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Author Topic:   Switch Controls for Navigation Lighting
Robs Rib posted 12-04-2006 03:54 PM ET (US)   Profile for Robs Rib   Send Email to Robs Rib  
Hi, I currently have my port and starboard navigation lights working from the same switch.

I want to add a stern white light. The easiest might be to use the existing circuit and switch. Any advice on how best to wire in this new light.

Thanks, Rob

jimh posted 12-04-2006 09:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
This inquiry has two facets. One is the interpretation of federal regulations; the second is a study in simple electrical wiring.

Regarding what lights a vessel has to show, this is an explicit matter of the regulations. In general I find that the regulations themselves are the best reference for this information. While many will offer opinions or interpretations, the regulations generally are written in a straightforward manner and offer very clear guidance about what equipment or facilities are required on a vessel. In the case of proper lights to be shown there are many allowances afforded a smaller vessel, and these are nicely illustrated in the U.S. Coast Guard publication on the navigation rules. I very strongly suggest getting a copy.


for more links and guidance.

The rules allow that a vessel show sidelights and a simple all-around white light in lieu of a masthead light and a sternlight.

Now for the electrical wiring of the lamps which will produce the proper lights required by the rules. Having both of your sidelights wired to a common switch is a good idea because there is no situation in the navigation rules which requires only showing one of the sidelights at a time. Both sidelights are either illuminated or extinguished simultaneously.

The all-around light can be operated by a separate switch because there are situations where it needs to be illuminated when the sidelights are not illuminated.

It is quite common, however that a single switch be employed to control both the sidelights and the all-around white light. The switch will have three positions, OFF, ANCHOR, RUNNING. When you purchase such a switch it will have a diagram showing how to wire it to your lamps. The wiring will permit the proper combination of lights to be shown to suit the three situations: no lights, anchor lights, running lights. When wired in this manner the switch incorporates the intelligence regarding what lights are to be shown when, and will relieve the operator of having to select the correct combination. Do not be alarmed by such a configuration, for I have seen that even the Coast Guard uses such a configuration on their vessels, although they have much more complex lighting to control because of the many situations they will be involved with (such as towing which requires more complex light combinations to be shown).

The switch should be wired in the positive lead from the battery. This will be shown in the wiring diagram that accompanies the switch.

jimh posted 12-04-2006 10:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
If by chance I have misinterpreted you inquiry and you really are asking about wiring a stern light to be used in combination with a masthead light and sidelights, then this more complex wiring has been the subject of a separate article in the REFERENCE section. See:

Navigation Lamp Wiring
by James W. Hebert

Tom W Clark posted 12-04-2006 11:26 PM ET (US)     Profile for Tom W Clark  Send Email to Tom W Clark     

Are those federal regulations applicable to Ireland?


It might be helpful f you explained exactly what model of Boston Whaler you have.

jimh posted 12-05-2006 12:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Tom--The regulations may be identical. The "Col Regs" are more formally known as "The International Regulations for Avoiding Collisions at Sea," and with that title may be as applicable in old Eire as Lake Erie
jimh posted 12-05-2006 12:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Here is RULE 1 from the "Colregs":

Rule 1


(a) These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.

kamie posted 12-06-2006 06:32 PM ET (US)     Profile for kamie  Send Email to kamie     
[How the vessel's naviation lights will be operated] really depends on the switch [to which they are wired]. Since you need to [exhibit sidelights and an all-around white light] at the same time, you can wire [all of those lamps] to a single ON/OFF switch with no [problems]. If you plan to anchor out and need the all-around white light and your stern light will also serve that function you can wire the lights to a 3 position switch. The first position is off, second wire up your port, starboard, stern lights and the final position you can wire the all around light.
jimh posted 12-06-2006 09:43 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
As I have mentioned on every occasion when this topic comes up, it is my very strong preference that the source of information about the navigation rules be the rules themselves.

If there are questions about how to accomplish the simple wiring of the lamps in the vessel's navigation lighting to a switch for control of them, I would be glad to help. However, as I mentioned earlier, the specialized switches sold for this purpose are usually furnished with diagrams which show how to wire them.

Robs Rib posted 12-07-2006 06:23 PM ET (US)     Profile for Robs Rib  Send Email to Robs Rib     
Thanks for the info. I was aware that the regs for anchoring was a sigle all round white but did not know about the [availablity of specialized switches designed specifically for the control of navigation lighting]. Many thanks for the useful comments.
Robs Rib
jimh posted 12-10-2006 09:56 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I revised the article in the REFERENCE SECTION to show the more common and very simple wiring of a vessel's navigation lighting when only SIDELIGHTS and an ALL-AROUND WHITE light are used.

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