The United States Coast Guard (USCG) governs and oversees large bodies of water in the country. Boaters are required to closely observe USCG regulations, when deploying vessels in oceans and lakes. A major highlight in USCG boating guidelines is the application of USCG approved lights. Reports of USCG patrollers issuing warnings and citations about the use of non-approved USCG lamps have increased, due to a spike in availability of low-quality fixtures for boats.
USCG Approved Lights 101
According to a 2015 USCG memo (Safety Alert 10-15), lights for recreational and commercial vessels must comply with Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (72 COLREGS) or Inland Navigation Rules (33 CFR Subchapter E). Recommendations for light sources are not provided, implying that individuals can select any type of fixture, such as incandescent, metal halide or LEDs, to use on boats.
When a USCG warden inspects a lighting system on a vessel, he or she is on the lookout for specific labels on the fixtures. There should be ‘USCG Approval 33 CFR 183.810’ or ‘Meets ABYC A-16 guidelines’ (or similar) wording on the lamps. Additionally, markings from a recognized testing laboratory, such as ETL or UL, should also be present on the label.
Decorative Boat Lights vs USCG Boat Lights
Another important aspect of USCG-approved fixtures is performance. USCG officials discourage the use of decorative lighting on vessels. This is because such lighting systems can easily be mistaken for or obstruct existing navigation lights. For example, bright LED strip lights or boat spotlights which are commonly found on boats, can easily overpower red/green navigational fixtures (when installed within the same part of the vessel).
Lastly, the application of flashing decorative lights should be avoided (when possible), as the luminaries could provide a false impression of a law enforcement vessel patrolling the location.