Recognising lights on other vessels
To stay safe on the water at night or at times of restricted visibility, you need to be able to recognise lights on other vessels. These lights help prevent collisions.
A vessel's navigation lights tell you:
- whether it's at anchor or underway
- the direction it's travelling
- the vessel type and size.
Keep a lookout for lights that may not be bright, such as those on smaller vessels. These vessels may only display a single white light or a torch light.
A single white light can also mean a vessel is at anchor, or travelling away from you. If you see a white light, be aware that something is ahead of you and prepare to take appropriate action.
If you see a lot of lights, or lights up high, it's probably a large vessel, such as a ship or commercial fishing boat. Keep well clear.
These are some examples of navigation lights you may see.
Vessel at anchor
All round white light.
Small vessel underway
All round white light or torch light.
Vessel travelling towards you
Green light to your port (left) and red light to your starboard (right).
Powerboats and sailing boats using their engine also display a masthead light.
Vessel travelling away from you
All round white light or white sternlight.
Vessel crossing your path
If a vessel is crossing your path, the colour of its sidelight shows you which direction it's travelling:
- red sidelight – crossing your path from your starboard (right) side to your port (left) side
- green sidelight – crossing your path from your port (left) side to your starboard (right) side.
A powerboat or sailing boat using its engine also displays a masthead light.
Ships or other large vessels over 50m long display 2 masthead lights.
A dredge's top 3 lights show that it’s restricted in its manoeuvrability.
Its sidelights show you the safe side to pass:
- green – safe side to pass.
- red – obstruction this side (do not pass).
Displays 2 red lights at either end and a green light above the red light in the direction of travel. Also displays an all round orange flashing light.
High-speed ferry on Sydney Harbour
Displays the normal lights for a powerboat underway, plus an all round flashing yellow light when travelling at speed.
Commercial fishing vessel
Displays special lights when its activity – such as trawling – restricts its manoeuvrability.