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yacht at night

The best pictures of superyachts at night

Related articles, superyacht directory.

BOAT rounds up the best photos of superyachts illuminated at night, including Nobiskrug's Sailing Yacht A , Lürssen's 111 metre Lady Gulya and AK Yachts' Victorious . 

Motor Yacht A 

Delivered in 2008 by Blohm & Voss and penned by legendary designer Philippe Starck , the 119 metre Motor Yacht A is one of the most famous superyachts in the world. Featuring naval architecture by Martin Francis, Motor yacht A accommodates a total of 14 guests and 35 crew inside a 5959GT interior. Here, the green underwater light display illuminates the iconic steel hull from beneath. 

Perfect Lady

The first 33m Mangusta Gransport 33 superyacht, Perfect Lady , was delivered in 2020 and made its official debut at the 2020 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Designed by Alberto Mancini , the superyacht features accommodation for a total of 12 guests and five crew and can reach speeds of up to 25 knots. Here, Perfect Lady's stern and twin staircases framing the tender garage are illuminated, alongside the yacht's glowing nameplate.

Taking the title as the world's largest sailing catamaran, the 44 metre Hemisphere was built by Pendennis and first delivered in 2011. Designed by Lauriot Prevost , the yacht can accommodate a total of 10 guests and eight crew inside a 499GT interior. Hemisphere also boasts an illuminated flybridge and underwater lighting.

First launched by German yard Lürssen as Tis , the 110 metre Lady Gulya is designed inside and out by London-based studio Winch Design. The massive 4699GT interior accommodates a total of 18 guests in nine staterooms. Here Lady Gulya is pictured off the coast of Juan-les-Pins France, with exterior lighting casting a golden hue on its superstructure. 

Northern Sun

The 50m Narasaki superyacht Northern Sun was first launched in 1976 and accommodates a total of 12 guests in six staterooms. the popular charter yacht, which is currently listed for charter with Ocean Independence, carries with it the owner's own artwork collection, which includes nautical antiquities and rugs from around the world, as well as a bursting inventory of water toys. Here, the glowing lights of Northern Sun's interior make sure the superyacht stands out against the darkening horizon.  

Launched at AK Yachts in April 2021, the 85 metre Victorious first started life fourteen years ago in Northern Chile as a 77 metre explorer. Now featuring exterior design by Michael Leach Design and interiors by H2 Yacht Design , Victorious features an upper deck complete with a sky lounge, cocktail lounge, observation saloon and dining room, a helipad at the bow and a Jacuzzi on the aft deck. In order to ease the landing of helicopters at night, eight green dots appear on the helipad while impressive underwater lighting leaps out of the steel hull. 

Sailing Yacht A

One of the most famous superyachts in the world, the 142.81 metre Sailing Yacht A has been turning heads since it was delivered in 2017. Featuring a boundary-pushing design characteristic of designer Philippe Starck , the sail-assisted motor yacht has a top speed of 21 knots and has a massive 12700GT interior. Here, the instantly recognisable hull is illuminated by purple lighting from beneath the waterline. 

More about this yacht

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How to sail at night

  • How to sail at night

Captains are often asked if it's possible to sail at night. In the vast majority of cases, the answer is yes, unless you are just starting out. You just need to know the specifics of night sailing — the rules of boat lighting, beacon signals, have navigation and nautical charts handy, and most importantly, follow basic safety rules on board. So, do you know what night sailing entails?

You can't do it without the correct lights

While on land, lights are primarily there to help us see, at sea it's the other way around. All boats must be properly lit for other vessels to see. And, a boat doesn't work like a car either, where we shine our headlights on the road ahead to see what's in front of us. At sea we rely on navigation, nautical charts, lighthouses and the captain's knowledge.

Basic boat lights include running lights, steaming lights and anchor lights. There are clearly defined and standardized rules for lighting a ship  under sail at night . So the question of how to light a yacht at night has a very simple answer. Running lights, or side lights, show other vessels where your port and starboard sides are, with red indicating port and green starboard, and you must also have a white stern light on.

Lighting the yacht at night is very important because, unlike during the day, the helmsman cannot judge the distance and direction  of other boats by sight. Running lights make the position and direction of the surrounding vessels visible, as well as their approximate distance, and helps to avoid possible collisions. Radar is also highly practical in this respect, as it shows the size and distance of the vessel.

However, when sailing there can be situations where the sails need to be lowered, and with that, the lighting also needs to be changed. If travelling under motor power , a steaming light  (masthead light)  must be turned on , which shines at the same angle as the side lights. When a sailboat is not under sail, it has to abide by the rules set out for power boats by COLREG (The International Rules for Preventing Collisions at Sea).

Lighting regulations when at anchor are again different. When at anchor at sea , only the anchor light should be on . According to the regulations this could be either a 360-degree white light atop the mast, or a light suspended from the boom, above the foredeck or on a furled genoa. If the boat is moored in port, the light is not normally used.

Night sky at sea with a yacht.

Navigation, GPS and maps

Nowadays, GPS and navigation aids integrated into the boat or that work as mobile apps are commonly used to determine the position of the boat. Modern technology is very accurate and reliable, but it is still worth understanding, reading and checking your position on  paper nautical charts . After all, almost any skipper will tell you that their GPS or navigation system has at some point told them they were on land, even when tens or hundreds of metres from shore.

Man on board a sailboat by a plotter.

Thanks to nautical charts, you will not only know of possible danger spots, but also lighthouses , enabling you to easily and accurately determine your position with the help of a compass. Each lighthouse is different, being lit and flashing in a unique way. A nautical chart will tell you how to identify a lighthouse by the number of flashes, their frequency and the colour of the light. To determine your exact position, you’ll then need two lighthouses in sight that serve as reference points for each other.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Lighthouses are not only practical, but they are often buildings with impressive architecture that are well worth stopping off at. Take a look at  15 lighthouses you must visit .

Lighthouse at Cyclades Islands, Greece.

Safety is paramount when sailing at night

Even during the day, there are clear rules regarding the movement of the crew on board. Basically, the crew should not stand unless they are engaged in manoeuvres. In all other cases, they should be sitting on benches, at the side of the boat when heeling, or in the cabin. Apart from the fact that a standing crew member could obstruct the helmsman's view, it also poses a greater risk of falling overboard . If you're interested in getting to know this subject in more detail, check out our article Sailing Etiquette A to Z .

At night, the rules are even stricter to ensure the crew remain as safe as possible and avoid damaging the yacht. If a crew member is on deck at night while sailing, they should wear a lifejacket  and ideally be attached to the boat with a lifebelt or harness.

Except for really experienced seafarers, the rule of thumb is that there should be at least  two people on board when sailing at night. And the captain should schedule shifts so that there are always two  rested crew members on board. After all, you need to be doubly vigilant when sailing at night, and staying awake all night is certainly not conducive to alertness — especially when manoeuvring  or entering port. For the same reasons alcohol is prohibited when night sailing. While during the day, crew members other than the helmsman can toast Neptune or have one glass of wine or beer, drinking alcohol is not permitted during a voyage at night. By all means celebrate a successful journey upon arrival in port at a local tavern, but it definitely pays to keep a clear head at sea.

Specifics of night sailing and boat handling

Steering and controlling the boat  is not particularly different during the day and at night. There are just a few nuances to make sailing that bit smoother. If you're on a vessel you know well, that’s one thing, but if you're on a charter boat , it's worth marking the sheets and other lines so that you know your way around in the dark.

Sailing at night, it is also important to assess  the weather conditions well. What you would normally do during the day can be significantly more challenging at night and requires a more careful assessment of weather conditions and weather patterns. It is always better to choose smaller sails and if you have even the slightest doubt about anything, postpone the trip. 

When  entering a harbour  or sailing close to shore, be doubly cautious. There are several risk factors. During the day, the surrounding boats, the rocks and the potential hazards on the surface and below are visible. At night you have to rely on navigation, charts and lighting. When entering the harbour, charts and GPS can provide you many clues but lights can cause issues. For example, you might get dazzled by the light from the shore, the anchor lights of other boats are easily confused with the lights on land, and, last but not least, you may encounter poorly lit fishing boats. However, if you keep in mind all of these potential risks, you will arrive safely in the harbour.

Man steering a ship.

The magic of night sailing

When compared to sailing during the day, night sailing places more demands on the captain's experience and knowledge of sailing regulations. But it is also a truly romantic experience. Millions of stars glistening in the night sky and the waves sparkling in the moonlight. If you're lucky, sailing out of the mist from land on a clear night with a near full moon, it will seem almost like daylight.

Sunset at sea, a sailboat and a shining lighthouse.

If you're serious about sailing and steering your boat, there are other benefits to night sailing. Navigating at night sharpens the senses and enhances the sailing experience as well as your experience of the sea itself. It truly gives a whole new meaning to sailing. But if all you want is to just enjoy yourself, night sailing is one of the most romantic experiences you can have. Check out our article on how to enjoy romance on board a yacht charter .   


Are you new to the sea? We will recommend experienced captains who will take care of you on the ship. Give us a call.

Denisa Nguyenová

Denisa Nguyenová

Faq how to manage a night sailing.

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  • Yachting World
  • Digital Edition

Yachting World cover

Night sailing – the essential guide for offshore cruisers

Yachting World

  • April 19, 2017

Chris Tibbs on how to prepare for and enjoy offshore night watches

yacht at night

With a full moon and following wind, night sailing can be one of the great pleasures to be had when passagemaking; but on a dark night in a gale it can be very stressful and leave you longing for dawn.

Whether you are crossing the Channel or crossing an ocean, sailing in the dark is something that everyone experiences at some stage in their sailing career and with some simple preparations you can make it easier and safer.

Have you ever been asked by a non-sailor: “What do you do out on the ocean at night?” It often comes as a surprise to find that sailing has always been a 24-hour pastime.

Traditionally, passages were made at night and planned so that landfall was at dawn to assist with identifying the lights and confirming the yacht’s position. Then the skipper could enter port safely during daylight.

With GPS we now rather underestimate the usefulness of lights for position fixing and, as more yachts are fitted with AIS, crossing shipping lanes has become less difficult now that you are not solely reliant on identifying each ship’s navigation lights.

Of course, not all vessels have AIS!

How to prepare for long passages

Generally night sailing falls into one of two categories: the first is a one-off night sail, such as the start of a summer cruise to get the boat to your cruising ground, or perhaps a RORC or JOG cross-Channel race. The second is a long passage where there will be a number of days between the start and finish with consecutive night sails.

yacht at night

For me there should be little difference when setting up the boat although there will be a difference in watchkeeping.

Whether cruising or racing, the crew spending consecutive nights at sea requires a more rigid watch system – covering the full 24 hours – than the one-night crew. But the principles of watch-keeping do also apply to single nights at sea.

One of my pet hates used to be the Friday night cross-Channel races. Crews would arrive all enthusiastic after a hard week at work, but by 0200 tiredness had set in and we would see ourselves slowly working our way to the back of the fleet with only one or two awake enough to be competitive.

Most boats are logical in their layout and it is always a pleasure when a new but experienced crew comes on board as they will rarely need telling twice which rope is which.

Yes it is good to label clutches but soon after joining everyone should know by feel and position which rope is which.

Close your eyes and feel – size becomes very apparent and the covers will feel different. Hold the spinnaker halyard in one hand and the topping lift in the other; feel the different sizes and textures.

It is always good to keep the same ropes in the same position so at night in the dark, when the label is obscured anyway, it is easy to pick up the right one.

Humans are not particularly good at seeing at night and it takes a long time to get full night vision.

yacht at night

The eyes are incredible complex and there are three phases in adapting to the dark.

Initially our pupils dilate to allow as much light in as possible; this may take from a few seconds to a minute to happen.

The next phase takes place in the cone cells of the eye. In the absence of light we get chemical changes in the cell and it can take ten minutes for the cone cells to adapt to the dark.

Lastly we have rod cells which are responsible for black and white vision and these contain rhodopsin which is reactivated in the absence of light. This will take several hours to fully adapt to the dark.

Although we are all different, as a rough guide it takes about ten minutes to get most of our night vision, which gets slowly better over the following few hours. This can be put back to zero very quickly by the use of bright lights.

How to use lights on board at night

All crew members should have a flashlight and it’s worth keeping a powerful spotlight on deck for rig checks and emergencies.

When sail trimming try and use as weak a flashlight as possible and also warn the helmsman and lookouts before using it.

yacht at night

We have had great success in painting the lenses of flashlights with red nail varnish: the red light is much kinder on the eyes and nail varnish is more readily available than red flashlights.

Red lights are also crucial below. Some yachts will have split lights with red to be used at night. In the past, I have used stick-on red film from a photographic shop.

Generally we cover half of the lights red when cruising, but for long offshore passages we will cover all the lights with red film to avoid the wrong switch being used.

It would be nice to have two complete circuits to turn off the white lights completely, however ten minutes with a pair of scissors and all lights are covered.

Head torches leave both hands free, but I actually hate them on deck when sailing. If spoken to it is the natural reaction to turn and look at the person speaking, instantly ruining their night vision. Some head torches will have red bulbs but any bulb shining straight into your eye is damaging for your night vision.

Use light sparingly as the less you use, the less you tend to need. With the latest instruments and multifunction displays you can control the brightness of the image: keeping it to a minimum helps night vision and also consumes less power.

I am told that in training, some Mini Transat and Figaro sailors will practice sailing blindfold.

Night sailing tips for cruisers

I have been involved with the ARC for many years and it seems that most crews will routinely drop spinnakers and reduce sail for the night. All very prudent but nights are long in the tropics – approaching 12 hours of darkness.

I am not one for fixed rules, so I would rather see a boat set up for simple sail handling and allow conditions to dictate the sail plan. This also depends on the number of crew on board and the watch-keeping regime.

It makes sense to mark halyards and control ropes. I like to sew in a whipping of a contrasting colour onto the line marking the correct position just out of the clutch. This can be felt as well as seen and is particularly useful when reefing.

I also like to mark halyards at the maximum hoist to avoid anyone getting too enthusiastic and winding the splice or knot into the sheave. This is something racing boats have done for years and for cruisers would be useful for both day and night sailing.

Luminous draft stripes can be added to sails to help with sail shape and small amounts of reflective tape can also be stuck around the boat to help see and identify equipment.

On my boat the wheel is marked with a turk’s head knot to feel the centre point, to which we have also added some reflective tape to make it visible in low light.

If you make sail changing and trimming simple you can usually do it with just the ambient light and a small flashlight. The decklight knocks out any visibility forward. A tricolour light should light up the windex and if conditions are marginal, a steaming light can be used to check spinnaker trim, although any lights forward spoil night vision and, of course, a steaming light indicates to others that you are motoring not sailing.

When planning a voyage, make life easier and safer by maximising your moonlight hours: sailing under a full moon and clear sky is as easy as sailing during the day.

Crew preparation

Sailing is no fun when tired and hungry. There seems to be a tendency on cruising yachts to run short-handed with single-person watches. Of course, single-handed sailors circle the globe in ever faster yachts, but the average cruising yacht is not really very well set up for single-handed sailing.

yacht at night

Hot drinks and snacks at night are essential.

The typical cruising yacht has a number of roles to perform, so the ideal deck layout in terms of sailing efficiency will be compromised by the requirements of the cabin space below.

This tends to encourage slow sailing: if it is hard to single-handedly reduce sail, it makes sense to automatically reef at night so you do not have to call anyone to help.

Two or three hours is long enough to be up on your own and with shorter watch times, there is the opportunity to change sail during a change of watch when there are two people on deck.

When my wife and I are double-handed passagemaking, we stick to three-hour watches, as this is as long as I can keep concentration. But it is tiring. For ocean crossings we tend to have an extra person to help.

Night raids and the importance of the midnight snack

When racing you have to push 24 hours a day to be competitive, although you can be a bit more conservative at night to help preserve the boat and crew.

When I skippered Concert in the BT Global Challenge, we would occasionally do a ‘night raid’. This involved handing out a few extra treats for dinner then, putting the best drivers on the helm, we would really push through the hours of darkness. This usually paid off with a few miles gained.

I would be happy to cross an ocean on freeze-dried food but I think I am in a minority! Food and drink is important for fuel and also for enjoyment.

Food at night is particularly important for energy and well-being. Sealed personal drink flasks stay hot for a couple of hours, the biggest danger being burning your mouth in the first hour. Snacks are also good on night watches: our bodies are used to sleeping at night and a snack helps to keep us going.

One trick that I like is a Cup-a-Soup in a wide-mouthed flask with a few teaspoons of couscous added. Put the lid on and leave it five minutes and you have a tasty and filling savoury snack!

How to be a watchkeeper

Watchkeepers should not take the responsibility lightly. You need an experienced watchkeeper crossing the Channel due to the level of shipping and navigation required on the passage. Further offshore a less experienced watchkeeper has more time to call the skipper.

Why longer passages are easier

Everyone on board has to get enough sleep. It may be possible, physically, to go 24 hours without sleep, but decision-making suffers and it is easy to make mistakes.

I prefer, if possible, to have at least two people on a watch, this avoids having to call extra crew for small sail changes or manoeuvres. It does also mean that when you are off watch, your sleep is not disturbed. With two on watch, three or four-hour watches pass quickly, split between steering, lookout, and navigation.

Racing is a bit different as there is generally a bigger crew. I am not a fan of everyone on the rail all night, and rotating the crew so everyone gets some sleep is important.

For longer races like the Fastnet I would have a rigid watch system so everyone gets some good sleep. If anything goes wrong then it always seems to happen at about 0400 when people are at their lowest ebb.

I would also get into the watch system early, probably before Portland, to get into a rhythm. Our bodies are very complex and need time to adjust; a short passage of two or three nights can be more tiring than a transatlantic.

Personally I find it takes about three days to get settled. I then get one really good deep sleep and I am fine for the rest of the voyage. I tend to find short passages – anything less than three days – more tiring, which is why I prefer a bigger crew for sailing a few hundred miles than I do for sailing longer passages.

7 Top tips for Safety at  night

• Prepare your boat: mark all halyards and brief crew on cockpit layout • Be patient with night vision: it takes three hours to fully adapt and moments to ruin • Red lights: either use red see-through film, red light bulbs or even nail polish • Get into watches early on the voyage: the body needs time to adjust to a new rhythm • Good food is especially important at night when the body is conditioned to be sleeping • Think safety and preparation: don’t run a one-person watch if the boat’s not easy to sail solo • Avoid getting overtired: concentration and decision making is essential at sea

yacht at night

Chris Tibbs is a meteorologist and weather router, professional sailor and navigator, as well as an ARC safety inspector. He is currently doing a circumnavigation with his wife, Helen, on their own boat, Taistealai.

Yachting Monthly

  • Digital edition

Yachting Monthly cover

Night pilotage: How to enter unfamiliar harbours

James Stevens

  • James Stevens
  • August 17, 2020

James Stevens looks at how best to prepare for arriving at an unfamiliar harbour after dark and what to be aware of

A yacht sailing at Night

Entering a harbour at night usually comes at the end of a long sail. Credit: Paul Wyeth

How confident are you when it comes to night pilotage ?

Around most of the UK coast, it is possible for yachts to reach a destination in daylight during summer even with tidal gates restricting the time of arrival.

So although British ports are busy with shipping at night there are surprisingly few yachts underway in the dark.

It is easy therefore to become unused to night pilotage.

But, if skippers are sailing longer distances, or simply short trips which become delayed, this means that knowing how to enter a port at night is an essential skill.

Trying to read a pilot book and work out tidal heights and streams and sketch a pilotage plan is hard work at a dimmed chart table so it makes sense to pre-plan while still in daylight.

Mastering pilotage at night

When I started skippering, one of the hardest skills to master was pilotage.

It became easier with practice but then came the time to tackle pilotage at night.

My first night entry was Plymouth.

It looks pretty easy on the chart: a huge bay with a couple of rivers flowing into it and plenty of navigation marks.

A yacht being sailing at night

When navigating at night it is best to be on deck. Credit: Paul Wyeth

In the dark, the plethora of flashing lights made navigation really confusing.

The city of Plymouth and the fun fair on the Hoe were bathed in dazzling light whereas objects that might have been helpfully illuminated, such as the breakwater across the entrance, were inconsiderately pitch black.

Occasionally harbours are actually easier to enter at night than in the day.

Langstone, which is rarely visited by most yachtsmen, has a large expanse of water with channels that can be difficult to pick out by day.

At night the absence of background light makes finding the marks much easier, but such places are rare.

Most harbours are populated to some degree and require good planning and pilotage skills to enter successfully after dark.

When approaching any harbour you need to have a good idea of what to look for and where.

Fortunately GPS has taken the sweat out of finding the yacht’s position so it is easy to know where to look for the first mark (you do, of course need to know its light character).

A good pair of marine binoculars with a built-in compass are useful here.

From the first mark, the pilotage plan will tell you the range, bearing and light character of the next.

A crew navigating on a chart

The better you pre-plan, the longer you can spend on deck when entering a harbour. Credit: Colin Work

You should know the height of tide, the clearance if required and the direction and strength of the tidal stream.

The pilot book will warn of hazards and how to identify them.

The more you pre-plan the more time you can spend on deck.

Conversely, poor navigators wear out the companionway steps trying to relate reality to the chart.

In a complex harbour such as Southampton there are going to be times when finding the next mark is not as easy as it looks on the chart.

Slow down and keep an eye on the echosounder.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that entering somewhere like Southampton at night usually happens at the end of a passage, with skipper and crew tired after time at sea.

It is when you must concentrate most, but there is a great sense of achievement when you’re safely alongside.

Night pilotage problems

From a yacht, the identification of buoy lights is difficult because they are at the same height as the navigator’s eye when standing in the cockpit.

They become lost amid the background scatter of lights and one can easily miss a mark and cut a corner, which risks a grounding.

It is also difficult to judge distance at night.

For the beginner, lights on the shoreline look much closer than they are.

It’s a difficult skill to learn.

Even experienced navigators struggle to judge distance off when sailing at night.

Case study: Southampton Water to Shamrock Quay

Southampton Water, what could be easier?

A wide, almost straight, well-mapped route to the city, a bit like the M3.

In daylight it is straightforward but at night the navigation marks, so obvious on the chart, get lost amongst the multitude of shore lights.

To port is another blaze of lights from Fawley, one of the biggest oil refineries in Europe.

Southampton is one of the UK’s busiest ports so you can expect to encounter plenty of ships along with high speed ferries, tugs, dredgers, pilot boats, work boats, the occasional fishing boat and of course yachts.

Apart from a working knowledge of the lights in the Colregs, for this trip it’s also important to know what an occulting light is and some other light characters on the chart such as IQ R 10s. (Occulting lights flash darkness and IQ means interrupted quick flashing).

At night, features which are obvious on the chart, such as lit buoys, can be difficult to find, while the small symbol on the chart with the word chimney next to it at the entrance to Southampton Water marks a lit chimney which is 198m high and can be seen for at least 10 miles.

These big features give a handy visual reference to your position and you can get a quick position line as they transit with other marks.

Making a plan

First, read the pilot book and look up the tides.

The pilotage plan sketch gives courses to steer and shows the navigation marks where a change of course is required.

It usually includes the distances to the next mark but on this trip the buoys are so close together that providing the light characters are identified it should be easy to find the next mark.

So what could go wrong?

Discovery 57

You can usually see enough sail for trimming purposes but you might need a torch in the middle of the night. Credit: Paul Wyeth

A classic mistake is to instruct the helmsman to go for the next green without reference to the chart plotter or the pilotage plan.

On the night sailing assessment in Yachtmaster exams I have been taken into the Hamble, which was the next green, instead of up Southampton Water.

During another exam, we were run aground on Weston shelf near Southampton as the helmsman aimed for a green light two ahead of the next one.

Although a useful aid, a plotter with AIS will not always pick up small craft, because AIS is not required for vessels less than 300T.

The navigator should be on deck as much as possible for collision avoidance, hence the need for the sketch pilotage plan in the cockpit.

It is worth staying outside the main channel as much as possible but even on the nautical equivalent of the pavement there will be other craft to avoid, some of them quite large and fast.

The passage

Arriving from the west the best route is north of the Thorn channel leaving the red buoys to starboard, but not too far, as it is very shallow inside over Calshot Spit.

The main channel in this area has a moving prohibited zone around large ships requiring small craft to keep well clear, preferably by being outside the channel.

You can identify a ship with these rights by the Constrained by Draught lights, three reds in a vertical line (or a cylinder by day).

Chart showing River Itchen

If the channel is clear, a good place to cross to the east side where there is more room is near Black Jack red buoy, as the channel is narrow here.

It is then a matter of keeping on the east side outside the main channel.

In addition to the main channel starboard buoys, there are smaller, lit green buoys laid on the edge of the shallows on the east side of Southampton Water for the benefit of small craft.

Offshore passage

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 years as the RYA’s Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

These are helpful to keep you off the mud providing you don’t confuse them with the channel buoys.

At night you can see the width of Southampton Water as you approach the city but the channel is not in the middle.

Continues below…

Red light on deck while night sailing

Is red light at night best?

Dag Pike considers the age-old adage that using red light preserves your night vision

Night Sailing

How to tackle a night passage short-handed

Worried about ‘things that go bump in the night’? Tom Cunliffe says night sailing is easier than you think –…

Even small craft have to move over to port to avoid Weston Ledge, a large and shallow shoal to starboard at the entrance of the Itchen river.

From there on, yachts stay in the main channel and it is easy to see the span of the Itchen Bridge with a charted height of 23m which most yachts can pass under with plenty of clearance.

Chart showing Southampton Water

Just at the moment you think it is all downhill to Shamrock Quay marina, the river takes a turn to port, with the channel following the port bank to avoid another shoal on the starboard side.

There is a green post to keep you off the bank, but for first timers it’s an easy one to miss.

From there on it is plain sailing, except for the strong tidal stream flowing past the marina which can be a boat-handling challenge.

Night Pilotage checklist:

Check the nav lights work.

Navigation light

If you have lifebelt lights, check they’re in working order.

You need a powerful torch for identifying buoys, lobster pot floats and illuminating sails to help prevent any collisions.

A head torch

A red headtorch can be helpful to keep night vision while reading pilotage notes on deck.

Keep a couple of small torches for searching in lockers. I use clockwork ones.

Fit a red-filtered chart table light, and ideally one over the galley.

Dim the plotter and instrument screens.

Always check your main compass and instrument lights are working.

Compass and binoculars

Plastimo Iris 50 hand bearing compass

A hand-bearing compass with a built-in light, usually fluorescent, is essential for identifying marks.

You’ll need a pair of binoculars, preferably with a built-in compass light to make sure you’re looking along the right bearing.

Make sure your lifejackets have a built-in light, crotchstraps, a sprayhood, and tethers you can clip to a jackstay.

Have some pre-prepared snacks in the cockpit and consider keeping everything tidy below so you don’t need to turn on the cabin lights to find out what you’ve just tripped over!

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Boat Navigation Lights Rules: Illustrated Beginners Guide

When navigating at night, the lights on other boats are your first clue about the moving dangers around you. And your navigation lights are your first line of safety in avoiding collisions in the dark, and they tell others vessels what you are and what you are doing. The rules sound complex, but with a little understanding you can get the basics for any situation.

So what are the basic navigation light rules? For most small vessels, motoring requires red and green (port and starboard) lights, and a white light visible in all directions around the boat. This is almost always a stern light and a masthead light on sailboats. Boats under sail require port and starboard lights, and a white stern light. Sailboats below sixty-five feet may show a tricolor light at the masthead instead of side and stern lights when sailing.

That's it, in a nutshell. There's a little more to it, as the rules change with different sizes and there are some specifics about angles of display for the colors. Identifying other ships at sea requires more study, but the basics are the same. And it's not much trouble to make sure you've always got the proper lights on your vessel.

Infographic for Marine Navigation Lights Rules based on sailboat size

On this page:

What are the official colregs rules for your sailboat, what about the uscg (united states coast guard) rules, lighting at anchor, identifying the boats around you.

The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea , abbreviated "COLREGS" is very specific about the lights required, their shapes and sizes, and the distance they must be visible. For the smaller boat, the following definitions apply.

  • Masthead Light - a white light placed centerline on the boat showing an arc of 225 degrees with 112.5 degrees either side of the front of the vessel.
  • Sidelights - A red light on the port side and a green light on the starboard. They must show an arc of 112.5 degrees from centerline of the bow.
  • Stern light - A white light on the stern of the boat showing an unbroken arc of 135 degrees from centerline of the vessel.
  • All-round light - A light showing in an unbroken arc of 360 degrees.

The good news is you need not measure these angles. Any properly installed USCG or COLREGS approved light which will cover the correct arcs. If you have to replace the original light from your boat, make sure it's with an approved replacement.

Lights When Sailing

yacht at night

The specific rules for a sailboat under sail are in COLREGS Rule 25 and vary slightly with the size of the boat. A sailboat powering is considered a power boat and falls under in Rule 23.

  • Under 23 feet (7 meters) - side lights and a stern light, possible. If these lights can not be displayed a light must be kept at hand to help avoid a collision. This can be a bright flashlight.
  • Over 23 feet - Side lights visible to one nautical mile and stern light visible for two.
  • Vessels under 65 feet may combine both sidelights into a single lantern on the bow.
  • May show a tricolor light on the masthead instead of sidelights and a stern light. It's one or the other though, do not show these lights at the same time .
  • Masthead light must be visible for three nautical miles, all other lights must have a two nautical mile visibility.
  • Side lights must be separated.
  • May not show a masthead tricolor light.
  • Masthead light must have five nautical mile visibility, all other lights must be visible for two nautical miles.
  • Optional masthead lights - any vessel under sail may display a red light over a green light at the masthead with sidelights and stern light. The red over green may NOT be displayed with a masthead tricolor light. It's one set or the other.

Lights When Motoring

yacht at night

For all navigational purposes a sailboat under power is considered a power boat. This includes motor sailing - if the engine is on and providing propulsion you are on a power boat, even if the sails are up . This applies to navigation lighting, sound signals in fog and limited visibility, and rights of way.

Sailboats under 50 meters under power need to show:

  • A masthead light
  • Stern light

A power-driven vessel under 23 feet (7 meters) that does not exceed seven knots of speed may display an all around white light, though sidelights should be used if available.

yacht at night

The USCG has published its own "Rules of the Road" that are based on the COLREGS. In addition, it has rules for the "Inland Waterways" for rivers, inland lakes and the Great Lakes.

The good news is this has no impact on what you have to do with your own boat.

They mostly relate to lighting changes on towed vessels like barges and tugs. For example, a vessel towing or pushing another vessel in the ocean under COLREGS shows two masthead lights, sidelights and a stern light, whereas in Inland Waterways the towing or pushing vessel displays two yellow towing lights instead of a white stern light.

If you sail on lakes, rivers or the Great Lakes where towed commercial traffic is common you should learn the inland lights, but coastal or ocean sailors will never see these.

When you anchor outside a designated mooring field, you should display an all around white light at the masthead or as high in the boat as practical.

yacht at night

If your boat is large and has a very tall mast, you may wish to display another light closer to the waterline. Boats approaching in the dark may not see a light on a mast sixty or seventy feet in the air when they are close to your boat.

We use a simple garden path light on our stern when we anchor, left in a rod holder or flag socket. It comes on automatically at dusk and is a cheap and easy way to be more visible. There is no specific rule stating you can not display more lights than required, or the nature of any lights beyond the required all around light.

The COLREGS also specify that a round black "daymark" should be displayed in the rigging of any vessel at anchor. Very few small vessels observe this, however it is the correct display for a vessel in an anchorage.

If you tie to a mooring in a marked mooring area you are not required to display anchor lights, but there is no harm in doing so.

The other important reason to know your lights is to figure out what's going on around you at night. The water may be ablaze with white, red, green and other lights at night and they are your first key to avoiding collisions and problems.

All combinations of lights for fishing boats, commercial vessels, and so on are outside this post‘s scope. The odds are small you will encounter a submarine, seaplane or hovercraft at night, but there are regulations regarding specific lighting for each of those vessels!

There are a few fundamentals to help you figure out what that is you see on the horizon, which way it is going, and whether it is a danger to you.

Port Wine is Red

The fundamental rule is that red sidelights will ALWAYS be on the port side of a vessel, and green lights will always be on starboard. However, some vessels can use all around red and green lights for other purposes, though those will be higher than sidelights.

Diagram for identifying boats at night

The light‘s on a ship is not important, some large tankers and freighters will have their sidelights far aft and put them on the superstructure for better visibility. It is not safe to assume that sidelights you can see are on the bow of large vessels .

When you can see the color, you know which way the bow is pointing. If it's red, it's pointing more or less to the left and will travel in that direction. A green light shows it is heading more or less to your right.

If you can see the red and green lights at the same time, you are looking directly at the bow of the vessel. When you are far away, this isn‘t as alarming as if you are close crossing. Seeing red and green lights together on a vessel is something you never want to see for long.

Be aware of red and green lights used in combination with other red, green and white lights. These may not be running lights and could have other significance.

Tankers, Freighters and Large Ships

Tankers, freighters and large ships will have side lights, a stern light and a masthead light. In addition, on vessels over 50 meters there will be a second masthead light further aft and higher than the forward light. The masthead light positions are a better tipoff to the bow direction and how far from the bow the sidelights might be. Remember - on a large vessel the sidelights may not be at the bow or even close to it.

USCG Inland Rules allow for a second all-around white light on large vessels on the Great Lakes instead of a second masthead light.

Fishing Boats

Fishing boats engaged in fishing will have more complex light displays. When they aren't fishing, they will show lights like any power vessel, but Rule 26 spells out light combinations that vary by the fishing activity being done. In general:

  • Boats which are Trawling but not making headway will display a green all-around light over a white all-around light , and a masthead light aft of these lights. Boats making headway while trawling will show these lights, plus sidelights and a stern light.
  • A vessel fishing other than trawling will show a red all-around light over a white all-around light . When making way they will also show sidelights and a stern light.
  • If a vessel has gear more than 150 meters away from the boat, it will show a second all around light in the direction of the gear. The best rule is to give fishing boats as wide a berth as you can at night. They're easy to pick out if you check the top light configurations but their course may be difficult to predict.

Towing and Pushing

Towed vessels can be the most dangerous to cross, but they have the most lights to tell you what is happening. Refer to COLREGS or the USCG Rules of the Road Rule 24 for all combinations You can pick a tow/push vessel out with the following lights:

  • Two or three masthead lights in a vertical line. Three masthead lights shows a tow over 200 meters. Additional masthead lights may show for larger tow vessels.
  • A towing light (yellow light with the same characteristics as a stern light) directly above the stern light.
  • The will also have side lights and a stern light.
  • The towed vessel will show sidelights and a stern light. Lighting may vary under USCG inland rules, where towing lights may replace stern lights. Learn these differences if this is your regular cruising ground. If you think there is a tow ahead of you, always go well behind the aft most set of lights. Never go between a tow and avoid crossing ahead if possible as it may restrict their maneuverability.

Special Situations

There are several rare situations you may encounter. As a general rule, if there are a lot of lights and you don't understand them look for the sidelights on a moving vessel. If you can find them and figure out the direction it is moving, it makes the vessel easier to avoid. Stay well clear of lights you do not understand if you can avoid them without risk.

Most of these signals are used by larger, commercial vessels and you will not need them.

They use these light combinations with other light combinations. For example a towing vessel may also be restricted in maneuverability, and a vessel constrained by draft will show running lights if moving.

  • Not Under Command - two all around red lights in a single line
  • Restricted in Ability to Maneuver - red, white then red in a single line
  • Constrained by draft - three all around red lights

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A guide to Indian Lake, hammered by Thursday's storms

yacht at night

The Indian Lake area of Ohio was torn by storms Thursday night . Here's a guide to the lake:

Where is Indian Lake?

Indian Lake is in Logan County, about 70 miles northwest of Columbus.

How big is Indian Lake?

The lake is about 5,100 acres, making it the third largest lake in Ohio, behind Grand Lake St. Marys (13,500 acres) in Auglaize and Mercer counties and Mosquito Creek Lake (7,850 acres) in Trumbull County, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. In addition, Pymatuning Reservoir, which straddles Ohio and Pennsylvania, covers 14,000 acres.

Is Indian Lake natural?

Indian Lake is man-made. According to the ODNR , it began in 1851 as "Old Indian Lake," a feeder lake for the Miami & Erie Canal. A bulkhead completed in 1860 allowed the lake, then called Lewiston Reservoir, to grow to more than 6,300 acres. Although Indian Lake is very shallow, with an average depth of 6 feet, it has largely been spared the algae that has stained other Ohio lakes because of the Indian Lake Watershed Project, established in the 1990s to keep the water clean.

How many people live on Indian Lake?

About 1,300 people live in the lake's largest town, Russells Point, and another 1,200 live down the road in Lakeview, both on the lake's southern shore. Hundreds more live around the lake, many of them in seasonal trailer parks and campgrounds, making the area vulnerable to storms.

What is Indian Lake best known for?

For decades, an amusement park and dance halls along the lake's southern rim drew visitors from miles around and provided the lake's nickname, the "Midwest's Million Dollar Playground." The last bits of the amusement park were torn down in the early 1980s; only the I ndian Lake Rollarena in Russells Point provides a hint of the lake's entertainment past.

Was the 1960s hit "Indian Lake" about this lake?

No. The Cowsills' 1968 Top 10 hit "Indian Lake" is thought to be based on a lake in Upstate New York.

What is housing like around Indian lake?

Much of Indian Lake's homes remain trailers in campgrounds, especially on the north and west sides of the lake. But a growing number of large new homes have been built on the lake this century, especially on the lake's multiple islands and eastern shore. Many of the older, modest homes still sell under $100,000, but newer homes can command more than half a million dollars. The lake's real-estate landed it a spot on the HGTV shows "Island Life" and "Island Hunters."

What impact did the storms have on the lake's state park?

The ODNR has closed Indian Lake State Park, on the west side of the lake, until further notice. "ODNR staff and other emergency crews will assess the impact of the storm and reevaluate the status of the park later today," the department posted Friday . The 8,400-acre park is one of Ohio's four original state parks, created in 1949.

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