Can You Boat in the Dark?

The simple answer is yes, you can boat in the dark. As long as you’re taking the necessary steps to stay safe and prepared, boating at night can be very enjoyable.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind before you decide to venture out on the water after the sun goes down.

Common Rules for Boating at Night

Each body of water or location may vary, but some common rules for boating at night include:

  • Navigation lights must be on at all times (bow and stern lights)
  • Speed limits may be in effect
  • Prohibited use of PWC’s (a.k.a. jet skis/wave runners)

These are just a few examples and are not universal, so make sure to familiarize yourself with your local boating rules and regulations. Most of the time, as long as you have your navigation lights on and in the right locations on your boat, you are good to go for boating in the dark (legally speaking).

Bow navigation lights allow other boats to interpret which direction you’re going when it’s dark

What to Expect and How to be Prepared

Boating at night is a truly unique experience. You can fish, stargaze, see fireworks shows, or just relax on the water without the hustle and bustle of the daytime.

The most obvious difference between boating in the dark versus in the daytime is your visibility will be significantly limited. Fog may also be a factor, which can make visibility next to zero.

It’s important to be prepared if you plan on boating at night. Some items you should have with you at night include:

If equipped on your boat, radar is an invaluable tool for boating at night

Quick Tips to Boat Safely in the Dark

The same fundamentals for boating safely any other time still apply after dark, but you should strive to be extra cautious. A few things you can do to operate safely at night include:

  • Allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness – limit other lighting except for your navigation lights
  • Know how navigation lights work and how to interpret them
  • Slow down – take your time and don’t go too fast so you can process everything with limited visibility
  • Keep away from commercial shipping lanes
  • Know the body of water you’re on from experience in the daytime before you attempt to boat in the dark
  • Use maps, GPS, and radar to your advantage
  • Keep music and talking down so you can use your ears and be aware of your surroundings
  • Docking lights are not headlights – limit their use as they can obstruct visibility for yourself and other boaters

If you follow these simple tips, boating in the dark will be much less intimidating and ultimately result in a safe and fun experience.

In Summary

If you’ve been wondering if you CAN boat at night, the answer is certainly YES. If you’re on a public body of water, have your navigation lights on and installed in the right places, and obey your local boating laws, boating in the dark is perfectly legal.

If you do plan on adventuring on the water after dark, just make sure to keep in mind what to expect, how to be prepared, and the night boating tips I just outlined above.

Alex Johnson