Vessel navigation lights

It is more difficult to judge speeds and distances at night or in restricted visibility. Understanding lighting configurations will enable you to take corrective action to avoid a collision.

The Marine Safety Act requires that lights must be displayed from sunset to sunrise and in times of restricted visibility during daylight hours. A vessel's lights should indicate:

  • What type of vessel it is
  • What the vessel is doing
  • The direction that the vessel is travelling.

Examples of lighting on different types of vessels and the arcs of lights required to be visible can be found below.

Sailboats and rowing boats

The images represent the lights of a sailing or human powered vessel underway.

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of sailing vessels underway Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of sailing vessels underway - side view Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of sailing vessels underway

Sailing vessels underway

A sailing vessel underway shall exhibit sidelights and a sternlight. If the vessel is less than 20 m in length, the sidelights and sternlights may be combined in one lantern (tricolour lantern) carried at or near the top of the mast where it can best be seen.

In addition to the sidelights and sternlight, a sailing vessel underway may exhibit at or near the top of the mast, where they can be best seen, two all-round lights in vertical line - the upper being red and the lower being green. These lights must not be exhibited in conjunction with a combined lantern (tricolour lantern) if the vessel is less than 20 m in length.

Reminder

Whenever a sailing vessel is using its engine, with or without sails, it is a power-driven vessel within the meaning of the COLREGS and must act accordingly and show the appropriate shapes by day and lights by night. This means that a tricolour lantern must not be used under power.

Sailing vessels underway (not using power) less than 7m in length and boats under oars

If practicable, any of the combinations for vessels under sail, or an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light, exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

More information about vessel lights is available in Chapter 11 of the Recreational Boating Safety Handbook.

This information is also available in a waterproof sticker. You can download a PDF copy below, or contact us to receive one in the post.

Powerboats

Diagram showing the correct nav lights for powerboatsDiagram showing the correct navigation lights of powerboats

Powerboats under 12 m in length while underway must show:*masthead lights, a sternlight and a sidelight, or*sidelights and an all round white light.

Vessels under 7 m in length and under 7 knots

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel under 7 metres

Power-driven vessels of less than 7 m in length, whose maximum speed does not exceed 7 knots, when under way, may exhibit an all-round white light. Sidelights must also be shown if practicable.

Recreational vessels at anchor

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of rec vessels at anchor

All recreational vessels must show an all-round white light while at anchor. If the vessel is drifting (underway but not making way) the vessel must display sidelights, masthead light and stern light.

A vessel of less than 7 meters in length, when at anchor not in or near a narrow channel, fairway or where other vessels normally navigate, is not required to exhibit an all-round white light. A vessel of less than 12 meters in length, when aground, is not required to exhibit an all-round white light.

Larger vessels

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of larger vessels - side on Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of larger vessels - front on

For vessels under 50 m in length, a second masthead light is optional. For vessels under 12 m in length, sidelights may be a combined lantern on fore and aft centreline.

Vessel towing another vessel

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel towing another

When tow length is under 200 m, two masthead lights are shown (three masthead lights if over 200 m) sidelights and a sternlight. A YELLOW towing light is situated over sternlight of the towing vessel. Vessel towed shows sidelights and a sternlight. When tow length exceeds 200 m, the lights should be displayed as a diamond shape where it can best be seen.

Vessel at anchor

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel at anchor

  • Length under 50 m: one all-round light where it can best be seen, a second (lower) light at stern is optional.
  • Length 50 m or more: two all-round lights, the forward one higher than the aft one.
  • Length 100 m or more:shall also illuminate her decks with available working or equivalent lights.

Vessel aground

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of vessels aground

Anchor lights and two all-round red lights. Vessel under 12 m length is not required to exhibit these lights. This signal does not mean distress or in need of help, but operators should navigate with caution.

Vessel restricted in ability to manoeuvre

(includes diving vessels)

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel restricted in ability to manoeuvre

Three all-round lights, top and bottom lights red and the middle light white. When making way through the water, vessel also shows masthead lights, sidelights and stern light. When at anchor, vessel also shows anchor lights. This signal does not indicate distress or a need for help, but operators should navigate with caution.

Vessel engaged in underwater operations or dredging

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel engaged in underwater ops

Vessel with an obstruction on one side shall, in addition to restricted ability to manoeuvre lights, carry two all-round red lights on the side of the obstruction, and two all-round green lights on the side that vessels may pass.

Vessel constrained by her draught

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel constrained by her draught

Power-driven vessel restricted to a narrow channel by her draught and thus unable to deviate from course. Lights for power-driven vessel under way and three all-round red lights.

Pilot vessel on duty

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of pilot vessels on duty

Two all-round lights, the top light white and the lower light red. When at anchor, shows anchor light or lights. When under way, shows sidelights and sternlight.

Vessel not under command

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel not under command

Two all-round red lights and, when making way through the water, sidelights and sternlight (vessels under 12 m in length are not required to comply with these lights). This signal does not mean distress, but shows inability to manoeuvre. Vessels are required to keep clear of vessels not under command.

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Commercial fishing vessel trawling

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a commercial fishing vessel trawling

Two all-round lights, the top light green and the lower light white. A rear masthead light is optional for fishing vessels under 50 m in length. Making way through water, sidelights and sternlights are shown.

Fishing vessel (other than trawling)

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a fishing vessel

Two all-round lights, the top light red and the lower light white. If outlying gear extends over 150 m horizontally from fishing vessel, shows one all-round white light in direction of gear (sidelights and sternlight shown when making way through water). Making way through water, sidelights and sternlights are shown.

Vessel working in chains

Diagram showing the correct navigation lights of a vessel working in chains

Vessel shows an all-round red light at each end and an all-round green light above the red light at the forward end to indicate the direction in which the vessel is proceeding.

Vessels operating in the vicinity of the Paynesville/Raymond Island vehicular ferry must proceed with caution and keep clear of the ferry.

Installing navigational lights

The vessel preparation section of this website has guidance on how to install navigation lights.

By law, navigation lights and their installation on recreational boats are required to comply with the positioning and technical requirements of the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGs).

Light Under 12 m 12 m up to 50 m 50 m and over
Masthead lights 2 5* 6
Sidelight 1 2 3
Sternlight 2 2 3
Towing light 2 2 3
All-round lights (white, red, yellow, green) 2 2 3

* Where the length of a vessel is 12 m or more, but less than 20 m, the masthead light must be visible for 3 nautical miles.

In inconspicuous, partly submerged vessels or objects being towed, the minimum visibility for an all-round light is 3 nautical miles.