Although there are some amazing and elaborate options available, if you want to explore the idea of improving your boat light setup, you don’t have to start with a big project. It could be as simple as putting battery powered lights on a kayak or paddle boat to make it safer to use at more times of day. It could be a quick tap-in to power and low-draw LED lights to brighten up a storage space. Or it could be one of many other options that help you enjoy your boat and give it a wow factor, too. When you know the types of boat lights available to you and you buy the right ones, you’re sure to feel good about it for years to come.
What Types of Boat Lights Should I Use?
There may be some overlap, opinion, and nuance with the following categories, but it’s important to consider how a light is intended to be used and how it functions. This gives way to taking a sincere look at whether a boat light should have Coast Guard approval, when it should be run, how bright it is, and assurances that you won’t have to replace a cheap light sooner than you want to.
The list below can help you get a great start on knowing what’s required, but always consult the governing laws for waters in your area and consider manufacturer guidance about wiring and lighting systems that may already be installed in your boat. When used together, you can contribute to a safer boating experience for you and those around you.
Navigation lights are required from sunset to sunrise and during inclimate weather that limits sight (like rain and fog). When it’s dark or when visibility is low, they help boaters see each other and avoid collisions. Anchor lights may be part of your navigation light system — all-round lights are one example — while sidelights or combination lights are the red and green lights at the bow of your boat.
If an all-round light isn’t the right fit for a boat, then it may need a Masthead light to shine toward the bow of the boat and beyond plus a stern light to do so at the back of the boat. The required visibility, measured in nautical miles, and arc of visibility (where it can be seen from the sides of the boat) are key factors for these lights.
2. Flood Lights, Spot Lights, and Spreader Lights
Flood lights, spot lights, and spreader lights come in many forms, but they all help you brightly illuminate a section of your boat (or an area around you when you need that). They are usually defined by their mounting position on a boat, their brightness, and the beam width they put out.
3. Docking Lights
Docking lights help you illuminate the path of your boat and your walking path along the outside of your boat as you come into and use a dock, slip, or some other resting spot at shore. You can use some of the previously mentioned lights if they are mounted in a way that is conducive to this, but this isn’t a fit for all boats and it can help to have docking lights that are already in place and ready to be switched on.
Important note about flood lights, spreader lights, and docking lights: with a few safety exceptions to this rule, only use these lights when it’s necessary, like when approaching a dock, slip, or tying up to another boat. If you drive with them on, it can make it harder for other boaters to see your navigation lights and it can make it harder for them to safely navigate around you. These lights are not to be used like car headlights.
4. Courtesy Lights
Courtesy Lights illuminate travel paths and grip points in boats, especially walkways, stairs, gunnels, handles, railings, etc. They are usually defined by their location, moderate illumination, and low-profile design.
5. Accent Lights
Several lights above can pull double duty as courtesy lights and accent lights, especially when you have sleek, practical, and colorful lights from Blue Water LED, but there are even more options available for any boat light that purely needs to complement your style. Because of this, we’re differentiating accent lights and highlighting the amazing lights that come in a full spectrum of colors, as well as some that would make a chameleon jealous.
They can be wired up separately to contrast different parts of a boat, trailer, and many other recreational vehicles, too, or they can be wired up as a complete system. You can even have submersible lights mounted to your boat that illuminate the world below your boat and help with the aim of the next topic below.
For our final category here, we’re featuring lights that attract fish to you. Some of them are fully transportable and don’t even require a boat to use, while others perform several functions.
- Submersible fishing lights: lights specifically designed to attract fish and they can be lowered to a range of depths.
- Mounted underwater lights: lights that attract fish and help provide safety lighting to show ladders and props.
- Light bars: a favorite for bow fisherman and gator hunters
All of them are great additions for boaters looking to fish (or hunt) during low visibility hours.
Get Ready for Bright Ideas
Now that you’ve gotten better acquainted with various types of boat lights, what project do you have in mind to make this boating season even better than the last?