Let there be light

Genesis 1:3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” So it is with navigation lights that tell us what your vessel is, how big it is and what it’s doing so we can maneuver accordingly.

I always hate the lights and shape sections on rules of the road tests. Sometimes the questions on lights and shapes are so bizarre that you can go an entire career and never see some of them. But you need a 90% passing grade or it’s sudden death.

This comes to mind because I recently heard about a case of lighting violations. A tow vessel had cleverly avoided putting up the wrong towboat lights by not having any lights at all. Just to be on the safe side he had a flashing red light on the stern. The vessel looked like a flashing red buoy doing 6 knots across the bow. But the best jury-rigged lights I’ve ever seen were a lamp bulb under a mayonnaise jar and flashlights in red and greens water bottles.

So I thought it might be time for a quick refresher on nav lights. Enjoy the rules on your own before the test. Put a copy in the head instead of Guns and Ammo. Study the rules and avoid a collision at night due to screwed up running lights.

Rule 20: “Navigation lights are to be used from sunset to sunrise including in restricted visibility and in all weathers. During such times no other lights are to be exhibited except where they cannot be mistaken for navigation lights and where they do not impair navigation lights. These lights may also be used at other times whenever deemed necessary.”
Rule 21: Definitions. A masthead light is white with an arc of 225° from ahead. A sidelight is a green light on the starboard or a red light on the port. Both have an arc of 112.5° from ahead. A sternlight is a white light on the stern with an arc of 135°. A towing light is a yellow light on the stern with an arc of 135°. An all-round light is a light showing an arc of 360°. A flashing light flashes at 120+ flashes per minute. A special flashing light is yellow, flashing at 50-70 flashes per minute, placed far forward showing with an arc of 180°-225°.
Rule 22: “Lights must have an intensity so as to be visible” depending upon the length of the vessel. That ranges from 1 mile to 6 miles, most often 2-3 miles. See the Rules for specifics.

Rule 24: “Towing and Pushing Lights.”

• If you are rigidly connected (ITB), then you are lighted as a power driven vessel.
• Towing astern with a boat length of less than 50 meters (164′) AND a tow length less than 200 meters (656′) you have two masthead lights, sidelights, and one towing light over the sternlight. If the tow is longer than 200 meters or the boat longer than 50 meters, add another masthead “range” light aft and above the two forward masthead lights.
• The tow astern shows sidelights and a sternlight.
• Towing alongside you’ll show two towing lights aft instead of the sternlight with all of the rest of the lighting for your vessel’s length, greater than or less than 50 meters. The barge has sidelights and a sternlight.
• Pushing ahead you show the same white masthead lights for either the towboat’s length less than 50 meters or more than 50 meters, sidelights, and two towing lights instead of a sternlight. A special flashing yellow light is at the bow of the barge along with its sidelights (no barge sternlight).

Never forget Rule 5, “Look-Out.” See my blog on the subject.

You can look at the Coast Guard’s Navigation Center for lots of other good info.

GBA and Sail Safe!

About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at pdsquicciarini@msn.com.

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