Navigation lights are a very important part of boating safely at night. They reveal, by their placement and color, what kind of vessel you are and they are. Having made that statement, I already need to clarify. In the late 1990s, my husband and I were returning home from taking our “captains license” examinations at the Coast Guard station in Manhattan. As we glanced at the waters surrounding the island, we noticed that a few of the vessels, both commercial as well as recreational, were showing inappropriate light placement and color! Therefore, be aware that there may be a discrepancy in the lights you see and the true nature of the boat you are viewing.
One of the most critical issues regarding nighttime cruising and navigation lights lies in the waters in which you are traveling. Rivers which host commercial vessels as well as recreational vessels are prone to a costly error. As we move through these waters, it is very easy to mistake the lights on a huge commercial vessel for lights on the shoreline. This has occurred a few times to us, once when we were having a very private moment, as we plowed through our local Hudson River. Fortunately, the commercial vessel was cognizant of our precarious location and warned us with the five blasts indicating danger. One way to avoid this mistake is to slow your vessel every so often and note the lack of movement of land-based lights.
Another costly nighttime error occurs in waters that accommodate towing vessels. These vessels connect the towed entity to the towing boat with a howser line, which lies between the vessels. At night, this howser line may be difficult, if not impossible, to see. In too many instances, vessels have mistaken these attached vessels as individual boats and attempted to pass between them. Horrific injuries have occurred as the howser line slices through vessels and people.