lights on boats

i seem to remember there is some kind of protocol for lights on boats…one colour on the port side andoneon starborad? or is it one color for bow and another for stern (oh darn, i cannot remember the terms for front and back–someone ploease correct me if i that is wrong).

Yes Specific Lights
Kayaks and canoes are not included, but, most other boats are required to have a port bow lamp in green and a red starboard bow lamp. And a white stern lamp.

Kayaks are required to have a white lamp that is either visable 360 degrees or can be directed by the operator. Most of us carry a flashlight or use a nead lamp. There have been several posts that have addressed traditional lights on kayaks.


boat lights…
It may vary by state, but I belive in Florida boats 16’ and over must run lights at night. However, I’ve read that we must …

  1. Stay out of shipping lanes at night. (hug the shore)
  2. Run dark ( no lights ) unless entering a channel. Power boats won’t mistake you for a landmark.
  3. If you must paddle where the smokers go, you need the lights that they run. Red/Green on the bow (front) of the boat, and 360 degree visable white anchor light on the stern ( rear ) of the boat.
  4. Stobe lights indicate distress. Do not use unless you wish to recieve emergency assistance.

    Mind the 'gators,


who knew

(obviously not i)

i would have done a google search, but i wasn;t even sure about which terms to use.

thanks to you both for the info, and for taking time to give the expanded versions, even :-.)


Do A Search

Do a search of USCG regs, they have a short adobie doc online with their regulations. Virginia State Fisheries department is also online and you will find that their rules of the road and boat equipment lists are the same. One of the state to state differances for us paddlers is the state requirement for registration. NC does not require any registration, (yet), for kayaks or canoes, some states do require it.

The USCG has juristiction for all saltwater navigable waterways in the US. I do not believe that any of the coastal state regulations differ from the USCG regulations, (things change but this used to be the case.) I teach a few courses for the power squandron and I know that they teach using the same materials across the US.

That said, you need to use your common sense. A kayak should not go into a busy channel at night if an alternative is available. However, if it does then there is no requirement for tri-color lighting to be used, (though some folks recommend it). Many night time paddlers recommned night paddling with no light, but that is not a requirement. Having a white light that is visible around 360 degrees or is directable by the operator is a requirement.

Happy Paddling,


For those who don’t know go here

It wouldn’t hurt for everyone to take it if you haven’t. It might even save your life.

Point #2
I’d rather be seen and mistaken for a landmark than not seen.

All your other points are sensible, but most boaters will slow down for something visible up ahead, landmark or otherwise unidentified but lighted object. At night you just want to let a captain know there’s something out there.

The point of the green/red light on the bow (or PFD or anywhere else) is to identify you as a vessel.

Just my opinion…Lyn

Nav lights
Navigation lights are a bit more complicated than red/port, green/starboard. There are specific requirements for what is called “arcs of visibilty”. The spatial patterns of red, green, and white lights convey important information about a vessel’s heading and type. Knowing how to interpret them is a very important skill for anyone who spends time on the water after dark.

These light configurations are not required on kayaks but if you choose to use them they should definitely conform to the regs.

This page has a graphical representation of the “arcs of visibility”. Mouseover the grayscale patterns for color.

This page gives some examples of light patterns and how they indicate boat heading and type. It alternates between light patterns with and without the associated vessel’s sillhouette.

Vessels under oars
You can show the same side/stern lights as a boat under sail or have a white light or lantern that can be shown in sufficient time to avoid a collision.

I asked the CG specifically about a 360 degree continously visible white light and the answer was that that is not allowed because it is the light for a boat at anchor. Personally, I didn’t read the regs that way and find it a bit impractical if you are being approached from behind like the V6 speedboat that snuck up on us last summer – quiet and fast sucker, or if you are in conditions where you don’t want to take your hands off the paddle to turn on a light. But there you have it.

BTW, my mechanic who was driving the speedboat percieved our white LED headlamps that suddenly popped up as blue. He didn’t know what the heck he was looking at but it did get his attention. Probably would have been a bit late if he was heading directly at us.

In real use
I paddle after dark fairly often in the warmer months, and use regulation lights.

They’re suction cup mounted, and meant for portable use with dinghies and other similar craft. Even though they’re LED, I’ve been told I’m very visible even at a half mile or more.

Most power boaters I’ve run across appreciate my use of regulation lights.


Wally world sells
an el cheapo front pole with the red and green running lights.

It is battery operated.

It has a clamp which makes it for easy attachment to a canoe, but you would probably have to duct tape it to a kayak or be innovative and make a mount.

They also carry the white stern running light.



Lots Of Information
Most of the information in the posts really is good food for thought. I have thought several times about fixing some sort of real running lights on my kayak as I solo paddle often. Greyak has some very nice lights that he has installed.

To date, I have not installed any real running lights. I normally paddle with a light stick slung over my back and carry a small flash light that I use to get the attention of boats before meeting them.

White lights are used for several things. 360 white lights are anchor lights. 170 degree, (I think), white lights are stern lights. A white strobe is distress. Note bouys and obstructions do not use white lights.

Happy paddling,


Some links
Here’s the list of links I post every time this comes up.

Any light in the dark
is better than being run over by a speed boat.

Use a gas lantern if you must.

Irritating the local law with an improper light is better than keeping the coroner working.

I respectfully disagree.

– Last Updated: Dec-27-05 10:42 AM EST –

You're on a waterway and therefor responsible for the safe operation and navigation of your vessel no matter what size it is, however, other craft navigate by what lights/signals they see. You can be held responsible for improper lighting. Because you're in a non motorized craft is no excuse for ignorance.
If someone is using say a strobe light as something other than a distress signal, I hope the Coast Guard does an 'after SAR' boarding on their butt.

Some excellent links on this thread. Worth the read.

Thanks paddle pirate
Where I live kayakers are disrespected a lot by professional mariners because they do not take the time to know the Rules, and many feel they don’t have to. I’d say most are very mis-informed. This thread is very good and illustrates to me that this is changing. We share the water with a lot of other vessels, and as someone above said, I think a boating safety coarse, or some quality time with good reading material is a great idea. When in doubt follow the Rules. You can get a copy of the USCG Navigation Rules at most boating stores.

boat lights in fl
T-even if your canoe is greater than 16ft you don’t need more than a flash light in florida, I have a 17 footer and e mailed about it before I did the silver river at night and got the rules. As long as you don’t have a motor

I agree but…
I agree we should follow the rules, even if the pleasure boats and PWC around here don’t always. Still I wish the Coast Guard would come up with a more practical alternative for paddle craft. I know they have a lot of other important things to do, though.

I also would like to see better waterproof battery powered running lights that meet CG specs and use the newest LED technology for reliability and brightness.

try this
it’s very bright, unobtrusive to the paddler,easily removed/installed.

I’ve seen that link
I doubt that the Tektites meet the CG regs for angle of view and possibly distance, etc.

My other concerns are the price, especially given that they don’t even use 1 W LEDs and you still have to buy the stern light. Still, probably one of the best solutions out there for now.