Nautical Lighting - A Glimmer On How To Use Them
By Wayne Spivak,
Branch Chief – National
National Marketing and Public Affairs Department United States Coast
Nothing ingratiates a driver more,
to other drivers, than driving on a dark road at night, without your
headlights on. Oops, I'm in error. One other action a driver can take
surpasses the level of danger of driving without headlights. That's
driving with your high beams on!
Which driver who's reading this
article can honestly say that they have never encountered one or both
of these situations? Can you also say you have never made this error?
Now I did say "honestly". I'll stand up and say "Yes, I've forgotten
to turn on my lights from time to time!" I'll also admit to "being
lazy about changing my high beams to low beams."
So what does driving with your
headlights on, have to do with nautical lighting? Well, just like our
landlubber cousins, boats also have headlights and backlights and high
beams. Unlike our road-bound cousins, boating does not have the luxury
of a spatial backplane in which to judge, for the most part, direction
of another vessel.
Let's explain this last statement.
On the road, even on a very dark, winding, country road, you have
signposts, trees, houses and, even fields of corn stalks. Out on the
water, you have water, then you have water, occasionally you have an
aid to navigation, another vessel's sound (which can be confusing, as
to their direction). In other words, it's very difficult to tell the
direction of a vessel, without looking at their lights.
Every time I go boating at night,
I am amazed at the number of people who either have no navigational
lights on, due to either forgetfulness or a partial or total equipment
malfunction, or who have the wrong navigational lights on.
For simplicity sake, let's take
the standard 21ft cuddy roundabout. The Rules of the Road state that
vessels this size need a red and a green bow light (a combination
light is acceptable) capable of being seen ? mile. In addition, a 360°
all-around white light at the stern is also required, that can be seen
What can go wrong with this simple
light configuration? Everything! From the combo light being not
operational, to the white light not being positioned so that it can be
seen 360° by other vessels. Navigation lights are extremely important.
They tell other boaters that you
are making way or at anchor. They give other boaters a conceptual idea
of your direction via their own direction. A lookout (remember every
vessel is required to have a lookout) that sees a red light followed
by a white light while looking over the bow can make the following
assumptions: The boat is going from starboard to port, and depending
on distance, has the right of way.
If you saw a white light in front
of you, the vessel is either moving in the same direction or is at
anchor. Speaking of anchor lights. A vessel that is at anchor, that is
not in a "special anchorage area' must show an anchor light. An anchor
light is a 360° white light.
So, if you're fishing and
drifting, you should have on your navigation lights. If you're fishing
on an anchor, then it's the anchor light. In any event, before you
leave the dock, make sure your lights are operational!
So you're saying to yourself, how
am I, going to tie high beams into navigational lights. Yes, you're
right; the nav light switch has three positions, off, navigation light
and anchor light. Ever hear of your spot light?
Those ingenious lights that are
either hand held or attached to your bow. Those zillion candle white
lights that can make night into day. That extremely useful tool that
can blind the pilot of the other vessel, and cause night blindness
that can take 45 minutes to self-correct. Yes, that's the light!
Why do people find it necessary to
point the light at the pilot of the other vessel? The correct way to
use your spotlight is to: a.) use it sparingly and b.) move the spot
along the water toward the unknown object and/or vessel.
Once the object is seen at the
water's edge, move the light along the water waterline to see if it's
a vessel or some other object. If it's a vessel, don't lift the beam
above the gunwale, because the higher you lift the light, the better
the chance you'll blind the other vessel's occupants.
If you identified the object as
not being a vessel, then slowly lift the light up the object, making
sure that as much as the beam of light strikes the object. This way
you can get a good identification on the object. Remember, there are
other boater's out there, and by swinging your spotlight hither and
yarn; you can still cause night blindness for other boaters.
Want to learn more about boating
safely? The United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary want
you to be not only a safe boater, but also an educated boater. Why not
take one of the many different boating courses offered by the Coast
To contact your local Auxiliary Flotilla, you can
either contact your local Coast Guard
unit on the web (http://www.uscg.mil/default.asp)
or find your local flotilla on the web.(http://www.cgaux.org)