Nocturnal Navigation: A Comprehensive Guide To Boating At Night

Nocturnal Navigation: A Comprehensive Guide To Boating At Night

Few things in this world are as liberating as boarding your boat and drifting lazily out into the water. As any experienced boater knows, however, various conditions will tend to require different skill sets that may not be possessed by every individual who operates a boat.

If you love boating, you can’t let something like a sunset stop you from going out on the water. Of course, there are some pretty substantial differences to boating in the day and doing so during the night. Over the course of this guide, we’ll be covering everything that you should know about night boating.

Boating at night.

We’ll be discussing everything from the red and green light on a boat and what they mean, all the way to the things that you should do to prepare for your excursion. Keep in mind that following these directives is the only way to ensure that you will be as safe as possible when you go out at night on your boat.

Is It Safe To Boat At Night?

The first question that most people ask is whether or not boating at night can be done safely, and the answer depends on your capabilities and your level of experience. If you are confident and your abilities and you are prepared, then you will have few problems, which brings us to our first tip.

Preparation Is Everything

If you are going boating at night for the first time, you will have to be prepared, or you will run a massive risk of damaging your boat or injuring yourself and possibly others. The first thing that you will want to consider is exactly how much experience you have boating in the first place.

Someone who is not entirely comfortable behind the wheel of a boat during the day should never go out during the night. Boating is enough of a challenge for newer boaters without the immensely reduced visibility that you will have to deal with during the night.

Another crucial part of being adequately prepared is to find out the moon phase and the weather conditions for the night that you are planning to go boating. Boating at night is a challenge, boating in the rain takes some getting used to; when you put them together, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

More dangerous than rain during the night are the clouds that come with it as they will block your view of the moon, leaving you in complete darkness. This is also why you should figure out what phase the moon is currently in, as nobody wants to be out boating in the night with only a sliver of the moon shining its light.

How Do I Equip My Boat For A Night Trip?

So you have decided to take to the waves during the night (or much more likely a lake or river), what do you need to bring along with you to be safe? As always, you will want to ensure that you bring a PFD (portable flotation device) with you, as that is always a necessity, especially in riskier situations.

Portable flotation device.

While you may be as confident as can be in your swimming abilities, you will find that a life vest can save you in some of the direst situations. For example, if you fall from your boat and strike your head, you may be too dazed to keep swimming, where a PFD can at least keep you above water.

If you are going to be boating in populated waterways where you may encounter larger boats and even barges, you will want to invest in marine radar. A radar will keep track of all of the boats, objects, and obstacles in the water, making it much easier for you to avoid any potential collisions.

Of course, radar is exceedingly expensive to equip on your boat, meaning that most small boaters will not be able to justify the purchase just for night usage. A more common choice for night boating is a chart plotter, which will be much more affordable than an active radar system.

You may also want to be able to light up your surroundings during the night, in case you come across any obstacles in the water. The best option for shining light on a specific area is a spotlight, and there are a few different varieties.

A handheld spotlight will be less powerful than one that is mounted to your boat, but it will also be more affordable and more convenient since you can just reach over and pick it up. If you need to light up a patch of the night thoroughly, however, nothing will beat a mounted spotlight.

Navigation Light Rules

One of the most crucial things to consider when learning how to boat at night is the meaning associated with the different kinds of navigation lights. For example, the green light on boat indicates the starboard (right) side while the red light shines on the port (left).

Night boating sidelights.

There is more than just one kind of boat light for navigation, however. While the sidelights may be the most recognizable, the masthead light is something that is required on all boats under motor power during the night. Keep in mind that this isn’t the only type of LED boat deck light.

If you don’t see a light on the masthead, but instead see one large white light that is visible from all directions, that may be an all-around light. These lights can be used on smaller boats, and they play the role of the masthead light as well as the sternlight, which is usually a white light at the back of the vessel.


We hope that this guide has given you all of the info that you were looking for about boating at night. Keeping yourself safe and your boat intact should be your priorities, and in that order, when you are boating during the night. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments down below.