What are the Lighting Regulations on boats & canoes?
Just because the manufacturer includes lights fixtures on your boat or left them off for that matter, it doesn’t mean you’re legal at night. Federal regulations are very specific about lighting your boat at night on public waterways. If you meet the federal requirements you will, in most cases meet state regulations, but check with your state’s parks department or whichever agency regulates public waterways.
Canoes, Small Sailboats and Rowboats - The Coast Guard does not require fixed navigational lights for non-powered boats under 23 feet (7 meters). Federal regulations only require a handheld flashlight or other light to be handy in the boat to signal approaching boats. Some states require a 360-degree white light for smaller boats, canoes and sailboats under 23 feet. A small battery powered clamp-on red/green or white light will suffice in most states. Texas and a few other states require a 360-degree white light for all small, non-powered boats whether they are moving or at anchor. Some lakes have special rules. Check with your local fish and game department for information.
Sidelights - For powered boats or sailboats under 39.4 feet (12 meters) and more than 23 feet in length, red and green sidelights must be installed which cover an arc of 112.5 degrees fore to aft and be visible in clear weather at night for one mile. For vessels 39.4 feet or longer, sidelights must be visible for two miles. Sidelights are placed parallel with the center line of the boat, fore and aft. Flush mounted sidelights do not cover a full 112-degree arc, and should be replaced for safety and in order to meet regulations. Sidelights must also be visible at full intensity five degrees above and below the horizontal and at 60 percent intensity up to 7.5 degrees above and below horizontal. Sidelights should be installed above the uppermost continuous deck, not below the rails. Green sidelights are installed on the starboard side (right) and red sidelights to port (left). Red/green combination side lights may be contained in a single fixture placed at the bow and stern with the red half oriented to starboard and green side to port.
Masthead Lights - A masthead light is a white light placed at the center line and at least 3.3 feet (1 meter) above the sidelights on powered and sailing vessels more than 16 feet in length. The white light should cover an arc of 225 degrees from dead ahead to 22.5 degrees from the beam on both sides of the vessel. The masthead light may be paired with a white stern light with a 135-degree arc to either side of the center of the stern. The masthead light may be placed off center in powered or sail boats smaller than 12 meters in length. On sailboats, the masthead light may be installed partway up the mainmast or at the top and may display red/green sidelights.
When to Display Lights - Boats 23 feet and over are required to show navigational lights from sunset to sunrise in all weather and during the daytime in particularly bad weather or fog. No extra colored lights should be displayed that could confuse approaching boats. The colored navigation lights help boaters at nighttime identify which way you are traveling and who has the right of way.