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Is it Legal to Boat at Night?

Unless you are operating a boat in a restricted area, boating at night is legal in most waters across the country. However, boating at night can present a number of unique challenges.

Follow the safety steps below to ensure a safe and fun evening out on the water – and a safe return back to the dock at the end of your trip.

Pack the Essentials

By law, you must carry certain safety gear on your boat at all times, regardless of the time of day. Gear that must be available on your vessel at all times, as prescribed by the United States Coast Guard’s guide to federal requirements for recreational boats, includes life jackets, flares, and sound signaling devices (such as an air horn). It might be a good idea to have a few glowsticks on hand as well.

Carry a spotlight, warm clothes, and an anchor in case you decide to spend the night out on the water so you can do so without worrying about drifting off into an unknown area.

Communication and Navigation Devices

Cell phones may not work when you are far out on the water. Keep a portable VHF radio (sometimes called a marine-band radio) and extra batteries with you when you head out on the water in case you need to radio for help and don’t have phone reception. A chart plotter or satellite GPS can be a big help with navigation as well.

Know the Rules

Water vessels are expected to follow specific rules and conventions with regard to lighting, speed, and water activities. A few of these rules are as follows:

  • Rules regarding navigation lights, as specified by the United States Coast Guard, state that lights should be illuminated when you are underway between sunset and sunrise. The same applies to periods of limited visibility, such as in rain, fog, or snowstorms.
  • The only lights that should be visible to other boats at night are your red and green lights and your white stern or masthead light. You should dim your cockpit and cabin lights when you are underway to avoid confusing other boats.
  • Boats are to be operated at reasonable and prudent speeds appropriate to the weather and traffic conditions. Doing this will help you avoid collisions with vessels, bridges, docks, and anchored boats.
  • Risky activities are prohibited at all times but refrain from otherwise allowable activities such as towing a water skier after sunset or before sunrise.

Other Safety Tips

  • Water hazards such as exposed rocks, logs, unlit docks, and pilings can be hard to see in limited light, so operate your watercraft with extra care (and lower speed) after sunset and before sunrise.
  • Assign someone to stand as a lookout at the bow of your boat. They should wear a lifejacket and keep an eye out for channel markers, navigational buoys, other boats, and the dock if it is visible.
  • Use correct lighting as outlined in the section on boating rules above.
  • Avoid water traffic by staying out of shipping lanes. Give larger boats a wide berth. Also, remember that smaller water vessels may not even show up on a larger ship’s radar. You can minimize your risk of being overrun by a larger vessel by steering clear of larger boats and busier boating lanes, especially in the dark.

If You Are Injured

If you’ve been hurt due to the negligence of another boater, you may want to consider a maritime injury lawyer to review your options and assess your potential case. You shouldn’t have to pay for your bills if you followed the rules and were hurt by someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior.

Be vigilant when out on the water at night. Don’t let a planned getaway on the water end in disaster. Be responsible and follow the rules above to enjoy your time on the water and return home safely.