SAFETY FIRST: NAV LIGHTS AND COAST GUARD

By John Lemon, Safety Coordinator

As we head into the early fall and earlier sunsets, it's important to remember that navigation lights, sometimes called running lights, are an important component of safe boating after dark. The red and green bow lights, the white stern light, and the white masthead light for boats under motor power allow other vessels to see your boat, understand who you are and what you are doing (sail or power) and take proper action to avoid collision. 

USCG regulations requires that running lights be exhibited between sunset and sunrise or during periods of limited visibility i.e. fog. Sailboats less than 7 meters (23 feet) are not required to exhibit lights but must have

 a flashlight at hand to illuminate the sail to avoid collision. It's important for skippers to check both the Fleet Status page in the reservation system and to verify that ALL running lights are operational if sailing after sunset. The Colgates are longer than the 7 meter exemption, thus they must have operating running lights and may not substitute a flashlight illuminating the sail.Skippers should switch to another boat for evening sails if the lights on the boat you have reserved are not working properly.

On another note, I was sailing my own boat recently and was boarded by the Coast Guard for a routine safety check. The Coast Guard carries out these inspections to ensure that all boats have the required safety equipment. There is no implication of wrong-doing if you are boarded. The Coast Guard may board your boat without cause. If you are polite and cooperate, you will have no problems. That is, unless you are operating a vessel in an unsafe manner.  The Coast Guard asked to see my registration and ID, life jackets for everyone on board, a throwable flotation device, visual distress signal (flares), sound making device, and fire extinguisher (boats with engines). The also inquired about my marine sanitation device (head). Only Priorities is fitted with a head. They were very pleasant, found everything in order, and proceeded to inspect other vessels in the area. Sail Chicago skippers should note that the items on the boat checklists in bold are Coast Guard legally required safety equipment. If any of those items are missing or inoperable, you should switch boats or cancel your sail.