Cruising a boat at night

Boat lights

Boats require specific lighting configurations when on the water between sunset and sunrise or when visibility has been restricted. Never assume your factory boat that came right off the showroom floor has all the proper equipment. Making sure your boat displays all the proper lights, based on boat size and the water way you’re traveling, is your responsibility.

According to the US Coast Guard Navigation Rules for the International Inland contain lighting requirements for water craft of every description. The comments provided here is for power boats and sailboats less the 20 meters. (65.62 feet)

US Inland rules are applied in the demarcation lines seen at entrances of rivers, inlets, bays, etc. to prevent collisions (Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980).  

Demarcation lines on coastal charts are the magenta dashed lines. When navigating waters outside of the demarcation lines boaters are subject to the Navigation Rules of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. (1972 COLREGS)


Minimum requirements of equipment set by the US Coast Guard depend on the size of your boat, propulsion type, if being navigated at night or reduced visibility as well as, in some cases, the body of water you are skippering.

Sailboats under sail and/or motor is considered a powerboat and the proper lights must be displayed.

If your boat carries passengers for hire, you will have additional equipment requirements.

You can request a free brochure of the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats by going to USCG Navigation Rules - this is commonly called the Rules of the Road. Visit your state’s local government marine safety regulations.


Boating rules and regulations are required for a safe environment. Navigational Rules are approved globally, these rules have been divided by the US into Inland rules within specific Demarcation Lines appropriate for coastal waters. Beyond those lines International Rules apply.