The rules of Christmas lighting on boats

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 12, 2004

Holiday lights! This year folks in our neighborhood in Driver seem to have gone overboard with lights – they are everywhere. They really add to this special time of the year making things just a little bit more enjoyable.

Even the DiRenzo household has more lights this year than normal!

With the idea of holiday lights in mind, the one question that always seems to be asked by recreational boaters during this time of year is &uot;What additional lights or decorations can recreational boaters put on their vessels to celebrate the season while still following the Nautical Rules of The Road?&uot;

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The Nautical Rules of The Road are actually very specific when it comes to the issue of lights and their display. These rules apply not only to holiday decorations or festive additions but the overall change an operator might make to any fixed lighting scheme onboard while the vessel is underway or anchor at any time of the year. If a vessel is pier-side, you can decorate to your heart’s content, and trust me, folks along the Nasemond and Elizabeth Rivers have done just that!

The reason for the rule, and its application to underway or anchored vessels, is really simple.

By following the Nautical Rules of The Road operators can be confident, especially during foggy, snow filled nights, that the masthead light and side lights that are seen on the horizon, from a different boat, really show the vessel headed towards you, on an east to west course and not the tale end of a Rudolph display in which some bulbs have burned out.

In addition, by using the correct lighting scheme, operators quickly summarize when vessels are involved in specific activities such as towing, dredging or fishing. The potential confusion provided by festive lights could endanger both vessels. The interference and overall disruption of night vision, that additional lights could have on a lookout or operator, are significant. You can see why this becomes even more important in bad weather.

What exactly do the rules say about additional lights? Rule 20 within the Rules of the Road has the answer. &uot;The rules concerning lights shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited, except such lights as cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in these rules or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of proper lookout.&uot;

Remember to Boat Safe….Boat Smart…and next week I will give a great idea for a holiday present that may save your life!