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Old 11-06-2020, 06:06   #1
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Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

Dear wise forum,

This should be easy but I am not sure I am clear on the lights I need, and remain confused even after reading the Colregs.

Sailboat is 50' and of course has an auxiliary engine. For sailing we carry a tricolour light at the top of the mast (the requirement is for Sidelights and Sternlight, the note allows for these to be combined into a single tricolour light atop the mast). So under sail, only one light (red, green or white) is visible to an outside observer. So far so good.

For motoring/steaming/motorsailing the boat is considered a power boat. The requirement is Sidelights, Masthead light and Stern light. Sidelights may be combined into one fitting, masthead and stern lights may be combined into a single all around white light. So to an outside observer only a white light is always visible except when viewed from dead ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft of beam, when a green OR red light would also be visible. Yes?

If I already have the tricolour light at the mast top, what is needed to complement this for motoring? Is another set of green/red sidelights needed at the bow? I would think not because the Tricolour already displays the red/green. Is an additional masthead light what is needed (to display white all around when combined with the white on the tricolour)? Could this masthead light be installed below the tricolour?

I am sure I am overcomplicating this and the answer is simple and straightforward, only that it is eluding me. I have the tricolour top of mast, good for sailing. Need to know the simplest light addition to comply when motoring.

Many thanks to those with a clear and unambiguous grasp of the requirements to help clarify them for this particular situation.
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Old 11-06-2020, 06:44   #2
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

We get this question pretty frequently. I believe the confusion is from the masthead isn’t the top of the mast, the head is the front of the mast, so you need a steaming light to be on when under power mounted to the front of the Mast. Otherwise you could turn on your Tri-color and anchor light.
And then for reasons I’m not sure of apparently the streaming light shouldn’t be below the red/green, meaning as I understand it that a Tri-color is not appropriate for running under power.

Which takes us to requiring the normal running lights to be run under power with a steaming light on.
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Old 11-06-2020, 06:45   #3
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

50ft is 15.24 metres i.e. over 12 metres.


Since you are not under 12 , you cannot display an all round white light in lieu of masthead and sternlight when motoring. You need both.

The "masthead" light (also known as a steaming light) is not generally at the top of the mast. It's normally about 2/3 of the way up the mast on a sailboat.

You do need another set of "deck level" red/green sidelights when motoring. The tricolour can only be displayed when sailing. (sidelights must be clearly lower than the masthead/steaming light. Heghts/vertical separation of lights are specified in Annex 1)

So bottom line:
You need to fit a masthead/steaming light, deck level side lights and a sternlight.

These need to be on a separate circuit to the tricolour at the top of your mast since the tricolour should not be on when the "motoring lights" are on and vice versa.


The deck level sidelights may be a combined light on the centreline of the vessel (not necessarily at the bow - although that is a good idea if you are also using them when under sail to avoid them being covered by the headsail) or separate lights on either side of the vessel,
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Old 11-06-2020, 06:52   #4
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

Iím sure youíve seen this.

Click image for larger version

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If not, here it is.

Notice the sailing requirements are for either tricolor or deck level, not both.

Also you cannot use the tricolor under power.
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Old 11-06-2020, 06:57   #5
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

Thank you so much for such a quick reply! So if I cannot use the tricolour when motoring that clears it up. A second set of side lights and a masthead light are both necessary. Many thanks!
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Old 11-06-2020, 06:57   #6
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

I think you are missing the vital part that the vertical orientation of light plays in the identification of what kind of boat you are looking at.

If you are lit with a tricolor at the top of the mast, and a steaming light BELOW it you are NOT showing the lights appropriate to a motorboat.

A WHITE light OVER a GREEN light is the port beam of a motorboat underway. A GRREN light OVER a WHITE light is a fishing vessel that is trawling, and not making way. To present one example of why the vertical orientation of lights is more important than many people seem to think

A pet peeve of mine is that this configuration of tricolor at the top of the mast, a steaming light below it, and NO deck level lights is how many cruising catamarans are delivered from the factory. Somehow they manage to get an EU navigation certification with this combination of lights that makes it illegal to Motor at night.
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Old 11-06-2020, 07:00   #7
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bambooboat View Post
Thank you so much for such a quick reply! So if I cannot use the tricolour when motoring that clears it up. A second set of side lights and a masthead light are both necessary. Many thanks!

And a sternlight.
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Old 11-06-2020, 09:30   #8
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

Another issue to consider but not essential to comply with the regs is where to put the deck lights. There are 2 factors, reliability and visibility. Many boats use a combined red/green on the pulpit or separate red and greens on the bow. Both of these are very vulnerable to both getting knocked when docking and being regularly dunked in seawater. The other factor is that steaming lights are frequently used in harbour with lots of shore lights around. Anything up the mast tends to get lost against that background. Deck lights show much better, particularly from the bridge of a ship, when lower so seen against the black water. This is why, particularly on larger boats side lights are often mounted in boxes on the shrouds or cabin top. The ideal placement is a few feet above the 'deck clutter' i.e. ports or other lights that may show at night.
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Old 11-06-2020, 09:35   #9
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

If the tricolor is not used under power. What is it's specific use?
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Old 11-06-2020, 09:43   #10
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

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Originally Posted by zengirl View Post
If the tricolor is not used under power. What is it's specific use?

When sailing, you have 2 choices:

A: turn the masthead steaming light off and stick with the deck level sidelights and stern light

B: turn them all off and use a tricolor on the mast instead (likely visible for a longer distance offshore, especially in rough seas, but less visible in close quarters)

Under power, you run the deck level sidelights, stern light and masthead steaming light.
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Old 11-06-2020, 09:44   #11
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

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If the tricolor is not used under power. What is it's specific use?
A tricolor is used under sail ONLY.

Traditionally it had the advantage on a sailboat that it only required on light bulb, and reduced the power draw on an unmotorized vessel. With modern LEDís this is kind of mote.

Out at sea, it has the advantage that is shows well above the swell.

The BEST Legal way to light a boat under sail is the one least often seen:
Red and Green Bow lights, White Stern light, and Red over Green all-round lights at the top of the mast. Covers all bases. Correctly IDs the boat as a sailing vessel, is well seen looking down from a large vessel bride in harbor traffic, AND stands out above waves offshore.

For the makers of mass market catamarans installing only a tricolor instead of proper Suit of navigation lights has the advantage that it is CHEAP. Yes, you are spending half a million dollars, and they are cheaping out on you.
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Old 11-06-2020, 10:21   #12
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

Not to be a word cop here but deck lights are lights that are used to light up your deck. The "deck lights" being discussed here are navigation lights mounted to the deck. I'm sure that was already clear by context but I just had to say it because there is a big difference and I almost had the wrong lights ordered for me last year.
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Old 11-06-2020, 11:13   #13
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

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Originally Posted by zengirl View Post
If the tricolor is not used under power. What is it's specific use?

Cheating the customs.


;-)

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Old 11-06-2020, 11:31   #14
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

I don't want to take away from the importance of complying with the regulations for navigation lights; however, it is important to have a stand by opportunity to display some dramatic lighting. I spent much of my sailing time between the Bahamas, Fort Lauderdale and down to the Keys where I have been quickly approached or overtaken by vessels that don't seem to see me,....'maybe a partying crew that is common in many high tourist areas.

I would not recommend strobe or spot lights, but a bright white light behind a genoa or cruising chute will make a big "Japanese Lantern" of your sails. I just light my sails up for a minute and then check for their response.
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Old 11-06-2020, 12:26   #15
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Re: Sailboat confused regarding navigation lights

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Originally Posted by zengirl View Post
If the tricolor is not used under power. What is it's specific use?
It was invented (and then legally sanctioned) to save power - something sailboats under sail, particularly at night, historically have not had a lot of. Before LED bulbs, vessels over 12 metres required 24 watt (2 amp) bulbs to meet the brightness requirements. With sidelights, stern light, and steaming light, that's 96 watts or a HUGE battery drain. The tricolour required only ONE 24 watt bulb thus dramatically reducing battery drain.

Also a mast top light is less likely to be screened by sails, etc.

Nowadays, with LED lights, high-capacity batteries, and solar panels, the advantages of the mast top tricolour is considerably reduced.
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