Best Boat Lights

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

23 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
259 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

Buying guide for best boat lights

Last Updated October 2019

Display navigation lights must be installed and fully functional on all recreational boats between sunset and sunrise. There are no exceptions to this mandate, according to both inland and international navigation rules. So if you own any type of recreational boat, you’re going to need to invest in some lights for your watercraft.

The number of lights and their placement depends on the length of your vessel. A large powerboat must display high-visibility range lights. A larger vessel may not combine sidelights into a single bi-color light fixture. The placement of nautical navigation lights falls under the jurisdiction of civil authority, state law, and international conventions.

Nautical navigation lights, also known as position or running lights, provide information on a craft’s position, status, and heading; they are not intended to provide illumination for a craft making forward passage. Rather, they act as a point of awareness for other vessels in the area.

If you are considering updating or replacing the navigational lights on your recreational watercraft, read on to discover more about boat light sizes, shapes, and cost.

If you decide to anchor outside of a designated anchorage, you must display all-round lights that are visible for a minimum of two nautical miles.

Key considerations

To avoid a multi-vessel collision in the dark, boats mount navigation lights that allow other boaters to determine the type and relative angle of approaching vessels. With this information, a boater can decide if there is immediate danger of collision. Because safety at sea may depend on your navigational lights, we recommend that you choose the best and brightest.

Following the rules

You need the right boat lights to navigate after dark. Navigational lights assist you and other boaters in determining which is the “give-way” vessel when ships meet in the night. As mentioned, it’s mandatory that these lights be displayed from sunset to sunrise and during inclement weather, including cloudiness, rain, and fog.

When approaching an oncoming vessel and viewing the mandated lights, each vessel must follow some rules. The rules state that each vessel must alter course to starboard so they may pass on each other’s port sides.

Basic boat lighting

Red lights are on the left or port side of a vessel. Green lights are on the right or starboard side. White lights are up the aft or stern and at the front or fore bow. All lights must be visible head-on or straight ahead and at least 22.4 degrees abaft the beam.

For powerboats and sailboats under power, side lights, main masthead, and stern lights are mandatory. However, there are permissible variations to the rules and regulations. Before you set sail, you need to know the rules that apply to your boat on the water in which you navigate.

Hovercraft, both day and night, must operate a yellow flashing beacon for added visibility.

EXPERT TIP

Unless you are tied up at the dock, you must have your running or “at anchor” lights activated on the water after dark.


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Features

Sealed for safety

Boat lights are sealed to resist corrosion, water intrusion, electrostatic discharge, UV radiation, and vibration. Sealed boat lights are completely waterproof. When shopping for boat navigation lights, play particular attention to removable lights such as the stern light: moisture seeping into the light stick receptacle can erode the socket and cause the light to function improperly.

Bulb covering quality

The bulb covering of a boat light may be made of plastic or shatterproof safety glass. Some bulb coverings are made of inferior-grade plastic and can shatter on impact or become cloudy and hazed when exposed to the sun in a marine environment. Other navigation light bulb coverings are made from quality materials that remain crystal clear and operable for longterm service.

Size and illumination

Boat lights also differ in the size of the bulb and the amount of illumination they provide.

Hours of service

Navigation lights are rated for projected hours of service life. Some lights are rated for 10,000 hours, while LED navigation lights are rated for 50,000 hours or more of service life.

Ease of installation

Unless you are experienced with the installation of boat navigation lights, replacing and repairing original boat wiring can be a daunting challenge. LED snap-in lights and panel rewire kits include easy-to-follow instructions, and all the parts and adaptors are engineered to connect to your current boat wiring harness quickly.

A high percentage of boating accidents are attributed to faulty or failed navigational boat lights.

Boat light prices

The price of boat lights depends on the manufacturer, the brand, the merchandiser, hours of projected service life, and the quality of the product. There are boat lights for every budget.

You can find quality boat lights in the realm of $35 or less. At the bottom of this price range, between $8 and $12, you will find some lights that are adequate for temporary use but not permanent use. They may not be as tightly sealed as lights that cost more, and they may fail to provide long-term service in a saltwater environment.

At the higher end of this price range, you can find many LED boat lights. Although LED boat navigation lights can be more expensive, they offer reverse polarity protection, eliminating potential wiring issues during installation. The best LED navigational lights exceed U.S. Coast Guard requirements while offering lower wattage with no outages.

When shopping for navigation lights, look for ones that offer a satisfaction guarantee. Lights that cost a little more may offer up to a 10-year warranty, while lights that cost a little less may be guaranteed to work for less than a year.

EXPERT TIP

When it comes to nighttime boating, correctly installed and properly operational boat lights are your most important safety feature. Check that all your navigational lights are working each time you take the boat out after dark or in conditions of reduced visibility.


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Tips

  • Sailboats, operating under power, are considered power-driven and must obey “under power” boating rules and regulations.
  • Incorrectly installed or inoperative lights place a boat and her passengers in great danger after dark. The majority of recreational boating accidents happen because vessels on a collision course failed to see each other in time.
  • To check that your boat lights are correctly working, take your boat to a safe anchorage, turn off all cabin and deck lighting, and turn on all of your nautical navigation lights. From a tender, dinghy, or another vessel, circle your boat, making sure all of your lights are in working order and that they comply with local, state, and international boating regulations.
  • After dark, you are required to show the correct navigation lights in all weather conditions. It is also wise to operate your boating lights during inclement weather such as rain, fog, or snow.
  • When you are using your boat’s navigation lights, no other lights should be visible that could be mistaken for the lights required by law.

Other products we considered

The Attwood Clamp-On Portable Marine Boat Navigation Light Kit is a LED stern and bow light replacement kit. The kit includes quick-release mounts, mounting pole, and all required hardware. It’s a nice kit to have stashed away as a “standby” should your stern or bow light fail when you are away from dockage. The lights run for more than 150 hours on just three AAA batteries, which are sold separately.

The Green & Red Portable Marine LED Boating Lights from Bright Eyes are water-resistant LED boat lights that provide three light modes: solid, strobe, and slow blink. Offered with a money-back satisfaction guarantee, the lights are an excellent value for the price.

Some boat lights are designed to be hard-wired into the craft’s power source while others operate on batteries.

FAQ

Q. What is the port side of a boat? What is the starboard side of a boat?
A.
When you are looking forward toward the bow of a vessel, port and starboard refer to the left side and the right side of the boat respectively.

Q. What are boat sidelights?
A.
Also known as combination lights, sidelights are either red or green. Their purpose is to alert vessels approaching from the side or head-on. Green light indicates a boat’s starboard (right) side. Red light indicates a vessel’s port (left) side.

Q. Where is the stern of a boat or ship?
A.
The stern is the aft-most or back part of a boat or a ship, defined as the area built over the sternpost. It is opposite the bow or the front of the boat.

The team that worked on this review
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Marlene
    Marlene
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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