June 6th, 2005
Danielís Bay, Nuku Hiva
An open letter to the cruising community concerning setting a proper light while
on the hook
In my freshman (rookie) season of cruising Iíve been very surprised to discover
a widespread trend of not setting a proper anchor light. Originally I found this
custom very surprising since, a trait, very common among cruisers Iíve meet, is
the desire (at least externally) to be known as someone who always does
everything ďthe right way.Ē
Spend a night in nearly any anchorage in Mexico or Polynesia and count the
number of anchor lights set at 2200. Most nights one would be hard pressed to
find even a quarter of the boats with lights set and of that number only half
would be visible beyond half a mile (when not occluded). What does a highly
visible light constitute? Ideally one that can be seen at two miles out and as
close to 360 degrees as possible. Iím deliberately skipping any reference to the
COLREGs since everyone knows these inland and international rules already.
Instead Iím speaking in terms of what is most useful to other cruisers and the
vessels which most commonly come into contact with us.
For most small boats a good anchor light is already installed at the time of
purchase. To use it one has to simply flip a switch at dusk and regular
maintenance involves a trip up and down the mast now and again.
So what is it that hinders or altogether precludes so many normally
ďresponsibleĒ sailors from setting this light? The worst answer I can imagine to
this question, which is also the most commons is: power consumption. Cruisers
donít want to splurge amp-hours on something that doesnít immediately add to the
overall enjoyment of our lifestyle. In nearly every case Iíve heard this
response, the vessel in question had at least one reefer and a full SSB rig.
These yachts are already very much in the habit of using high tech equipment
which pulls in a ton of amps on a daily basis (100+). So why not set a 1.5 amp
light for 12 hours at a cost of around 16 amps more? The cabin fans most likely
consume more power! If it can be determined that the damage caused by collision
at night occurred because there was no light on your vessel, it will almost
certainly be the fault of the negligent skipper. Try sorting this one out in
Mexico! And have you checked your yachtís insurance policy on this point lately?
There have been real strides made in the past couple of years in the arena of
LED lights for marine use. These lights draw only a fraction of an amp. Many
masthead anchor light models have even started to incorporate tri-color, strobe
and photo-sensor/auto-on features. My only complaint with these lights is a
tendency to resemble a very bright, blue star. However, these lights
(specifically the ones available from Orca Green Marine at www.ogmarine.com) are
now USCG approved as they have been tested for the two-mile visibility
Financial and legal liabilities aside I also find this issue troublesome given
the strong sense of ďalways help the other guy out; itíll be you somedayĒ in our
community. Who hasnít carefully plotted a passage for daylight arrival only to
encounter light winds halfway across and as a result had to stand into
a strange harbor at midnight? Itís times like these that seeing those gently
rolling amber lights to guide you in, and let you know youíre where you thought
you were, really helps.
One final rant; please donít think that your Davis Mega-Light, hung from
underneath the dodger in the cockpit is a good substitute for an anchor light.
The Mega-Light is a great product, which does function extremely well if hung
either at the top of the mast or in the fore triangle off the forestay (in the
international custom). However, hanging the light under the dodger provides very
limited visibility for upwind vessels and the low height diminishes the range of
If all this isnít enough, just consider the alternative Ė waking up in the
middle of the night and seeing a trawler plow right through your saloon (and the
collision was your fault).
s/v Mico Verde of Seattle