How to use navigation lights and what they mean

Safety should always be your number one priority while boating, and operating at night or in reduced visibility such as fog can present some unique challenges. Depth perception is lessoned, shapes are harder to make out, and misleading reflections are more difficult to navigate.

This is why navigation lights are so important. Wherever you cruising- be it in Idaho, Montana, Washington or one of the many lakes across the northwest- you want to be able to clearly see and be seen.

It is required that recreational vessels should all be equipped with navigation lights. These lights not only have a certain arc through which they can be seen but must be seen from a minimum distance.

Below we’ve quickly listed where the four main lights should be on your boat.

Port Side:

  • A red light, with an arc of 112.5 degrees should be displayed on the port side of your vessel any time there is minimal light or visibility.

Starboard Side:

  • A green light, with an arc of 112.5 degrees should be displayed on the starboard side of your boat.

Stern or Tow:

  • A white light, with an arc of 135 degrees should be displayed on the stern or rear of your boat.


  • For a sailboat or boat with a tall centerpiece, display a white light with a 225 degree arc.

With these four lights, you will be able to tell where another vessel is on the water, and which direction it is moving.

It is also important to regularly test your own lights to make sure they can be seen from far away.

For further questions or for assistance with your navigation lights, see your certified dealer at the Hagadone Marine Group.