Lights required on boats

Find out about navigation lights including range of visibility, placement and optional lights. You can also determine what lighting is needed for power vessels and sailing vessels.


Navigating at night requires special care and attention. Vessels that operate from sunset to sunrise, whether at anchor or underway, must carry and exhibit the correct lights.

A vessel is underway when it is not:

  • Anchored.
  • Moored to the shore.
  • Aground.

Navigation lights must also be displayed during daylight hours in periods of restricted visibility. All boats, whether used for commercial purposes or for pleasure boating, must comply with the regulations concerning lighting.

It is crucial the lights on your boat be placed and displayed appropriate to the size and class of your boat. These lights tell other boat operators what your boat is doing, whether it is at anchor, under sail or motoring. This guide will assist you in understanding the correct use of navigation lights on your boat.

Please download the Navigational Lights brochure below.

  Range of visibility and placement of lights

Range of visibility

Vessel length Masthead light Sidelight Stern light All round lights
12 metres to 20 metres 3 miles 2 miles 2 miles 2 miles
Under 12 metres 2 miles 1 mile 2 miles 2 miles
Lighting angles
Lighting angles

Placement of lights

Back light
Back light

Navigation lights

Navigation lights shall be positioned so they are not obscured by the vessels superstructure or interfered with by the deck lights.


The masthead and/or all round white light must be fitted (if practical) on the centre line (bow to stern) of the vessel.

  Lights required for power vessels underway

Vessel length Typical appearance Lighting requirement
Under 7 metres (maximum speed not exceeding 7 knots) Under 7 metres Must exhibit a white light visible all round and, if possible, separate or combined sidelights.
Vessels under 12 metres Vessels under 12 metres Must exhibit one of the following:
  • Separate or combined sidelights, a masthead light and a stern light.
  • Separate or combined sidelights, an all round white light.

Masthead or white all round light shall be carried at least 1 metre above the sidelights.

12 metres to 20 metres 12 metres to 20 metres Must exhibit one of the following:
  • A masthead light, separate sidelights and stern light.
  • A masthead light, combined sidelights and stern light.

The masthead light shall be carried at least 2.5 metres above the gunwale. Combined sidelights shall be carried at least 1 metre below the masthead light.

  Lights required for non-powered vessels underway

Sailing vessels while underway (being motor driven) shall exhibit navigation lights applicable to power driven vessels.

Vessel length Typical appearance Lighting requirement
Under 7 metres, and all paddle craft Under 7 metres, and all paddle craft
Under 7 metres, and all paddle craft
Must exhibit one of the following:
  • Same lights as for sailing vessels over 7 metres in length.
  • Torch or lighted lantern showing a while light in sufficient time to prevent collision.
7 metres to 20 metres 7 metres to 20 metres Must exhibit one of the following:
  • Combined lantern, that is at or near the top of the mast and incorporates sidelights and stern light.
  • Separate sidelights and stern light.
Over 20 metres Over 20 metres
  • Sidelights, stern light and may carry the optional red and green all round lights.
  • However, these vessels may not carry a combined lantern.

Optional lights

A sailing vessel of any length, which is fitted with sidelights and a stern light (but not a combined lantern) may, in addition, carry two all round lights in a vertical line at or near the top of the mast. The upper light shall be red and lower green.

Optional lights
Optional lights

  Vessels at anchor (less than 50 metres)

Vessels less than 50 metres in length at anchor, shall exhibit an all round white light placed where it may best be seen.

Anchored light
Anchored light

Anchor lights must always be shown from sunset to sunrise. If you are at anchor or in a busy area, then show additional lights to ensure you are seen and keep a good watch.

There are many other combinations of lights used on vessels. The lights shown relate to the activity the vessel is engaged in, for example: fishing, dredging, not under command.


A simple rule of thumb for a small power boat is to stay clear of any vessels exhibiting additional lights.

  Further information

For more information about navigation lights and shapes, read the Prevention of Collision at Sea Regulations 1983.

Opens in a new window Department of Justice: Prevention of Collisions at Sea Regulations 1983 (WA)

Boat going to sea at sunset

Page last updated: Tue Dec 15 2020 5:48:59 PM