Most offshore cruisers have to sail at night to get to their destination, especially those that are crossing oceans as I am. Everything changes at night including your vision and your perception.
Since it obviously very hard to see other vessels at night, the US Coast Guard has ColRegs (Collision Regulations) for vessels at night that entail the use of light patterns to distinguish what type of vessel you are or what you are doing to alert other vessels in the vicinity. These are a sample of a few of the ColRegs lights at Night configurations you can expect to see:
Courtesy of Skysail Training in the UK
These light rules are under the ColReg Rules 23 to 29. There are lots of different light configurations that you will need to know. Since there are so many, there have been a lot of tools developed to help you recognize the light configurations. Here are some of my favorites tools to help you with identifying them:
This handy tool has all the light configurations you need to know in one place. You just slide the guide over the configuration you see and it will give you the type of vessel and what it is doing. It is highly recommended that you play with this tool during daylight hours as due to the amount of information that is stored on this durable piece of plastic, it makes it a little hard to read. So spend some time familiarizing yourself with the tool to help yourself at night.
This handy tool is not comprehensive, but is a great way to keep some of the more important light configurations and day shapes at your fingertips. This is not a tool that should be 100% relied upon since it only has a smidgen of the all of the possibilities. Cute though.
Navigation Lights and Shapes App:
This is my favorite of the tools. It is also the least expensive at $2.99. This app has both the light configurations and the day shapes and is available both for iOS and Android platforms. The only issue I have is that you would have to scroll through each category to find the configuration you are seeing in order to determine what you are looking at. That is ok if you have ample time to avert a collision. Again, this is definitely one you should practice with during daylight hours so you can be comfortable using it at night. To get the Android version click here and the iOS version click here.
None of these tools should preclude you from learning the different light configurations on your own, but can be handy for helping you learn them and certainly handy for identifying ColRegs Lights at Night.
See you on the water,
Sail Away Girl