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When complete, this chapter will provide information on navigation lights. We look at the history of why they are different colours and consider wiring, styles and materials.

Starboard derives from the old english “steorbord” which literally means the side from which the ship is steered. Before rudder technology, boats were steered by a steering oar which was affixed to the right side of the vessel as most people are right handed.

Port is believed to originate from the fact that when mooring in a port, the left side of the boat moored against the port to protect the steering oar from damage.

Red and green lights are used to apply “give way” rules at sea. If a helmsman sees a red port light on a vessel on an intercepting course, he will steer around the stern of the other vessel.

When travelling at night on most inland waterways, canal craft are only required to carry one single white light on the bow. Full navigation lights are mandatory on all tidal waterways and on some of the larger non-tidal navigations.

On some larger waterway it is also a requirement to show a light when at anchor at night. An example would be for craft navigating Trent Falls where an overnight stay on a sandbank is a real possibility.

On tidal and some other commercial waterways, when travelling at night the following regulations apply:

Craft longer than 12m are bound by International Maritime Law, specifically the COLREGS or International Requirements for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

These are a red port light (left) and a green starboard light (right) and a rear white light.
The port and starboard lights must be designed to be visible in an arc of 22 degrees from dead ahead back towards the stern.

The white stern light must be visible in an arc of 44 degrees shining backwards from centre.
If underway, powered craft must also show a white forward facing light mast light that shines ahead in an arc of 44 degrees from centre

Craft less than 12m: an all round visible white light and port and starboard side lights conforming to the angles of visibility above. These can be combined in a single lantern or on a single pole.

They are the regulations, it’s up to you to decide whether your lighting complies.
In reality the rules are often relaxed for canal boats, with the headlamp being an acceptable alternative to the masthead light.

The best way to aviod falling foul of the regulations is not to travel or moor at night on estuaries or commercial waterways.

Here follows a list where the use of full navigation lights applies:
  1. Humber
  2. Thames (PLA and EA sections)
  3. Hull (Humber to Hempholme)
  4. Medway tideway
  5. Ouse (Yorkshire)
  6. Severn tideway
  7. Aire & Calder Navigation (A&CN) *
  8. Bristol Avon tideway and Bristol Floating Harbour
  9. Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation *
  10. (below Doncaster including S&KN and NJC)
  11. Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and R. Severn (Gloucester to Stourport) **
  12. Trent (upstream of Gainsborough) *
  13. Weaver (MSC to Northwich) and Weston Canal *
  14. Trent (downstream of Gainsborough)
  15. Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal
  16. Witham, Welland and Nene tideways
  17. Ribble (sea to Preston) and Douglas (to Tarleton)
  18. Great Ouse tideway and New Bedford River
  19. Clyde (sea to Glasgow Green)
  20. Yare (sea to Norwich)
  21. Crinan Canal
  22. Lowestoft Harbour/Lake Lothing
  23. Caledonian Canal
  24. Orwell and Stour tideways
  25. Tay (sea to Perth)
  26. Colne, Brightlingsea Creek, Blackwater
  27. Forth (sea to Stirling)
  28. Crouch, Roach and Havengore
  29. Tyne (sea to Wylam)
  30. Lee (Thames to Hertford)
  31. Tees (sea to Aislaby)

Thankyou to the IWA for compiling the above listing.
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