Docking Lights or Headlights

Whats the big deal about driving with docking lights on?  It’s all about night vision.  Boaters should be aware that docking lights are not head lights and should only be used when you are approaching a dock.  On the open water, these lights harm the night vision of other boaters and interferes with their night vision.

According to Captain Matt Brooks of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency,  “While docking lights are not specifically addressed in Alabama state law, the continuous display of docking lights on a vessel after sunset will interfere with the proper and required display of a vessel’s navigation lights. Red and green lights on a vessel are intended to indicate a vessel’s direction of travel and help determine right of way.  Bright white “headlights” can confuse and blind oncoming traffic, which then makes it more difficult to determine another vessel’s direction of travel at night.  Marine Patrol Troopers around the state will stop vessels for operating after sunset with their docking lights displayed in a continuous manner.”

Lake Martin Boaters member Chris Ray offered this detailed explanation on why using docking lights as headlights is dangerous;
“When you’re in the dark, your eyes adjust to allow you to see with less light. Sit outside for a while in the dark, and you’ll start to notice that you can see more by moonlight and even starlight without using an artificial light source. If you’re boating at night, you want your night vision to be as adapted as possible to see obstructions and other craft on the water. This adjustment to the dark takes some time, about 30 minutes for the full effect.
However, if you look at a white light source, your eyes immediately adjust for the brightness, and you lose your night vision. A quick flash here or there or a dim source won’t diminish it too much, but the longer you look at a white light source, the longer it takes for your night vision to recover. A single boat coming toward you with bright docking lights on can diminish your night vision for several minutes so that you can’t see obstacles.
Most people who have driven or ridden in cars all their lives instinctively think headlights are a good thing that light up the way in front of them. What you don’t notice is that your night vision is diminished, and although you can see the road, you can’t see as well into the areas on each side. Lighting up what’s in front of you will cause a higher contrast so that everything else appears darker. That works okay with a car because you usually only need to see where you’re going, which is clearly marked with lines for you (and others) to stay inside.
With a boat or aircraft, however, you not only need to see in front of you, but also to the sides. If you can’t see what’s to the side, you can’t turn the boat without risking impact with an unseen obstacle. If another boat is running dark, night blindness will prevent you from seeing it approach from the side and risk a collision. You generally don’t need to see cars coming at you with no lights from off road.
If you leave the lights off, however, you actually see more all around you once your night vision has adjusted. And you really don’t lose that much vision in front of you, because the water’s surface doesn’t reflect the light back at you the way a road does. Docking lights do so little on open water that sometimes people may not even realize they’re still on.
But the guy they’re blinding out on the lake will.
To reiterate, this is all about *night* vision. There’s no reason to get upset about people who have their docking lights on when there’s still daylight. They’re not hurting anybody until the sun goes down.
And one other note: Whereas white light diminishes night vision, red light doesn’t, at least not to the same degree. That’s why pilots use red flashlights in their cockpits at night, and why tail lights and brake lights on cars are red. Keep that in mind if you use a flashlight on your boat. You can night blind yourself with a white flashlight, but putting a red lens on it will reduce your recovery time considerably. A lot of nice flashlights (like Maglites) have lens kits readily available for this reason.”

If you are heading out on a night cruise be sure to check that you didn’t accidentally turn on your docking lights!

Lake Martin Real Estate AgentsLake Martin Real Estate AgentsLake Martin Real Estate Agents

3 thoughts on “Docking Lights or Headlights”

  1. Yeah and that’s why I hit a drifting boat one night that was a dark gray in color that you could barely see up close nonetheless traveling at speed down the lake.. I didn’t even know what I had hit until I had came to a stand my motor was inside the other boat. And no I was Not going fast either, only a quarter throttle.. So no lights is stupid if you ask me…. Navigation lights are not gonna prevent accidents like I had…

  2. I am in favor of MORE lights on a boat. And for the same reason Cameron expressed. Too wrecks and deaths have happened on Lake Martin. More lights would make boats more visible. And since the baby boomers own the majority of homes and boats on our lake, we, need all the help we can get!

  3. First time I saw a tugboat pushing barges at night on the Missouri River at first I thought it was a low flying UFO rounding the bend of the river his light beam projected for miles but we didn’t crash, you know why, it’s simple, If the light beam is shining on you, that means the boat is coming towards you. The boat follows the light beam. This is not hard to figure out

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *