Boating is a fun and exciting way to spend your free time. And boating at night (after sunset) is entirely different from day boating. BUT, can you boat at night? Is it allowed or not? Let’s find out.
Boating at night is legal, and you can operate a boat at night all the way from sunset to sunrise. No one will stop you unless you are operating in any restricted areas, operating fastly, or not following the boating rules (like not using navigational lights, not following safety norms, etc.).
You can boat at night all the way from sunset to sunrise; no one will stop you from doing that; since boating at night (dark) is different (can be dangerous/difficult sometimes due to low visibility) from daytime boating, some adequate safety measures need to be taken prior.
And generally, there won’t be any restrictions in all the public lakes or ponds unless there are any problems. Other than that, unless if you operate the boat in any restricted areas (private/public places with timing), it is fine to operate a boat at night, and no one can actually stop you from doing that.
But, that won’t be the case for PWCs (jet skis); some states won’t allow anyone to operate PWC (jet ski, wave runner, sea-doo) after the sunset to the sunrise even with all the navigational lights installed in it. So, you need to check the rules of your state while operating PWCs at night.
That being said that you can operate the boat at night; there are some details everyone needs to look at (know) while boating at night, like speed requirements, night navigational lights & rules, and safety requirements. We will now see all of them in a detailed way.
Are there any speed restrictions for boating at night?
We will now see whether there are any speed restrictions for boating at night or not?
The speed limit (restriction) for boating at night lies between 15 mph and 30 mph in general. That’s an average value where most of the state’s speed limit falls on, but to know the speed limit more accurately, you need to look at the state’s (night) boating rules where you are boating.
Boats usually don’t have any speed limits like other land vehicles (cars), but there are some restrictions like a “no-wake zone” in the areas around other boats, docks, piers, ports, canals, bridges, etc. Unless if you boat in those areas, probably there won’t be any speed limits for boats, and you can go fast.
No wake zone means you can’t make waves, meaning you have to go really slow (usually less than 5 MPH will not create any wakes). If there are any small boaters around, and if you make wakes, those wakes can toss the small boaters out of their seats and can sometimes be hazardous.
So, regardless of the boating at night or daytime, if you are boating in those no-wake zones like docks, piers, ports, canals, bridges, etc., you need to slow down. Since you are boating at night, there is a speed limit all over and varies to the place you are boating (lies in between 15 mph – 30 mph on average).
The visibility will also be low at night, so boating slowly (not going fast) is the only best safety precaution one can take. So, depending on the visibility, drive the boat adequately to prevent the majority of the risks (dangers) at night.
Related post – Do boats have speed limits? Check this article to know about boat speed limits, a comparison between car vs. boat, and some of the popular boat average speeds in a detailed way.
Are there any specific rules for boating at night?
We will now see whether there are any specific rules for boating at night or not?
The only rule (specific) one should follow (need to know) while boating at night is understanding and using navigational lights at night. Since the visibility will be low at night, knowing & following the night marine rules and going slowly is the only best safety precautions one can take.
One should know the night navigational rules while boating at night, like knowing the navigational lights and their purpose is essential. By looking at the lights on other boats, you need to take appropriate actions for a safe and smooth ride.
These lights vary from boat to boat, especially for big ships. There will be so many lights on a big boat or ship compared to a small boat, but the navigation rules and their applications (purposes) are the same for all boats’ sizes. These are the navigational lights you will see on most boats.
- Red and Green light near the bow
- white light on the mast or the top of the boat
- Stern light on the back of the boat
Red and Green light near the bow
- You should keep one red and green light near the boat’s bow area (the red towards the port side and the green light towards the starboard side of the boat). The red light indicates the port side or the left side of the boat. The green light indicates the starboard side or the right side of the boat.
White light on the mast or the top of the boat
- You should keep one white light on the top of the mast (for a sailboat) or the top of the boat (for a normal boat). This white light should be facing in the forward direction and covers almost both sides (port and starboard) of the boat.
- Generally, it will be on the top of the mast for a sailboat, and for a normal boat, it will be on the top of the boat.
Stern light on the back of the boat
- The stern light will be at the backside of the boat, attached to the stern. That’s why the name suggests stern light. This is a white light at the boat’s back, which faces towards the boat’s backside.
- This stern light is not needed for a boat, which is under 39.4 feet in length.
These are the main types of lights you will see while you are boating at night. Lights are necessary for a boat if you are boating at night. Otherwise, you might end up causing problems to other boaters and yourself too.
Many people will use one more light, which is all-around light, which will be placed anywhere on the boat. This all-around light is also sometimes called an anchor light. This means when the boat is anchored, you need to turn it on.
Related post – Do boats need lights? Check this article to know why do you need navigational lights for a boat and what lights are required for a boat depending on the boat’s size and type in a detailed way.
Check this helpful video regarding night navigational rules for boating to know the basic navigational rules in a detailed way.
Safety measures for boating at night
We will now see some of the safety measures one should follow while boating at night to reduce the majority of the risks or dangers.
1. Slow down the boat speed
Many will drive the boat fastly during the daytime because you can see what is there in front of you. But, at night, you can’t see what is there in front of you (clearly). So, it would be best if you decreased the boat’s speed a little.
A vessel coming out a mile away gives only a few minutes to get out of the way. If you are going fast, it can be difficult to change the course quickly. So, slow down while boating at night to avoid most of the dangers.
2. Know your position and the direction you are heading
While boating, you need to know your position, in which direction you are moving. Especially at night, you can’t see in which direction you are heading due to low visibility, so knowing your position and the direction you are heading is crucial.
It is easy to lose track of in the water, especially at night. So, using some devices, you can prevent that. Using radar or Chartplotter, or an automatic identification system (AIS), you will get to know your position and which direction you are heading precisely.
3. Observe properly
Another important thing is to observe what is happening around you while boating at night. Be alert and observe properly; you need to know all the sound signals and the navigational rules, and furthermore, you need to respond to them well.
Lookouts should look and listen for ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING, sounds from aids to navigation, breaking waves, floating material in the water, rocks, piles, shoreline features. So, it is crucial to observe properly while boating at night to avoid most of the risks.
4. Take all the safety equipment
Safety gear for a boat is essential if you are boating at night. If you are in any danger, you can signal others by using them. Sometimes, it can save your life by having them on your boat at that time. So, don’t hesitate to keep them with you if you are boating at night.
Remember this before going boating, have a checklist of things you need to take whenever you are going boating. Keep that checklist on the boat, near the entrance or the helm, so that you won’t forget those things on the list.
You can see all the safety equipment for a boat based on the needs in the below table.
|Life jacket||Must for a boat||for each person|
|Life ring||Must for a boat||for each person|
|Must for a boat||it depends(but nice to have for each person)|
|Whistles or horns||Must for a boat||1+|
|Ladder||Nice to have a rope ladder|
(if you don’t have any)
|VHF radio||Optional, nice to have|
(no need for a license in the USA)
|1 (boat under 65 feet (optional))|
|EPIRB||Optional (you can use if you are boating in seas or oceans)|
(no need license)
|Chartplotter||Optional (you can use if you|
are boating in seas or oceans)
|Optional (you can use if you|
are boating in seas or oceans)
|Satellite phone or|
|Optional (you can use if you|
are boating in seas or oceans)
|Thermal imaging camera||for boating at night||1|
|Torchlight||Nice to have||1+|
|Binoculars||Nice to have||1|
|Flares||Must for every boat|
under 16 feet
|Bucket||Nice to have||1|
|Paddles or Oras||Nice to have if you have a|
|Documentation||Must for a boat||All documents|
|Anchor ropes||Must for a boat||it depends|
|Lights at night||Must for a boat||it depends|
(2 at the bow
1 mast light
1 stern light)
|Depth finder||Nice to have||1|
|First aid kit||Must for a boat||it depends(1+)|
|Tool kit||Nice to have||1|
|Fire extinguisher||Must for a boat||boat under 26 feet|
boat b/w 26-40 feet
(two B1 or one B2)
boat b/w 40-65 feet
(three B1 or two B2)
|Extra gas||Nice to have||it depends|
|Knife||Nice to have||it depends(1+)|
|Bilge pump||Nice to have||1|
|Duct tape||Nice to have||1|
|Anchor||Must for a boat||it depends(1+)|
Related post – Safety gear for boating, check this article to know about all those safety gear in a detailed way.
You can boat at night all the way from the sunset to the sunrise. Unless you are operating in any restricted areas, operating fastly, or not following night navigational rules (like not using lights, not carrying the safety equipment, etc.), no one will stop your boat at night.
Due to the low visibility at night, you need to take appropriate safety measures (like using navigational lights, observing properly, slowing down) to prevent the risks. You are all set to go if you follow the boating rules well.
And generally, that won’t be the case for PWCs (jet skis); some states won’t allow anyone to operate PWC (jet ski, wave runner, sea-doo) at night (after the sunset to the sunrise) even with all the navigational lights installed in it. So, you need to check the rules of your state while operating PWCs at night.