Boating At Night: (Things You Need To Know)

Boating at night can be a beautiful experience. There’s something about being out on the moonlit water that awakens a primordial tug in our outdoor-loving natures.

However, you need to know the dangers of boating at night. Here are some facts and helpful tips to keep in mind before launching a boat on your first night cruise.

Lights You Will Need On A Boat At Night

It should go without saying that you’ll need lights on the boat if you plan on taking it out in the dark. But did you know that the lights represent an entire wordless language?

There’s more at stake than simple illumination—your lights will alert other boats to your intentions, and show the patrol crew that you know what you’re doing.

Here’s a basic guide to the different types of lights that you’ll encounter when night boating.

Docking Lights

These twin beams function in much the same way as headlights on a road vehicle. In fact, you may even hear them referred to as “headlights” in common parlance.

In practice, however, they’re meant to be used only when you’re attempting to steer the boat into a tight space—for example, when you’re heading into the dock area.

The added brightness will help you make out any obstacles in the immediate vicinity and allow you to guide the craft safely into its resting spot.

Resist the urge to use your docking lights when moving through open water. They might make it easier for you to see, but the light can be distracting—even blinding—to other boats. This is especially true if you choose LED bulbs, which are preferable to halogen on account of their efficiency, long lifespan, and piercing brightness.

Navigation Lights

These lifesaving tools are essential when it comes to any type of reduced visibility, and particularly between the hours of sunset and sunrise, when their use is required by law.

The red and green lights used for navigation not only make it easier for you to see where your boat is headed, they make your craft visible to other boaters. If you’re planning on doing a lot of nighttime cruising, you need to understand the meaning behind the different colors and positions of navigation lights. For a closer look, check out “What Do The Lights On A Boat Mean?”, below.

The 360 White Lights

Also known as the “all-around light,” this bulb must be positioned on the stern of the vessel, according to US Coast Guard regulations. As the name suggests, its brightness is visible from all 360 degrees—a full circle.

While it can sometimes be used as a substitute for other lights on smaller watercraft, the all-around light itself is a must for any powered boat. In addition, its brightness should be visible from a minimum of two nautical miles away.

What Do The Lights On A Boat Mean?

As we mentioned earlier, lights on a boat do more than just illuminate your path. They’re in place to provide information about what your vessel is doing, as well as its size and location.

Before you set out at night, you should familiarize yourself with the following information. Note that the guidelines we’ve provided are for pleasure boats that measure fewer than 65 feet in length.

Red lights are affixed to the port (that is, the left-hand) side of a boat. When you’re out on the water and you see a red light approaching, the oncoming boat will be on your right, which gives it the right of way. As the designated “give-way” vessel, you should keep to port until the other boat has passed.

Conversely, the green light is always located on the starboard (right-hand) side of the craft. If you see a green light moving toward you across the water, that’s an indication that the boat is on your left, meaning that yours is the “stand-on” boat.

This means that you can continue moving forward—with caution, of course. While it’s the responsibility of the other boat to allow you the right of way in this situation, you can never be too careful.

This is the aforementioned 360-degree light, which is mounted on the stern and can be seen from all angles surrounding the craft.

If you see a yellow light, it means that the boat is towing another craft. Make sure you don’t accidentally go in between the lead boat and the one that’s being towed behind it.

If you see a red an/or white light on the masthead, look more closely. A pattern of red to white to red, displayed in a vertical line, means that there are divers in the vicinity of the boat. Other boaters should keep clear of the area in this situation.

When a green light appears just above a white one, that means that the boat is actively trawling. You’ll need to steer clear of not just the boat itself, but the wide nets that are likely dragging just behind it.

Required Lights When Anchored (Anchor Light)

Between sunset and sunrise, a boat mounted at anchor must display the 360 white light at all times. This will make the boat clearly visible to other watercraft and promote greater safety for everyone concerned.

Launching A Boat At Night

If you’ve ever tried to launch a boat, you’ll know that it can be a tricky process even in broad daylight. When it’s dark, the difficulty level ramps up even further. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make the task easier—enjoyable, even.

Bring A Flashlight

Or better yet, a floodlight that illuminates the entire area. Before every launch, you should make sure all your gear is loaded and that all the necessary plugs are in place.

You also need to take off your rear tie-downs, affix your lines to the bow and stern cleats, and unplug the trailer lights. If you can’t see what you’re doing, you’re far more likely to miss a vital step.

Use A Spotter

Boating alone at night is never a good idea. In addition to keeping you company, a second person can stand alongside your vehicle and let you know whether you’re backing in straight.

Have The Proper Footgear

In the dark, it will be harder to tell whether the ramp is slippery. Your footwear should be water-friendly, with a decent tread.

Check Local Regulations

Depending on the location, it might not be permissible to park at the boat ramp after dark. Make sure you’re familiar with the navigation light rules before you attempt to launch at night.

Check Your Vessel Thoroughly

Make sure your lights, engine, and ignition system are all in proper working order. You should also keep a flashlight and a few glow sticks aboard. Check any batteries or bulbs for signs of damage.

Go Slowly

Maintaining a safe speed is always important, but it’s imperative at night. Remember that your visibility will be greatly reduced, and you might always encounter dark objects like floating logs or other debris, no matter how well you know the area.

Keep An Ear Out

If you have a radio or stereo system on your boat, turn it off. Evening is not the time for distractions. If you have full use of all your senses, you’ll be able to spot any potential hazards more quickly.

With the right preparation, you can have a wonderful boating experience at any hour of the day or night…

Project “moonlight” Boating

Check out our article on: What Should You Do To Avoid Colliding With Another Boat? (Safety Tips)

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Project Boating Editorial Staff

My name is Brad Visser the chief editor and owner of We have an amazing team of writers that contribute to our website. This team is passionate about boating and have years of experience not only in boats, but in writing helpful, informative articles to answer questions you may have.

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