset to sunrise and in other times of limited visibility, such as fog and rain. These lights must be shown in certain colors as well as placed in certain locations on the boat.

Sidelights are red on the port (right) side and green on the starboard (left) side. These lights are to be visible from at least one mile away on a dark, clear night.

Recreational boats should display an all-around white light or both a white masthead and sternlight which must be visible from at least two miles away.  The white all-around or masthead/sternlight must be at least 3.3 feet higher than the sidelights.

diagram showing the navigation lights on a boat

Visibility of White Light

Often the all-around white light is mounted on a pole at the stern of the boat.  If your boat is equipped with a bimini, this can sometimes restrict the visibility of the light.  Consider mounting the all-around light on the bimini frame.  Traditional canvases sometimes have to be modified to allow for mounting on the bimini frame but at Boat Covers Direct®, we can save you the trouble.  We offer a special canvas with a light cut-out already made into the fabric. For more information on this product please visit //

red pontoon bimini top with light cut out

Remember, not only is it important to have these lights for safety purposes, but it’s the law. For more information on Boating Safety, visit the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at // .

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