Navigation Lights on Sailing Yachts and Motor Boats

Navigation Lights on Sailing Yachts and Motor Boats

Navigation lights ensure the safety of everyone at sea. The Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (IMO COLREG 72) precisely sets out the guidelines for navigation lights, i.e., displaying lights, their range (distance from which the light is visible), as well as how they should be constructed and assembled.

Our guide is of interest to sailors and sports boats enthusiasts with boats up to 20 m in length.

When must navigation lights be displayed?

According to COLREGs part C, rule 20), navigation lights must always be used on board from sunset to sunrise or during the day if visibility is poor.

What are the regulations concerning the use of navigation lights at sea?

Please refer to the German Traffic Regulations for Navigable Maritime Waterways, §8 -10 and Preventing Collisions at Sea. Part C - Lights and Shapes. rules 20 - 31, and annexes I 1. - 14 for the exact wording.

NOTE: Vessels that are authorised to fly the German flag are generally only permitted to use approved navigation lights and sound signalling devices.

How do I know that my lights are EU-compliant?

EU approval can be identified via the wheel mark symbol and the notified body number. BSH approved navigation lights (previously DHI) are marked with a model number (e.g., BSH/00/01/90).

However, even older lights with DHI approval that have already been installed maintain their approval, despite the changes made by the BSH.

In addition to the wheel mark symbol and German BSH approval, some lights are also approved by other countries, such as RINA (Registro Italiano Navale), MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) and the USCG (United States Coast Guard). These are now recognised, provided the approval comes from the national approval body recognised in the country of origin.

National bodies whose accreditation is currently recognised in Germany:

Canada: Marine Safety Directorate
China: CCS China Classification Society
Denmark: Danish Maritime Authority
Finnland: Finnish Maritime Administration
France: Bureau Veritas S.A.
England: Marine Safety Agency
Greece: Ministry of Merchant Marine
Iceland: Icelandic Maritime Administration
Italy: Registro Italiano Navale
Japan Nippon Kaiji Kyokai Material & Equipment
Croatia: Croatian register of Shipping
Netherlands: Directorate-General for Freight Transport, Shipping Inspectorate
Norway: Sjofartsdirektoratet, Norwegian Maritime Directorate
Poland: Polski Rejestr Statkow S.A.
Russia: Russian Maritime Register of Shipping

The wheel mark symbol indicates approval of the Marine Equipment Directive (MED). This approval is valid for all EU member states, both for commercial vessels and recreational shipping.

0098 = Notified Body number (here 0098 = Germanischer Lloyd in Hamburg)
18 = year in which the mark is affixed, here 2018
Basisschicht

What is a CE mark?

  • A CE mark is a symbol that must be affixed to a product by the manufacturer before it is sold on the European market. It indicates that the manufacturer is aware of the specific requirements for the product in question and that it fulfils the requirements of relevant European product directives. A CE mark does not supersede approval according to collision prevention regulations.

How are navigation lights defined?

  • Navigation lights are defined in detail by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), according to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs) Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972), in sections C and D. The following rules apply:

Which navigation lights are required on board according to IMO COL REG?

Definitions according to the 1972 International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COL REG 72):

Side lights

1. Side lights for starboard and port

A green light on the starboard side and a red light on the port side, which shine from dead ahead in an arc of 112.5° aft to a point 22.5° abaft the beam (behind the beam) on either side of the vessel.

On ships of less than 20 metres in length, the two individual sidelights may be replaced by a dual-colour combined light. This must be centrally located on the bow and stern axis.

Stern light

2. Stern light

A white light mounted as close to the stern as possible and shines dead ahead in an arc of 135° (67.5° to each side). The mounting height should be aligned to the height of the side lights and should never be higher.

Three-colour light for sailing vessels (sailing lights)

3. Three-colour light for sailing vessels (sailing lights)

On sail boats up to a length of 20 m, the side light and stern light can be combined into one three-colour light mounted on top of the mast. However, as soon as the sail boat's motor is engaged, the use of a three-colour light is no longer permitted. The rules for motor-powered vessels then apply.

Mast-head light

4. Mast-head light

A white light placed over the centre line of the vessel and shines dead ahead in an arc of 225° (from straight ahead up to 22.5° more aft than crosswise to each side). The mounting height should be at least 1 m higher than the side lights. In the past, the mast-head light was also referred to as a steam boat light or steamer light, as it is only seen on ships that operate under engine power.

Signal light or all-round light

5. Signal light or all-round light

A light that shines in a complete circle of 360°. It may emit white, red or green light, depending on use.
Examples of use: All sailboats and motorboats at anchor must exhibit a white anchor light. Ships over 12m in length must, if necessary, display vessel-in-distress lights (two red signal lights) placed at a vertical distance of at least 12 m. The distance between such lights must not exceed 1 m.

From what distance must navigation lights be visible?

The range indicates the distance from which the light can be seen. The minimum ranges of navigation lights are defined according to ship size as follows::

Ships up to 12m in overall length Range in nautical miles (NM)
Mast-head light 2 NM
Side light (starboard /port) 1 NM
Stern light 2 NM
Three-colour light (sail boat when at sail) 2 NM
All-round light (white, red, green all-round light) 2 NM
Ships of 12 - 49 m overall length Range in nautical miles (NM)
Mast-head light 5 NM
Side light (starboard /port) 2 NM
Stern light 2 NM
Three-colour light (sail boat when at sail) 2 NM
All-round light (white, red, green all-round light) 2 NM
Ships from 50 m overall length Range in nautical miles (NM)
Mast-head light 6 NM
Side light (starboard /port) 3 NM
Stern light 3 NM
All-round light (white, red, green all-round light) 3 NM

What lights are required for my boat?

Examples of correct light exhibition on sailboats:

Note: When sailing boats are powered by a motor, the rules for motorboats apply and not for sailboats. The tricolour light may then no longer be displayed.

Displaying lights for sailboats up to 20 m

Displaying lights for sailboats up to 20 m

1 x red port side light

1 x green starboard light

1 x stern light

Also allowed:

1 x red all-round light on or near the mast top

1 x green all-round light on or near the mast top

Displaying lights for sailboats up to 20 m

Displaying lights for sailboats up to 20 m

1 x 3-colour light

Sailing vessels under 7 m (dinghies or small sports boats)

Sailing vessels under 7 m (dinghies or small sports boats)

If, due to their design, no lights can be displayed, sailing vessels under 7 m in length and vessels using a rudder must carry an electric hand-held spotlight or a powerful torch to prevent collisions in the dark.

1 x hand-held spotlight or torch

Examples of correct light exhibition on motorboats:

Motorised vessels over 12 m

Motorised vessels over 12 m

Lights used must be either / or:

1 x white masthead light fore

1 x red port side light

1 x green starboard light

1 x stern light

Motorised vessels over 12 m

Motorised vessels over 12 m

Lights used must be either / or:

1 x white masthead light fore

1 x dual colour light

1 x stern light

Motorised vessels under 12 m

Motorised vessels under 12 m

Alternatively, motorised vessels under 12 m can exhibit the following lights:

1 x white all-round light

1 x red port side light

1 x green starboard light

Motorised vessels under 12 m

Motorised vessels under 12 m

Alternatively, motorised vessels under 12 m can exhibit the following lights:

1 x white all-round light

1 x dual colour light

Motorised vessels under 7 m and 7 knots maximum speed

Motorised vessels under 7 m and 7 knots maximum speed (small motor boats, dinghies or inflatables):

Motorised vehicles under 7 metres and with a maximum speed of no more than 7 knots can display the following navigation lights: all-round lights, portside and starboard lights.

The following applies in accordance with German Traffic Regulations for Navigable Maritime Waterways (SeeSchStrO):

If, due to their design, no lights can be displayed (e.g., dinghies), sailing vessels under 7 m in length and 7 knots maximum speed must carry an electric hand-held spotlight or a torch to prevent collisions in the dark.

Left: 1 x white all-round light, 1 x red port side light, 1 x green starboard light

Right: 1 x hand-held spotlight or torch

Which regulations apply to vessels under sail or at rudder that are equipped with a motor?

What lights must be displayed on a sailboat or rowing boat with a motor?

Provided no engine power is used, the rules for sailboats apply. Motor-sailing vessels must display a large black cone pointing downwards when sailing during the day or at good light.

For vessels travelling under sail or at rudder during darkness or at reduced visibility, the rules for carrying lights for motorised boats automatically apply. This then depends on the length of the boat.

By day with a black cone, tip pointing downwards.
Vessels at anchor

How must navigation lights be mounted on board?

Navigation lights must be securely mounted perpendicular to the waterline. Mast-head lights and stern lights should both be placed above the keel line.

What lights should I exhibit when at anchor?

At anchor during daylight? This must be displayed with a black anchor ball.

If the vessel is anchored outside of an area of water known by the River and Shipping Police Authority as an anchorage and berth for small vessels, this must be indicated as follows:

A black ball by day, 1 x white all-round light at night
Vessels at anchor
Disabled Vessels

What lights should be displayed to show that a vessel is unable to manoeuvre?

If your boat is unable to manoeuvre*, this should be indicated as follows:

Stationary: 2 x red all-round light, 2 x black ball, one below the other (during the day)

Moving: 1 x red port side light, 1 x green starboard light, 1 x white stern light

*A vessel is described as if, due to exceptional circumstances (e.g., rudder failure or engine malfunction), it cannot manoeuvre as prescribed and therefore cannot avoid another vessel.

Vessels that have run aground

How do I indicate correctly that my sailboat or motorboat has run aground?

If your boat has run aground, this should be indicated as follows:

2 x red all-round light, 1 x white all-round light, 3 x black ball, one below the other (during the day)

What distinguishes LED from conventional navigation lights?

Manufacturers that specialise in navigation lights such as Aqua Signal or Hella Marine supply a wide range of internationally approved navigation lights which work with conventional (with BSH bulb) or with permanently installed light-emitting semiconductor components (LEDs).
The bulbs required for operation are an integral part of the approval. Replacement bulbs must also be certified so that approval / your insurance protection is guaranteed. Ships under 20 m: Stern and anchor lights require BSH-approved light bulbs with 10 watts, all other navigation lights 25 watts.

Spare light bulb for series Stern l / Anchor l. 12 V/10W Stb./BB, Masth / All-rnd l. 12 V / 25W
Aqua Signal, Serie 40 SVB Art. Nr. 10203 SVB Art. Nr. 10206
Aqua Signal, Serie 41 SVB Art. Nr. 10203 SVB Art. Nr. 10206
Aqua Signal, Serie 50 SVB Art. Nr. 10203 SVB Art. Nr. 10206
Hella Marine, Serie 2984 SVB Art. Nr. 10203 SVB Art. Nr. 10206

All series listed above with BAY15d sockets could alternatively be operated with a high-Power LED. The big advantage in doing so is that the LED is suitable for multiple voltages (10-30 V) and consumes just 3 watts during operation. Since the light colour, range of light or beam angle can vary depending on the housing, this light is NOT yet internationally approved.

What are the advantages of LED navigation lights?

Energy consumption on sailing ships is, as ever, a topic of significant interest. This is especially true for blue-water sailors who like to sail longer distances at a stretch. The arguments for converting to LED technology are as follows:

  1. High energy savings due to the low power consumption
  2. Long lifespan (over 10,000 hours)
  3. MultivoltTM technology (10-30V) with greater tolerance to voltage peaks
  4. Compact and light housing constructions
  5. Waterproofed, hermetically sealed housings
  6. Maintenance free

When switching completely from conventional navigation lights to LED lights, lights with the BSH seal of approval / EU wheel mark meet all the requirements in terms of light colour (no risk of blue tint), range of light and beam angle, and that you are travelling in accordance with KVR.

Switching from conventional to LED navigation lights

Replacing your navigation lights is often easy to do as manufacturers usually use the same mounting points for LED lights or have an adapter plate for further use of existing drill holes:

adapter plate
Existing series: New LED series:
Aqua Signal, Series 40 with quicfit socket Series 34 with quicfit socket
Aqua Signal, series 41 Series 41 (use identical drill holes)
Aqua Signal, series 40 and 50 Series 43 using adapter plate, SVB no. 14557
Aqua Signal, series 40 and 50 Series 44 using adapter plate, SVB no. 14557
Written by our SVB (technical) experts

Written by our SVB (technical) experts

Our SVB safety experts regularly carry out maintenance checks and tests on our safety products, such as life jackets, life rafts etc. They test products and base their recommendations on many years of experience and their own know-how.