Know The Rules About Navigation Lights


Having the right type of navigation lights on your boat is not only useful – but also a legal requirement.


So in order to avoid a fine or prosecution, you need to make sure you’ve got the right configuration of lights for your specific craft.

The basic types of light are red (showing the port side of the boat), green (for the starboard side) and white (which is used as a sternlight for sailing boats and a masthead or all-round light on powerboats).

Because the configuration changes depending on the type of boat and denotes the direction a boat is travelling, navigation lights are not only an important way to remain visible, but also a good way of telling the type of boats in your vicinity and who has right of way. It’s important to note that a sailing boat running its engine – even if it has its sails up – is counted as a powerboat both in terms of right of way and in terms of its navigation lights.

Masthead lights must point forward covering an arc of 225-degrees and must be at least 1m above sidelights – and on boats up to 12m, white lights must have a range of 2 nautical miles and sidelights 1 nautical mile. Larger boats need lights with a larger range. (Burnsco stock white lights with a range up to 3 nautical miles.)

All lights must be switched on from sunset to sunrise and in rain or foggy conditions.

The configurations are:

  • Powerboats more than 12m (including a sailing boat under engine) must display red and green sidelights, a white sternlight and a white masthead light.
  • Powerboats less than 12m must display red and green sidelights but can combine stern and masthead lights as one all-round white light.
  • Powerboats less than 7m and not capable of more than 7 knots only require an all-round white light.
  • Sailing boats more than 20m under sail must show red and green sidelights and a white sternlight.
  • Sailing boats less than 20m can combine these lights in a single tri-colour light at the top of the mast.
  • Dinghies, kayaks and non-powered boats less than 7m must show a white light or torch to be visible.
  • All boats at anchor must show only a white light visible from all directions.

When you’re choosing either to replace existing navigation lights or you’re kitting out your boat for the first time, it’s important to take into consideration:

Style: LED lights cost more but have a much longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs and draw much less power. Burnsco does stock replacement bulbs though as well as a range of regular and LED lights.

Mounting: When fitting your navigation lights they need to be mounted high enough to be seen over a long distance but not so they are shadowed by any sails, and also recessed well to avoid creating glare for whoever’s at the helm. It’s also very important that the red and green sidelights aren’t mounted at an angle so they accurately depict the direction the boat is heading.

Reserves: It also pays to have a full set of emergency battery operated navigation lights to hand in case of a loss of power while you’re at sea.


For more information on the right navigation lights for your boat, phone us on 0800 102041, email us, or Livechat with one of our staff via the website.