Navigation Lights

Red Right Returning

The old phrase to help you remember how to work with buoy navigation lights doesn’t always work! 

The concept is simple, red buoys on your right as you return to port, Red Right Returning

The problem is, not all countries work this way, and the opposite setup can also be found.  

Portugal is one such country we have found to use the opposite method. Here, the idea is that the lights to aid navigation are to match your own running lights as you return to port. So your starboard light which is green will match up to the green light on your starboard. Red light on your port. 

It pays to look at the charts before you get into new waters so that you don’t get confused and run aground, misled by the very lights that were intended to keep you safe.  

If you are cruising only in the United States, enjoy the mnemonic of Red Right Returning to keep your aids to navigation in order! 

Passing Like Ships in the Night

We are now 36 nautical miles from Corvo, Azores, and I just spotted my first ship on night watch, for the past 22 days! The 4 other ships we saw were all during the day. Two passes 1.5 nautical miles from us, one 6 nautical miles from us, and the fourth was not visible but showed up on the AIS at 14.6 nautical miles from us.

This ship means much more to us than another vessel, this ship means that we are nearing a port and traffic is starting to coalesce. Those navigation lights signal more than a position and direction, they tell us that humans are over there and human contact awaits us in the very near future.

LED Navigation Lights

While LED Navigation Lights are a bit pricier when compared to regular incandescent bulb navigation lights, they do boast some serious advantages.

The first and most obvious is that they consume very little power when compared to a bulb. An LED Red/Green combination light will consume less than 1 amp while a similar bulb would consume at least 4 amps! Our anchor light consumes 0.1 amps, and our stern light burns up 0.5 amps.

All in all, running a set of LED Navigation Lights can save you some serious amperage and that will help save your batteries for more important amp draws, such as your refrigerator!

Te next huge advantage of LED over bulb is the incredible lifespan of the light. A regular bulb will burn out in a few months of use, especially if it is subjected to heavy weather where it is pounding around. I used to have to carry spare bulbs because it always seemed to burn out in bad weather and necessitate me going up to the tip of the bow in a pitching sea to change the light bulb. LED lights boast a burn time of 50,000 hours. This equates roughly to 5.7 years of illumination!

The last major advantage of LED lights over bulbs is heat. LED lights just stay cooler than a bulb navigation light, and this means that you have less risk of a burn if you lean into the housing while you are working on the deck. I have only seared my forearm on the bow light once to learn that it should not be touched after being on for hours! LED lights, on the other hand, never get that hot, making them safe to be around at all times.

Lastly, the biggest advantage that comes from LED lights isn't really an advantage of one type over another, but more of a special feature you get when you are fully LED: you can leave your lights on for the entire voyage. Yes, we leave our lights on by day. It isn't that we think we are more visible or safer having the lights on by day, but more along the lines of "we forget to turn them off" by day. The sun comes up and we stop seeing the glow of the lights around the boat. Since there is no penalty for keeping them on, we don't pay it much mind. When the sun sets, we never have to worry about turning on the lights, because they are already there.

When we arrive somewhere, we switch the navigation lights off and turn on the anchor light. The same truth hold for it. If we find ourselves on shore later than we expected, we don't worry about our boat being dark in the anchorage, as the anchor light is always on!

I am not saying that you should turn your lights on and forget about them, but with LED, you can and not have any serious consequences as a result. It makes it so that you always have your lights on in the dark and you don't have to think about it to make it happen.