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The French philosopher Voltaire said that “common sense is not so common” and some days I tend to think that’s an accurate assessment. For example, a discussion (disagreement) took place on Trinidad’s morning radio net last week where one particular boater asserted himself that vessels on a mooring ball need not display an all-round white anchor light at night as those at anchor are required to. Putting the regulations aside for a moment, that just strikes me, and most of the other boaters here, as ludicrous. Were a ship to be making their way through a crowded harbor on a moonless night, just how would they be able to tell which boats had deployed their own anchor and which ones had made themselves fast to one that had been previously set by someone else (a mooring)? The obvious answer is they wouldn’t. We don’t display an anchor light on ZTC because someone tells us that we have to. We do so to prevent other boats from running into us at night!

Equally silly, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, instead of the all-round white light that regulations mandate, some boaters choose to display either a flashing strobe light on their masthead, or solid or flashing colored lights. I assume they feel that these lights make their vessel stand out amongst the dozens of other boats in the harbor, and they’re right, they do, but not in a good way. Not to mention the fact that strobe lights are extremely annoying to your neighbors, they indicate that a vessel is in distress. Red and green lights also have important safety functions, being used for both navigational markers and running lights. So, rules aside, why would I want my boat to be confused with any of those? Seriously guys, if you really want your boat to stand out, string up some Christmas lights. At this time of year at least, not many will complain.


  1. Common sense is one of the most uncommon things. We make products for restaurants and hotels and it’s common for people to say “we need to make it idiot proof”. I’m convinced in some cases no matter what we do they’ll just make a better idiot to defeat our attempts! Really who in their right mind would advocate a completely dark boat whether at anchor or mooring? Makes no sense.

  2. I would be curious to see the boat that belongs to the person that advocated not using an anchor light. I have a feeling that there might be some other odd and unsafe things on that boat. If they are so convinced that an anchor light is not needed in certain circumstances, there are probably some other things done on that boat that are not “up to code” either. Maybe for their sake, the name should be changed from “anchor” light to “boat in a bay, not moving and nobody awake and please don’t run us over” light.

  3. While I’m sure you know all of this…

    1. You are allowed to forgo an anchor light in certain designated anchorage areas. However, the presence of a mooring ball doesn’t make it a designated anchorage and light is generally a good idea anyway.

    2. Traffic lights on-shore are my pet peeve. In some of the areas I sail, red and green blinking through passing trees is very distracting. Sure, the timing is different, but when you’re approaching a narrow rock-lined channel, it’s just one more thing.

    3. Fake lighthouses on shore. There are a few, corny things folks think look nautical. They should get a fine for plain stupidity.

    4. I’ve been known to leave either the cabin lights or a deck light on if there are idiots running about. Distracting to sleep, perhaps, but I don’t believe the drunk on a jet ski is going to look up. There was a serious accident some years ago on the Chesapeake where a jet ski skewered an anchored boat at full speed; he didn’t see the masthead, wasn’t looking there. Lighting up the whole boat can help.

    Yes, common sense requires effort and humility.

    • The “designated anchorage” thing is interesting. I can’t think of any spot that meets that criteria. Surely all of the places where we anchor do not. Simply having an anchor symbol on a chart does not make a place a “designated anchorage.”

      Actually, just found this…

      • Nope, an anchor means nothing, but a side note on the NOAA chart designating a “special anchorage” does. However, it has nothing to do with whether boats are anchored or on a fixed mooring.

        30 CFR 109.10
        “An Act of Congress of April 22, 1940, provides for the designation of special anchorage areas wherein vessels not more than sixty-five feet in length, when at anchor, will not be required to carry or exhibit anchorage lights. Such designation is to be made after investigation, by rule, regulation, or order, the procedure for which will be similar to that followed for anchorage grounds under section 7 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of March 4, 1915, as referred to in ? 109.05. The areas so designated should be well removed from the fairways and located where general navigation will not endanger or be endangered by unlighted vessels.”

        As this was written into the code in 1940, boats on moorings had no solar or LED lighting possiblities; there needed to be a safe place to leave a boat with no lghts. These are common on the Chesapeake and other areas. But they are marked on charts with specific language.

  4. How much energy do you anchor lights use? Also are they on a timer or do you manually put them on at night? But I can definitely see how strobe lights would get annoying.

    • The energy draw is the ONLY excuse that I could see some people using but now, with LEDS, even that doesn’t stand up. A normal masthead anchor light might use somewhere around 1 amp per hour. So, if it was run from dusk until dawn, it could use 10 or so amp hours. Our LED light draws 0.1 amps per hour! Ours is also operated by a photocell so it turns itself on and off. We only ever switch the switch off when we will be doing a night passage.

      • So only 1 amp a day there. Not bad at all, about how many amp hours do you generate a day? I do not know anything about electricity/solar power. I have a few books in my library I have to read.

        • Good question and one I should have at least an estimate for. I don’t though.

          • Well I did some research today. It came up with this. If you have 2 300 watt panels you can generate 600 watts or 100 amp hours on 6 volt batteries or 50 amp hours on 5 volt batteries. Now, I think this is 100/50 amps an hour- that I am not sure about. Now if you get 4 hours of direct sunlight a day thats about 400/200 amps a day. Appliances draw different amount of energy at different banks.Looking at my laptop it draws 65watts and the transformer says 85 volts. That means it about .75 amp hours.
            What confuses me is you need to use inverter to convert battery bank to use appliances and then you have lights that draw directly from the battery bank. Hopefully the books I am getting make it less confusing. I guess I am a little more confused than when I started.

  5. As I understand the regs, a mooring or anchor light is not required in a “designated anchorage”. The reg does not say such light is prohibited in such designated anchorage.
    An anchor/ mooring light, if displayed, should be the 360 degree white light. There is not, as far as I know, a prohibition against displaying other light(s) as a safety precaution, excluding any light combinations that have other meanings within the regs. As such, the strobe is illegal under the regs unless there is a defined distress situation.
    While many boats display low lights to warn off oncoming travelers who either don’t tend to look up toward mast heads while underway at night, I suspect many of the odd lights displayed out there are more so intended to help the owner find their way home at night within a crowded anchorage, and likely the strobe operator fits this catagory.
    Maybe a unique reflective marking somewhere on the boat or mast would better serve as a differentiator as opposed to an illegal light display?

  6. Let me start by saying that I could be wrong. I had a long discussion regarding this exact topic last time I was on a charter down in the BVIs. I was actually arguing the point that a anchoring light should be shown when on a mooring ball.
    A friend of mine who sailed extensively down in the Carribean pointed out that the reason an anchoring light in a mooring field is not required, is that mooring fields are on charts. No reason to have an anchor light and confuse others as they enter the field. He pointed this out a few times when entering a mooring field with anchored boats.
    Now, I do thing that the flashy lights and strobes are ridiculous. We would leave the boom light on as a beacon when heading to the beach at night. That was turned off as soon as we returned back to the boat.

    • Your friend is actually wrong. A little research on Google shows:


      Rule 30 – Anchored Vessels and Vessels Aground

      (a) A vessel at anchor shall exhibit where it can best be seen:

      (i) in the fore part, an all-round white light or one ball;
      (ii) at or near the stern and at a lower level than the light prescribed in subparagraph (i), an all-round white light.

      (b) 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 paragraph (a) of this Rule.

      (c) A vessel at anchor may , and a vessel of 100 meters and more in length shall, also use the available working or equivalent lights to illuminate her decks.

      (d) A vessel aground shall exhibit the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) or (b) of this Rule and in addition, if practicable, where they can best be seen;

      (i) two all-round red lights in a vertical line;
      (ii) three balls in a vertical line.

      (e) A vessel of less than 7 meters in length, when at anchor not in or near a narrow channel, fairway or where other vessels normally navigate, shall not be required to exhibit the shape prescribed in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Rule.

      (f) A vessel of less than 12 meters in length, when aground, shall not be required to exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in subparagraphs (d)(i) and (ii) of this Rule.

      (g) A vessel of less than 20 meters in length, when at anchor in a special anchorage area designated by the Secretary, shall not be required to exhibit the anchor lights and shapes required by this Rule.

      This article describes why the “designated anchorage” thing does not apply:

      The comments on that article also net the following info:

      “the USCG has issued an “Interpretive Rule” (33 CFR 90.5) which states that “A vessel at anchor includes a vessel made fast to one or more mooring buoys or other similar devices attached to the ocean floor. Such vessels may be lighted as a vessel at anchor in accordance with Rule 30, or may be lighted on the corners in accordance with 33 CFR 88.13.”

      ALL THAT RULE STUFF ASIDE… it is just stupid to not have a light on!!!

  7. Voltaire had it right! I have been working in the Sudan for the past couple years. As a Canadian who “assumes” it is common sense, I have been proven wrong almost every time. Common Sense is defiantly a learned trait! BTW boy I miss the water!!

  8. If you read the regs thoroughly, I think you will find that the current ‘fashion’ for using masthead lights as anchor lights is WRONG. Yes I know it has become common. Yes I know most people now assume it. Yes you will see it in ill-informed articles everywhere.

    However, the stipulated place is ‘in the fore triangle’ ie the same place that you put your anchor ball in daylight. I hope you do hoist a ball when anchored?! The logic for the requirement is the same as the light.

    Your all round white anchor light is supposed to provide some light on the boat, so that other skippers can see the size and orientation of your boat. Also specifically that other skippers can see it when they are looking ahead at deck level. One small dot of light waving about high overhead is not suitable for these requirements, hence it is against the requirements of the regs.

    Boats above a certain size are required to show deck lights for all the same reasons as above. So Drew’s suggestion of leaving a cabin light on is generally a good idea and has foundation in the regs too.

    (All quoted from memory, and IMHO too)


    • You’re right but Rule 30 (b) says the following:

      (b) 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 paragraph (a) of this Rule.

      That could be the masthead. The problem with the foretriangle is that it really can’t be seen 360 degrees on all vessels, it being blocked by the cabin, etc.

      I think, and this is only a guess, that the foretriangle light probably began as it was the easiest place to hang a lantern.

      We also have a backup LED anchor light that we rig at deck level if we feel there is a lot of fast boat traffic in and around the anchorage.

      As for the ball, yes, we always have it up at anchor. 🙂

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