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Navigation Light Standards


Old degraded lenses may interfere with light emission to the extent that you are no longer in compliance with the Rules.

U.S. navigation light standards conform closely to the international COLREGS (collision regulations). Called the Inland Navigation Rules or Unified Rules, the U.S. regulations require all boats built after December 24, 1981, to be in compliance. No retrofit is necessary on boats built before this date if they are in compliance with previous inland rules. However, in international waters, these boats would not be in compliance with the COLREGS and could be deemed liable in an accident.

Visibility of Navigation Lights

Vessels Under 39.4′ (12 Meters)

  • White/Red/Green or Yellow 360° – 2 n.m.
  • Masthead – 2 n.m.
  • Stern – 2 n.m.
  • Red/Green – 1 n.m.
  • Towing – 2 n.m.

Vessels 39.4-65.6′ (12-20 Meters)

  • White/Red/Green or Yellow 360° – 2 n.m.
  • Masthead – 3 n.m.
  • Stern – 2 n.m.
  • Red/Green – 2 n.m.
  • Towing – 2 n.m.

Placement of Navigation Lights

Boats under 23′ may carry a 360° lantern or flashlight in lieu of running lights. Also, international regulations allow sailboats under 65.6′ (20 meters) to display a single masthead tricolor navigation light while under sail. All-around lights must be a minimum of 1 meter (39 3/8″) above the red/green sidelights on boats under 12 meters (39.4 ft).

The Rules of the Road should be followed and any comment herein that is inconsistent with said Rules should be disregarded and the Rules followed.

BoatUS Editors

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine