Know your lights when you`re out at night


Cold weather is again upon us after that spring-like respite.  Many of us took a peek at our wrapped up boats, perhaps did a small repair or two, but now the wind and chill remind us there are months to go before we are out on the bay once more.

This is the perfect time to brush up on our knowledge so when we finally climb aboard we will be in for some great safe boating.

Lights on boats are there to give you important information about what’s coming at you, which way it is heading, who has the right of way, etc. First of all, let’s look at direction. You are on your course in dense fog, but ahead you suddenly see a red light on the right and a green light to the left of it. In a minute you only see the green light. What happened? Should you turn? If so, which way? Think about how your boat is lit. You have red on the port (left) side and green on the starboard (right) side.  If another boat is coming straight at you, you would see both lights. If it turned to its left (your right) you would see just the green light. You might like to turn to your left and go behind him. If, instead, you continue to see the red and green lights, then he is headed for you. Who has the right of way? Neither of you. You should both turn to the right! So when do you need to turn on navigation lights? Between sunset and sunrise, and during periods of restricted visibility like heavy rain or fog. You must not have any other light that could be mistaken for nav lights. And no blue or flashing red lights. Those are for law enforcement only.

There is more information you need than just the direction of the oncoming boat. A white light coming at you (along with the red and green) tells you the boat approaching is a powerboat, or a sailboat under power. If the boat is under sail only, it must not show the white light forward, but if it is under 60 ft, it can have a red/green/white combo light at the top of the mast, or have the white light on his stern. Either way you know it has the right of way and you have to stay clear.

If you are the captain, you should get even the youngest in your crew familiar with this. Get four little flashlights and use a felt tipped marker to color them and have the kids be the boats in the dark. Boating is more fun for them if they know what’s going on, and is safer if they know what to do when they take the wheel. To learn all the information you need to know from lights, sounds, rules of the road, boat handling, electronic navigation, and much more, sign up to take one of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary courses just starting. Not too late to register. For more information, just go to or call 401-739-6028.


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