What Kind of Boat Requires Navigation Lights?

navigation light requirements for boats
navigation light requirements for boats

Boating is an exciting activity that can fill you with the sweet feeling of freedom as you feel the wind in your hair. However, boating also has a lot of rules to keep you safe… For example, you must have life jackets on board. Life jackets for children must be coast-guard approved. You must be a certain age to operate the boat. 

Additionally, your boat will require certain navigation lights to keep you and others safe on the water. Keep reading below to learn more about navigation lights and if they’re required for your boating situation.

What are Navigation Lights?

Navigation lights are much like your headlights on your car. Essentially, they provide visibility for oncoming watercrafts in the water and help other boaters determine how much space to give you in the water. This is very important during times of low visibility, such as at night. Navigation lights prevent boat crashes, collisions, and save countless lives. 

Unlike a car’s headlights, navigation lights are in four locations on a boat and have different colors that indicate the side of the boat. Navigation lights include:

Masthead Light:

All power-driven boats are required to have a bright, white masthead light. The masthead light must have an unbroken arc over the horizon at 225 degrees. 


Sidelights are usually red and green and are located on the sides of the boat and toward the front sometimes. Red goes on the port side and green goes on the starboard side. Boats shorter than 39.4 feet are required to have sidelights that are visible from at least a mile away on a clear night. If the vessel is longer than 39.4 feet, the sidelights must be visible from at least 2 miles away on a clear night. The arc required for sidelights is 112.5. 

Stern Light:

Stern Lights are located in the back of the boat or vessel. These lights can only be seen from behind the boat. To be technical, it must show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 135 degrees. The light must also be fixed to show the light 67.5 degrees from right aft on both sides of the boat.

All-Around Lights

All vessels shorter than 39.4 feet may combine their masthead light and stern light to create a white light that shines 360 degrees around the boat. However, boats larger than 39.4 feet in length must have separate mastheads and stern lights. If the sidelights aren’t working, an all-around light is important for helping other boaters see you.

Other Lights

In addition to navigation lights, other lights may also be required for your boat or vessel. These include:

  • Towing Light: A towing light is placed at the back of the boat near the stern. This will practically be right next to the stern light and follow the same technical requirements. 
  • Flashing Light: A flashing light that blinks at 120 flashes per minute.

What Kind of Boats Require Navigation Lights?

As you can see, the size of a boat is very important for determining what types of lights are required and their intensity. The Department of Homeland Security and United States Coast Guard published a guide in 2014 that details the exact requirements for navigation lights and visibility.

Vessels Shorter Than 39.4 Feet

This is most likely the boat you will be driving. You must have the following lights with the listed visibility:

  • Masthead Light: 2 miles visibility
  • Sidelights: 1 mile visibility
  • Stern Light: 2 miles visibility
  • Towing Light: 2 miles visibility
  • White, red, green, or yellow all-around light: 2 miles visibility

Vessels Larger than 39.4 Feet But Less Than 65.6 Feet

  • Masthead Light: 3 miles visibility
  • Sidelights: 2 miles visibility
  • Stern Light: 2 miles visibility
  • Towing Light: 2 miles visibility
  • White, red, green, or yellow all-around light: 2 miles visibility

Larger vessels require even stronger lights, as listed in the guide. You are required to know the rules for your area and can also check out the guide at navcen.uscg.gov. The information in this blog is not intended as legal advice for boating requirements.

Hagadone Marine Group

From rentals to sales, classic wood boats to gleaming new wakeboard craft, from the smallest service detail to a major rebuild, Hagadone Marine Group handles it all. Have questions about boating requirements? Visit us at The Hagadone Marine Center, located at 1000 S. Marina Dr. in beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and we’ll be happy to help!