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08/14/17 What You Need to Know About Using USCG Approved Lights in Local Lakes and Ponds

Article - August 14, 2017 By

Class I Div 2 Pivoting Light - 4 Foot 2 Lamp - Offshore Fluorescent Rig Light - Meets USCG Specs

What You Need to Know About Using USCG Approved Lights in Local Lakes and Ponds

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) oversees and manages navigable and territorial waters in the country, based on 33 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) - Navigation and Navigable Waters. This includes internal waters in the United states that are both subject and not subject to tidal influence, as well as bodies of water used for commerce.

Recently, some groups have reported the USCG ticketing boaters at local lakes and ponds for not utilizing USCG-approved equipment, despite not being offshore. Considering that most USCG guidelines are directed towards personal floatation devices (PFDs), which must be at least a Type I, II, III or V USCG-approved PFD, distress signals and sound producing devices, why is the USCG cracking down on lights?

2015 Safety Alert

US-based boaters raised concerns in online forums about receiving tickets for not using USCG-approved navigation lights. Some individuals believe that authorities aren’t particularly interested in monitoring the type of boat lights being used in small bodies of water – unless there’s a good reason.

For example, if the area received complaints due to noise or congestion, authorities may indirectly push boaters away by enforcing citations over regulations they know locals don’t typically observe thoroughly. In the case of lights, USCG officials can scrutinize and pick apart a boat’s lighting system to check if the components meet USCG standards.

Interestingly, boat lighting systems are common focal points for this practice. The application of USCG approved luminaries was reinforced in a 2015 November Safety Alert issued by the USCG. In the document, officials reiterated that boats must utilize USCG approved navigation lights that adhere to UL 1104, set forth in the CFR.

Incidents and Concerns

New lighting systems, including LEDs, decorative rope lights and underwater luminaries, were the highlight of the Safety Alert. The USCG is of the view that some of these products fail to adhere to provisions in American Boat & Yacht Council Standard A-16, based on specifications in 33 CFR 183.810 and 46 CFR 25.10-3.

Moreover, officials are worried about unapproved, decorative lights overpowering navigation lights. The USCG referenced a 2009 incident in the memo, wherein a tour boat installed Christmas lights around the hull of the craft. The vessel was involved in a collision, which forced the USCG to issue Safety Alert 09-09, to warn boaters not to use holiday lights (usually not approved by the USCG) on boats, unless they are participating in a parade or the unit is docked.

Compared to USCG-approved lights, unapproved variants are usually cheaper to acquire and are less reliable, with less intense illuminative properties.

Purchasing USCG-approved Lights

The most straightforward solution to these issues is simple: use USCG-approved boat lights. Assuming one isn’t violating other USCG regulations, authorities won’t be able to book citations against USCG-approved luminaries – as long as they are installed and are being used properly.

In most cases, the type of navigation lighting system depends on the type and size of boat, as well as the category that the body of water falls into, when referenced according to USCG standards. Another step to ensure full compliance is to minimize decorative lighting on vessels. Overall, it seems that USCG patrollers are persistently concerned about obstructing or overpowering navigation lights.

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