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After observing that virtually none of the vessels in the Chaguaramas anchorage had a proper anchor light set after dark last night, I made a comment on Facebook noting my surprise. As has happened in the past, my comment was met with people quoting the COLREGS section which states that anchor lights are not required in Special Anchorages (see this external link for a discussion on the subject).

This is one of those things that drives me crazy!

No, this is not an anchor light!

I don’t care what the rules state! If seat belts were’t required, I’d still wear one (I’ve been in car accidents both wearing a seat belt and not — I prefer with). I also wear a helmet when snowboarding, required or not. As for my anchor light, I’m keeping one lit whether the rules say that I need to or not, and that includes when our boat is made fast to a pre-set mooring ball as opposed to our own ground tackle. In fact, sometimes, if there is a high amount of fast moving dinghy traffic in the anchorage, I’ll even set a second LED light in the fore-triangle of the boat! Why? Because I don’t want someone T-boning us in the middle of the night.

On a few occasions, we’ve had to make our way into a crowded anchorage at night. There is no doubt that some of the masthead and other lights get lost against the light pollution on shore. What is also true though is that in those situations, your night vision is basically screwed, and unlit boats are next to impossible to make out until you are right on top of them (you’d better be going very slow in those situations).

I know I’ve ranted about this subject before so why bother posting about it again? Because this is the time of year that a lot of cruisers are heading south for the first time, and I’d rather they not be confused by this subject. Unless you’re on a dock, keep an anchor light lit from dusk until dawn. Just do it! Either install an LED one so that the power requirements are negligible (one with a photocell to turn it on and off would be ideal), or manage your power so that it’s still a non-issue. I wouldn’t want to be the guy having the “but it’s a special anchorage” conversation with my insurance agent after someone hits my unlit boat, and I suspect you wouldn’t either.

Additional points: An anchor light is a white, all-around (360 degree) light, set at the masthead or in the fore-triangle of the boat. It is NOT a red light, unless your mast is over 100′ tall. Garden-quality solar lights, by themselves, don’t cut it, and it is absolutely not a strobe light. Don’t be that guy!


  1. Mike,
    I am curious why not a strobe? Aircraft use the flashing strobe, for recognition. As a pilot I would think this would be a good idea for boats as well. This could help with light pollution from shore as well, maybe easier to see a flashing mast light.

    • The important thing to remember is the different lights signify different things. Strobe lights are generally reserved for gaining attention in emergency situations. See below.

      Colregs Rule 36
      Signals to Attract Attention
      If necessary to attract the attention of another vessel, any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorized elsewhere in these Rules, or may direct the beam of her searchlight in the direction of the danger, in such a way as not to embarrass any vessel Any light to attract the attention of another vessel shall be such that it cannot be mistaken for any aid to navigation. For the purpose of this Rule the use of high intensity intermittent or revolving lights, such as strobe lights, shall be avoided.

      Whenever I see a strobe light used as an anchor light, I want to go over the the boat in the middle of the night and bang on their hull yelling “is everything OK?” 🙂

  2. We’re not out there yet, but couldn’t imagine not having an anchor light. There’s enough to worry about. If only everyone did their part .. Sigh!

  3. Mike,
    I was hit broadside by a boatload of drunks on a powerboat in an approved anchorage (Boca Lake). The night I was hit (2nd day of ownership) my boat was rafted up with my parents boat, and they had proper anchor light. By law I was well within compliance, but I agree common sense dictate at a minimum an anchor light. When I head out a solar spotlight or two shine on my hull so the intoxicated nighttime boater who has his head down will see my boat.

  4. I agree on the anchor light but often don’t feel it is quite enough. I’m looking to put lights (probably garden solar lights or similar) on the corners of my catamaran closer to deck level. That way someone blasting through the anchorage in a small boat (maybe not as sober as they should be) that might not be looking for the light 60 feet or more in the air will have a chance at seeing my hulls before they bounce off of them or hole them.


  5. Spot on article Mike. In a free world, common sense is the only thing that can save us out there! Big brother, Uncle Sam and their regulations are important, but rarely the answer.

  6. I agree and also believe that masthead anchor lights should be banned. A mediocre masthead light blends in with background land lights and stars and they don’t make the boat any more visible except in really dark isolated anchorages.
    I use a strong LED light raised about 10 feet off the foredeck and if anybody ever hit my boat they’d have to be either totally distracted, drunk or both.

  7. Is the anchorage in question truly a “special anchorage” (as designated on the nautical chart) or is it just an anchorage where lots of people like to drop a hook. That has been the real confusion in many such conversations I’ve heard. The nautical charts will have a box marked as a “special anchorage” and those are the only ones in which anchor lights are not required. But even so… I’m with you. Turn it on.

  8. Tammy’s got it right. Often, even among credentialed boaters, the term Special Anchorage is taken to mean Any anchorage or mooring area. There are actually far, far few Special Anchorages.

  9. The Colregs state for small crafts:

    A vessel of less than 50 meters in length may exhibit an all-round white light where it can best be seen instead of the lights prescribed in Rule 30(a).

    In anchorages, light over the cockpit or over the bow is better visible than at the top of the mast. I have often troubles telling those toplight apart from light on land.

  10. Can’t imagine not showing an anchor light, and I agree that the masthead is too far removed from the bulk of the boat. I need to change this on my own boat.

  11. We like having some low level lights too — very helpful in areas with lots of dinghy traffic and/or small fishing boats (we used to cruise Mexico — none of the fishermen really look up for masthead lights). We have a proper anchor light plus two not-quite-as-bright ones on the lifelines. High quality SOLAS reflective tape on the bow and stern is also good for times when someone on a dinghy is using a flashlight.

  12. You mean you don’t have glowing neon blue “FROST” in 18″ LED letters mounted on both sides of the cabin? Or is that on the list? 😉

    On a serious note, if an anchor light is set up with a photo cell control (as our is) it’s best to have it manually switched, as well. Anchor lights lit at the dock look a little silly.

    • The funny thing is, we have a blue light on our stern that I have not yet figured out how to turn off. We call it our snowplow light. 🙂

      The Led masthead light on ZTC can be turned off with a switch. Obviously necessary for nighttime travel.

  13. As soon as we have set our Mantus we turn our anchor light on and leave it on 24/7, i’t one less thing to think about when having sundowners on shore or on another boat. We also have a solar light on the solar panel arch that lights up the cocpit and the stern, this works to make us more visible to the skippers moving about after dark and also seems to work as added security to keep the unwanted boarders away

  14. If there are boats buzzing about as we head off to bed, I leave the LED cockpit light on in addition. It draws nothing and lights the boat down low, where people are actually looking.

    Coming into an anchorage after dark, with a background of shore lights, remains disorienting, no matter how many times I do it. Depth perception is nil if only an anchor light is used. The only solution is to go SLOW. Heck, they’re probably all asleep, so quiet only makes sense.

    I have been guilty of not showing an anchor light (burned out) a few times, but I then leave a cabin or cockpit light on, which is very visible. Not legal, but I think safe. Steaming lights (without the red/green on) are another contingency possibility; not quite correct, but white all-around.

  15. We are working our way south for the first time right now, and I have to say that this is one of my biggest boating pet peeves! First of all, why would anyone NOT want to have an anchor light on when they are anchored at night? And second, so many boaters just assume that if they are anchored somewhere that lots of boats regularly anchor, that they are in a special anchorage. Common sense, people!!!

  16. We have just installed a photo electric switch to turn off and on our anchor light. It is the best thing ever. How often do sundowners go way past sundown, and you have to worry about the anchor light not being turned on. Also helps to find the boat on the way home.

  17. I’m a god in my life and all you plebes need to pay honor to me in every situation I am in, at your own expense. I refuse to accept any excuse that you do not revere me at all costs to yourself, and anything that may be happening in your life. You need to revere me as your god, wherever I am, and no matter what time it is. You have no right to interfere in my life progress, under any circumstance, unless I approve of it, with sufficient warning. Otherwise I’ll sue you.

    • With this comment and the one you posted a few seconds earlier, you seriously seem like you’re having a bad day, Eric. I hope ranting here makes it better for you.

  18. I totally agree with your comments. Thought I find the light in the fore-triangle much more effective and preferable. The masthead light is then just a back-up.


  19. 2,5 weeks ago, 2 Dutch guys ( 23 and 24 years old) died when they hit an anchor-chain in a south France harbor.

    It’s in Dutch, but here the article:

  20. Dude! What is up with the strobe light boats?! I seem to be seeing more of them. We should start dinghying up to them at 2am and asking if they are in distress 🙂

    And yes, we use our anchor light similarly – for safety not for rules.

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