Ships’ Navigational Lamps

Here at Any Old Lights we have a number of impressive ship’s lanterns for sale, including the 1943 Royal Navy battleship masthead light just added to the site. Which led us to compile this beginner’s guide to navigational lighting.

Prior to the 1840s, navigational lighting had been something of a free-for-all with separate practices, conventions and informal procedures in different parts of the world. In 1838 in America, an act was passed that regulated steamboat lighting; similar regulations put in place in the UK in the following year led to the eventual development of a single set of international rules and practices.

The basic rules concerning lights apply from sunset to sunrise and in any conditions of restricted visibility. In order to avoid confusion, vessels are required to mount navigation lights that allow other vessels to determine the type and relative angle of a vessel, and thus decide if there is a danger of collision.
Navigation lights indicate: the size of a ship, the angle at which it is observed, the direction in which it is travelling and whether it is anchored.

  • A masthead light is a white light on the centreline of a vessel showing from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on either side of the vessel.
  • A sidelight is either a green light on a vessel’s starboard side or a a red light on the port side. Each shows from right ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam on its respective side. For vessels less than 20 metres (66 ft) long, the sidelights can be combined in a single fixture on the centreline of the vessel.
  • A sternlight, as its name suggests, is a white light placed as near to the stern as possible showing 67.5 degrees from right aft on each side of the vessel.

Not all of our navigational lights are on the site, so visit our shop at 9 South Street, Fowey, to see our full selection.

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