Navigation Lights

Contrary to widespread belief, the single white light that fulfils requirements for navigation at night or in restricted visibility by a narrow boat on the English narrow canals does not fulfil legal (or commonsense) requirements on some larger CRT waterways or on many other freight waterways.  You are more likely to be travelling at night on tidal waterways, as your movements may be restricted by tide times. On most such waterways, to travel at night in a power driven vessel, you MUST show the following lights, visible at the range indicated, when underway, as stipulated in the COLREGS (Rules 22 and 23).

Vessel length 50m or more 20m - 50m 12m – 20m Less than 12m
White masthead light 6 miles %% 5 miles 3 miles 2 miles
Red port sidelight 3 miles 2 miles 2 miles 1 mile
Green starboard side light 3 miles 2 miles 2 miles 1 mile
White stern light 3 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles

%% - two such lights required, on separate masts.

For small craft (less than 12m in length) masthead and sternlights can be replaced by an all-round white light and sidelights can be carried in a combined lantern.  For vessels less than 7m in length, sidelights are not mandatory but should be carried if practicable.  Note the visibility requirements: many narrow boats over 12m long are fitted with navigation lights that are not legal in this respect, as many boat builders and fitters unfortunately do not seem to know or care about the regulations. 

On most larger waterways, including CRT commercial waterways, you are also required to show an anchor light when moored on the waterway at night – this is an all-round white light visible at 2 miles (or two lights visible at 3 miles for craft over 50m long) (Rule 30).  The requirement for full navigation lights (with a few minor relaxations in some cases) applies to the following waterways.  Note also that on all other CRT waterways, vessels other than narrow canal boats must carry both masthead light and stern light.

Humber Thames (PLA and EA sections)
Hull (Humber to Hempholme) Medway tideway
Ouse (Yorkshire) Severn tideway
Aire & Calder Navigation (A&CN) * Bristol Avon tideway and Bristol Floating Harbour
Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation *
(below Doncaster including S&KN and NJC)
Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and R. Severn (Gloucester to Stourport) **
Trent (upstream of Gainsborough) * Weaver (MSC to Northwich) and Weston Canal *
Trent (downstream of Gainsborough) Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal
Witham, Welland and Nene tideways Ribble (sea to Preston) and Douglas (to Tarleton)
Great Ouse tideway and New Bedford River Clyde (sea to Glasgow Green)
Yare (sea to Norwich) Crinan Canal
Lowestoft Harbour/Lake Lothing Caledonian Canal
Orwell and Stour tideways Tay (sea to Perth)
Colne, Brightlingsea Creek, Blackwater Forth (sea to Stirling)
Crouch, Roach and Havengore Tyne (sea to Wylam)
Lee (Thames to Hertford) Tees (sea to Aislaby)

* - narrow canal craft need only show their headlamp and sidelights – but see note on headlights below.
** - narrow canal craft need only show their headlamp and stern light – but see note on headlights below.

Remember, no matter how small your boat, it is just as important that other boats can see you.  When faced with a big ship in a sudden fog, you may end up wishing you had made sure your lights were up to scratch.

Although the rules are relaxed for narrow canal craft on some freight waterways, allowing use of a headlight instead of a masthead light, IWFG strongly recommends that, if you are venturing onto these larger waterways at night, you fit proper navigation lights and only use your headlamp occasionally, to pick out bridge details or when mooring, for example.  The last thing a tanker skipper needs, when heading up the Aire and Calder Navigation at night with 600 tonnes of petrol, is to be dazzled by a small boat doing 6mph using a headlight with a beam designed for use on a car travelling at 70mph!  Unfortunately, there are many narrow boats fitted with such a totally unsuitable light (in some cases even more than one!).  On larger waterways at night, you will be navigating using lit marks or buoys, as will everyone else, and use of a headlight can cause a major hazard by dazzling skippers and pilots of oncoming craft.