Cheap, quick, DIY navigation lights.


Active Member
I picked up some small, cheap, battery operated LED lights from Amazon and got them on the Capri today. They're not perfect, and they don't get very good reviews related to water resistance, but I think (hope) they'll work for my intended purpose. The idea is to have something to keep me at least close to compliance, should I get caught out after dark while trying to get back to the dock.

This scenario very nearly became reality a couple of months ago, when a friend and I, out for a late afternoon sail, found ourselves in a dead calm, 2 miles from the dock. We calculated the numbers and knew we were going to be sailing in darkness if some wind didn't come along, and pretty darn quick. Fortunately it did and we got back just as it was getting truly dark.

More recently, I wanted to get out on the water, but it was getting late (5:pM-ish), and I knew by the time I got the boat rigged and out on the creek, I could very easily find myself in darkness. This was a real bummer, because if had lights on the boat, I would have launched late and had some fun, regardless of the time of day.

It should be noted that nobody sails the creek after dark. at least not that I've seen, and I've never seen the Coast Guard or police patrolling the waters where I sail either.
My want of lights is simply to stay as close as possible in compliance with maritime laws, and provide a little light on the boat to avoid possible, though highly unlikely, collisions.

One thing I'm having trouble figuring out though, is whether or not I'm "legal" with just a white stern light and a pair (red/green) of side lights.

I found this, which suggests that I am.

Sailboats When Under Sail

The basic rule is that sidelights and a stern light are required. Permissible variations to this rule appear below.

  • Sailboats less than 20m (65.7') can substitute a tricolor light for separate sidelights and stern light—or a bi-color light and a stern light may be substituted.
  • Sailboats less than 7m (23') shall, if practicable, exhibit lights as explained above. An acceptable substitute is to keep ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern (flashlight) that shows a white light that shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.


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If you are less than 23' in length you are *legal* with just a flashlight onboard to signal other boats that you are out there if need be to avoid a collision. So you are already well beyond legal if you have those new LED lights you are showing. I can't imagine police giving you a hassle about your lighting as shown. I always liked nighttime cruising, it's a whole different world out there on the water at night. Got to watch out for those bugs though. I thought it would look cool to put LED strip lighting on my cabin cruiser for when we were out at night, the very first time I put them on at night we were swarmed by mosquitos and every other flying critter...that was the last time I turned them on :eek:
Thanks for that confirmation!

I was wondering about bugs on the water, having very little (zero) experience being offshore in the dark with lights on.

When I ride my bike at night, I have to turn off the light on my helmet or I get "attacked". :p I'm not sure how successful I'd be at trying to outrun a mosquito in a sailboat.:D
George_NJ - Nav light rules on lakes here are the same for sailboats as yours. And I must agree, boating at night is a completely different experience that I really enjoy. Even just running my sailboat's trolling motor for a couple of hours, following the shoreline without making a sound.
My sailing area is fairly industrial, with the occasional bulk ship, dredge or barge to deal with. There's also a lot of light from the port.
If you go out towards the bay, past the port, things can get pretty black, though I'm sure the channel markers have lights on them, so at least there's that.
The channel buoys, on the other hand, probably don't have lights. :eek:

No small craft.. At least not that I've seen. I see plenty of boats coming back in as the sun it setting, but none going out.

I just need to make sure the ramp/dock is open after dark. I know there's no curfew where I store my boat, but the ramp may be another matter.

I picked up a nice, LED headlamp from Amazon that I think will help illuminate obstacles before they become hazards. I'm looking forward to it! :cool:


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There are some pretty cool solar navigations products out now that eliminate the need for wires etc. For anyone seeing this in the future, you might wanna consider solar marine navigation lights; this is a list of a few good ones!

Let me know what your experience is.