When it comes to navigation lights, many boaters are in the dark – which means they are at risk of a collision with another vessel.

Sometimes boaters don’t light up right because they’re hiding their secret night fishing spot, but usually lack of nav lights is an accidental non-compliance.

The two most common errors we see are in the way the lights have been mounted or wired.

Waterway safety officer Michelle Booth says her top tips are:

  • ensure your all-round white light has a separate switch to the side lights, so other boaters know if you’re underway or at anchor
  • horizontal side lights must be mounted so the beam shines horizontally towards other boats. We often see them mounted flat on the deck, meaning other boats wouldn’t see you until they’re too close for comfort
  • don’t use a spotlight instead of your all-round white light – a spotlight can be blinding to other boaters!

Image: An MSV patrol boat showing correctly fitted lights – note that the all-round white light is mounted to a pole that is upright at night so the beam is unobstructed and 1m above side lights.

Why do I need nav lights?

“Other boaters need to be able to see you from a distance; they can’t just slam on the brakes to avoid a collision,” Michelle said.

By law, navigation lights and their installation on recreational vessels are required to comply with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGs) which have been adopted in Victorian marine safety law.

Read more about required navigation lights for different vessels.

What nav lights do I need?

All vessels must show lights if operating at night or other times of restricted visibility, such as during fog or heavy rain.

  • All recreational vessels must show an all-round white light while at anchor.
  • When underway, powered vessels under 12m need to show the all-round white light as well as a port (red) and a starboard (green) side light.

Image: Side lights must each show an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 112.5°, and the all-round white light 360° fitting must be located at least 1m above the sidelights.

How do I fit nav lights?

You may need to buy an extender pole to fit the all-round white light so that it is unobstructed and at least 1m above the side lights.

Individual side lights come in two styles; those intended to be mounted on a horizontal surface, and those intended to be mounted on a vertical surface such as the topsides or the side of the cabin.

Be careful not to mount lights on a horizontal surface if they are designed to be mounted on a vertical surface, and vice-versa, because they will shine in the wrong direction.

Plates may need to be fitted so you can mount side lights correctly. We highly recommend getting a professional to do this.

If the design of the vessel allows, a combination port and starboard light unit can be mounted on the centreline of the vessel, in place of two individual side lights.

Pay particular attention to the shielding arrangements to ensure the light only shines in the correct direction and there is no overlap on combination lights.

Read more about fitting navigation lights.