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Nav Lights

Tips for Installing Navigation Lights


Are Your Lights Correctly Fitted?

These guidelines have been developed for power boats less than 20 metres in length and can help you:

  • select the right lights for your boat
  • avoid common problems when locating lights
  • wire lights up correctly


Legal requirements

By law, navigation lights and their installation on recreational boats are required to comply with the positioning and technical requirements of an international agreement, commonly known as the COLREGS.

Marine Safety Authorities enforce the requirements of the COLREGS and can provide a summary of thoserequirements as they apply in your local area.

Which boats need to have lights fitted?

All boats must show lights if operating at night or in restricted visibility. Even a boat that does not travel betweendusk and dawn may still need to show lights, for example during a heavy rain shower; or when at anchor.

Boats operating by sail or rowing are required to show different lights to those motoring. However, a yacht mustcomply with the power boat lighting requirements when under motor.

General advice on installation


Avoiding damage

Navigation lights must be installed in accordance with the manufacturers instructions. Navigation lights should bemounted so as to minimize damage by contact with other objects under normal operating conditions, for example,lights mounted on the topsides of smaller craft can be damaged when coming alongside a wharf or pontoon, andlights mounted at the bow near anchor fittings could also be vulnerable and need to be protected.

Lights affecting the operators vision

Navigation lights must be installed to prevent the lights from shining into the operators eyes. For open boats, thiscan be achieved by using a shielded light on a mast or pole. This could also be achieved by placing the light supportbehind the operator and above head height, rather than in the bow or amidships. Some LED lights are less prone toaffecting night vision than conventional incandescent lights.


Navigation light wiring must be installed in accordance with a recognised wiring code. A white cable is normallyused from the switch to the light and black is used for the return or negative conductor. The circuit should be fittedwith a fuse or circuit breaker and no other equipment, apart from navigation lights, should be on that circuit.Conductors used for wiring must be sized to ensure no more than a 3% voltage drop.

The lights should be wired so that one position of the switch turns on all the required running lights and a differentposition turns on just the anchor light. Alternatively, two switches that achieve this same result could be used.

Which light fittings to use

The National Marine Safety Committee maintains a register of compliant safety equipment that includes navigation lights. You can access the register at If you choose to fit a light that isnt on the register, makesure that it meets the performance requirements of the COLREGS. Pay particular attention to the shieldingarrangements to ensure the light only shines in the correct direction and there is no overlap on combination lights.

Points to note with specific types of lights


All round white light

An all-round white light shows over a nominal arc of the horizon of 360°. The light fitting must be located at leastone metre above the sidelights; and should as far as practicable, be on the centreline of the boat. As a general rule, anall round white light should not be obscured by masts or other structures by more than 6° of arc. If that's not possible,or the light would shine into the operator's eyes, a masthead light in combination with a stern light is an alternativeto an all round white light.

Masthead light

Boats over 12 metres in length are required to have a white masthead light, mounted at least 2.5 metres above thegunwale that shines forward over an arc of the horizon of 225°, so that it can be seen from ahead of the boat to just aftof the beam. In addition, regardless of the vessels length, the masthead light must be located at least one metreabove the sidelights; and should as far as practicable, be on the centreline of the boat.

Stern light

A stern light is located near the stern to show a white light over an arc of the horizon of 135° behind the boat. On anoutboard craft, it may be necessary to mount the stern light on a mast, or to one side of the boat, to avoid the motorobscuring the light.

Side lights

Most boats need to have a port (red) and a starboard (green) side light each showing an unbroken light over an arc ofthe horizon of 112.5°. If the design of the boat allows, a combination port and starboard light unit can be mounted onthe centreline of the boat, in place of two individual side lights.

Individual side lights come in two styles, those intended to be mounted on a horizontal surface such as a deck andthose intended to be mounted on a vertical surface such as the topsides or the side of the cabin. Be careful not tomount lights on a horizontal surface if they are designed to be mounted on a vertical surface, and vice-versa, becausethey will shine in the wrong direction.

Horizontally mounted side lights generally come with a reference line marked on them which must be kept parallelto the centreline of the boat when fitting the light.

Vertically mounted side lights must be fitted with the back of the light parallel to the centre line of the vessel so thatthe light will be visible in the correct sector and the lights don?t cross over. This means when lights are mounted ona vertical or near vertical surface that is not parallel to the centre line or not vertical, a wedge or similar must beprovided to achieve the correct alignment in both planes.

Contact your local marine safety agency for more information