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VOL. 8 NO. 12
Take a class

Check your lights

Give your boat’s nav lights a once-over

Check your lights

Checking navigation lights often takes a back seat to other boat projects. Besides, if the lights pass vessel safety check muster by coming on, that’s good enough, right? Wrong. Just squeaking by isn’t good enough when it comes to keeping you and your boat safe.

Are your vessel lights visible for a mile, as regulations require? Is the white light visible for 2 miles (assuming your boat is less than 40 feet) as required by Rule 22? Has time taken its toll, making the lenses of your lights milky? If your red port sidelight is pink and dim, the answer is yes. Do obstructions on deck interfere with the required light pattern? Perhaps a light is just puny, and although it meets the letter of the law, it doesn’t do its job of making you visible to others on the water.

Anyone who has boated at night knows that things look different in the dark. Trying to pick out a vessel’s lights against a background of dozens (or even hundreds) of shore lights can be difficult, and a poorly lit boat could easily go unnoticed. If you encounter another vessel in the same situation, the results could be disastrous.

Make sure your lights work, meet regulations and aren’t obstructed. If you have to replace them, don’t buy the cheapest lights. Do some research, and consider whether an upgrade might be appropriate. Make sure your white light won’t blind you or whoever else may be at the helm.

Many manufacturers often position lights so they are directly visible from the helm. If your brand new boat has lights that shine onto the helm or are obscured by deck fittings, make your dealer and the manufacturer aware that the lighting is inadequate and unsafe during reduced visibility conditions and nighttime operations.

One more thing: Learn light patterns and what they mean. You should be able to distinguish the light patterns of a sailboat, powerboat, tug with a tow or hovercraft. These light patterns are well defined and documented. In addition to identifying the vessel type, light patterns also allow other boaters to determine the vessel’s direction of travel and whether it is at anchor. In some instances, the light pattern will tell you what maneuver the vessel is performing.
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