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Navigation lights

Image of navigation lights

Navigating at night requires special care. It is essential for you to see other boats and have them see you.
Remember:

  • it is difficult to judge distances at night
  • not all navigation hazards will have lights indicating their position
  • background lighting from the shore can cause confusion
  • slow down and keep a good lookout.
Navigation lights are required to be shown on ships operating between sunset and sunrise, and in restricted visibility. Navigation lights indicate the size of the ship, the angle where you see them, the direction the ship is travelling, or if the ship is anchored. Navigation lights should be fitted by the manufacturer or an authorised person. Smaller ships have a number of options including bracketed or combination suction-capped lights. These types of navigation lights are available from marine dealers. Tips for installing navigation lights.

(Click on the image to enlarge)





  • Animated image indicating lights on sail boats at nightSailboats less than seven metres and vessels under oars must have a torch or lantern showing a white light ready to display in time to prevent a collision.






  • Animated image indicating power driven ship lights at nightPower-driven ships must show sidelights and either an all round white light or a stern and masthead light. Sailboats under engine power are considered to be power-driven ships, and must show the same lights as a power-driven ship.








  • Sailboats less than 20 m in length may combine sidelights and stern lights in a single lantern carried at the top of the mast.


  • Sailboats seven metres or more in length must show sidelights and stern lights. In addition to sidelights they may show two all-round lights in a vertical line (red over green) that may be shown at the top of the mast, but not when a combined lantern is used.


  • Power-driven ships less than seven metres in length and whose speed does not exceed seven knots, may show an all round white light in lieu of sidelights. If practical, these ships should also show sidelights.


  • Image showing an all round white light at nightAll ships at anchor must show an all-round white light.














  • Sport rowing ships
    Ships engaged in rowing activities (training or competition) on the Brisbane River now need to display an all-round white flashing light if they are on the water before sunrise or after sunset.

Commercial ship recognition
Daymarks and navigation lights indicate the activities of larger ships and many commercial and fishing ships. The following examples describe some of the more common day shapes and navigation lights used. For a more comprehensive list, refer to the Small Ships Manual. The lights used to signal particular operations are in addition to standard navigation lights (for example port, starboard, anchor).

  • Ships at anchor
    • Daymark — one black ball when the ship is less than 50 m in length.
    • Lights — commercial ships fishing (other than trawling) should show lights red over white when fishing at night. Commercial ships trawling should show lights green over white when engaged in trawling at night. All ships should keep well clear of fishing ships.
  • Ships restricted in their ability to manoeuvre
    These signals are used by ships engaged in activities such as servicing navigation marks, towing, underwater operations or cable laying.
    • Daymark — black ball over black diamond over black ball.
    • Lights — ships restricted in their ability to manoeuvre should show lights red over white over red.  When these ships are making way they should also show their normal navigation lights.
  • Ships engaged in underwater operations or dredging
    Ships engaged in activities such as underwater operations or dredging must indicate that they are restricted in their ability to manoeuvre. If there is an obstruction on one side of the ship (such as in dredging) signals must also indicate this.
    • Daymark — black ball over black diamond over black ball (to indicate restricted manoeuvrability) plus black diamond over black diamond on the side where it is safe to pass and black ball over black ball on the side where there is an obstruction. In addition, ships engaged in diving operations should also display a rigid code flag 'A' in an area easily visible to others.
    • Lights — red over white over red indicating restricted manoeuvrability plus green over green on the side where it is safe to pass and red over red on the side where there is an obstruction.
  • Ships aground
    These signals do not indicate distress or a need for help.
    • Daymark — black ball over black ball over black ball.
    • Lights — red light over red light.
  • Ships not under command
    These signals indicate inability to manoeuvre when it is not caused by the activity of the ship (for example towing).
    • Daymark — black ball over black ball.
    • Lights — red light over red light.
  • Pilot vessel on duty
    • Daymark — a code flag 'H' should be placed in area easily visible to others.
    • Lights — white light over red light.
Last updated
29 April 2013