The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) recently released a safety alert regarding unapproved recreational and commercial vessel navigation lights, and they also issued a reminder that using some decorative lighting onboard (rope lighting, underwater lighting, etc.) may be a violation of the Nautical Rules of the Road.
Uncertified nav lights
According to the USCG, theres a growing number of navigation lights on the market that do not meet technical certification requirements. These lights are typically less expensive, making them a tempting choice for uninformed shoppers. However, installing these lights (which likely do not have the proper chromaticity, luminous intensity, or cutoff angles) could land the boat owner in violation of Coast Guard regulations, and they could potentially cause an accident.
Specifications for lights vary depending upon the type of boat but regardless of the light source (i.e., incandescent or LED), they must follow the requirements prescribed in Rules 20, 21, 22 and Annex I of the Rules of the Road, which is the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (72 COLREGS) or the Inland Navigation Rules (33 CFR Subchapter E). Recreational vessel and uninspected commercial vessel navigation lights must meet American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standard A-16, and commercial inspected vessels must have nav lights that meet Underwriters Laboratories standard UL 1104. You can find the Rules of the Road online at http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=navRulesContent.
Dont get duped when shopping for navigation lights. Brush up on the Rules of the Road nav light requirements, and be sure that any light you buy clearly states the following information:
USCG Approval 33 CFR 183.810
Meets ABYC A-16 or equivalent
Tested by an approved laboratory
Name of the light manufacturer
Number of Model
Visibility of the light in nautical miles
Date on which the light was type-tested
Specification of bulb used in compliance test.
Also, be sure to check out our last review of LED tri-color nav lights (see PS February 2010 online) and previous articles that evaluated tri-color incandescent nav lights, masthead lights, sidelights, stern lights, and all-around white lights (see PS September 2005 and Jan. 15, 2002). All of the products weve tested meet the Rules of the Road regulations.
Decorative lighting hazards:
According the USCG safety alert, boat owners should be cautious about installing onboard decorative lighting underwater, on the rubrail, or just above the waterline, among other places. When installing such lights, be sure that they cannot be mistaken for navigation lights, do not impair the visibility or distinctive character of approved and properly placed nav lights, and that they do not interfere with the helmsmans ability to keep a proper lookout. If any of these situations exist, you can be found in a violation of the Rules of the Road (Rule 20).
A violation can occur if the decorative lights can be construed as a nav light required by the Rules for another vessel. An example the USCG offered was when blue underwater LED lights appear to be flashing if there is any wave action; this may give the appearance of a flashing blue light, which is only authorized to be used by law enforcement boats. For questions or concerns, email email@example.com.