Chapter 9 - Avoid collisions

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IMPORTANT: Throughout this guide, including in this chapter, the information provided is general and not all situations are included. If you operate a vessel, you need to know how different vessel types, such as fishing vessels and seaplanes, will act or react in all situations. As a result, you must be aware of all Collision Regulations requirements, not just those applicable to your vessel.

Navigation Lights

Navigation lights help prevent collisions by making your vessel and its direction of travel more visible to others. Vessels near you will make decisions based on the information your lights provide. The navigation lights on other vessels can help you tell the direction they are moving or whether they are at anchor or engaged in some other activity.

Navigation lights must meet Collision Regulations requirements. For example, you must:

  • show navigation lights from sunset to sunrise and during periods of reduced visibility;
  • make sure your vessel is equipped with the proper lights for its size and purpose; and
  • verify that the lights are correctly mounted.

Power-Driven Vessels

Power-driven vessels up to 50 metres long must exhibit a masthead light forward, sidelights and a sternlight when underway. A second masthead light may also be exhibited abaft of (behind) and higher than the forward one. Power-driven vessels less than 20 metres long may have the sidelights placed in front of the forward masthead light (see Figure 9-1).

Power-driven vessels less than 12 metres long may, in addition to sidelights, exhibit an all-round white light instead of the masthead light and the sternlight (see Figure 9-2).

Power-driven vessels less than 7 metres long that can travel no faster than 7 knots may exhibit an all-round white light, and sidelights if practicable, instead of the lights required for power-driven vessels.

Figure 9-1 Power driven vessels – Examples

Figure 9-2 Power driven vessels – Vessels less than 12 m

Sailing Vessels

A sailing vessel is any vessel under sail provided that if propelling machinery is fitted, it is not being used.

A sailing vessel under way must exhibit sidelights and a sternlight (see Figure 9-3) or, if less than 20 metres long, a combined lantern carried at or near the top of the mast (see Figure 9-4).

A sailing vessel may exhibit at or near the top of the mast, two all-round lights in a vertical line: the upper one red and the lower one green. These lights are shown along with the sidelights and sternlight, but not with the combined lantern (see Figure 9-5).

Sailing Vessels Propelled by Motor

A vessel under sail is considered to be a power-driven vessel if it is also being propelled by a motor, and must display the lights required by the Collision Regulations for power-driven vessels, and must also display a day shape that is cone-shaped with its point downwardsChapter 17 (see Figure 9-6).

Figure 9-3
Sidelights and sternlight

Figure 9-4
Combined sidelight and sternlight



Figure 9-5
Vertical mounted all-round lights

Figure 9-6
Conical shape point downwards



Figure 9-7
Anchor ball


Anchored Vessels

Vessels that are at anchor and are less than 50 metres long must exhibit, depending on the time of day and visibility, an all-round white light or one ball where it can best be seen (see Figure 9-7).

Vessels less than 7 metres long are not required to exhibit anchor lights or shapes when anchored – unless in or near a narrow channel, fairway or anchorage, or where other vessels normally pass.

Vessels Towing and Under Tow

Tugs may be towing barges or other vessels on a long towline astern. Often, the length of the tow is so great the towline hangs below the surface of the water and is nearly invisible. If a small craft were to strike the submerged towline, it could capsize and be run down by the barge.

Never pass between a tug and its tow. To avoid this and to keep from getting caught on the towline (or worse), you must be alert for the special shapes and lights displayed by vessels towing barges, other vessels or objects. The towing vessel is usually more visible than its tow. The tow's navigation lights do not include masthead lights and are often much dimmer than those of the towing vessel.

In the case of a power-driven vessel towing another vessel from its stern, the towing vessel must exhibit the following:

  • Sidelights and sternlight.
  • Towing light (yellow light with the same characteristics as the sternlight).
  • Two masthead lights in a vertical line – three of these lights if the tow (length of tow cable plus object being towed) exceeds 200 metres.
  • A diamond shape where it can best be seen, if the tow exceeds 200 metres – day signal.

In the case of the vessel being towed, it must exhibit the following:

  • Sidelights and sternlight.
  • A diamond shape where it can best be seen, if the tow exceeds 200 metres.
  • If it is impractical for the vessel being towed to exhibit the lights stated above, it must have one all-around white light at each of the fore and aft ends.

Navigation Lights Maintenance

Navigation lights must be kept in good condition. Always check that they are working before leaving the dock. Be sure to carry spare bulbs and fuses of the proper size and power.

It is a good idea to include navigation lights as part of your regular maintenance program. Most lights use a rubber or foam gasket to seal against moisture. If you see condensation inside the lens, it means the gasket leaks. Inspect the gasket for proper placement, splits or cracks, and replace as needed. Spray gaskets with silicone and electrical connections with a corrosion protector to extend your fixtures' life. Be sure to clean thoroughly the light, reflector and lens when needed.

Sound Signalling Equipment

The Small Vessel Regulations require that you carry a sound signalling device or appliance to alert other vessels to your presence or your intentions. Sound signals are necessary in certain meeting, crossing, overtaking and emergency situations.All vessels must sound the appropriate signal (described in the Collision Regulations) during periods of fog, heavy rain or other conditions of reduced visibility.

A vessel 12 metres long or more must carry a sound signalling appliance meeting the requirements of the Collision Regulations, such as a horn or whistle that has an audible range of at least 0.5 nautical miles (1 nautical mile if the vessel is more than 20 metres long) and that can give a "prolonged blast" 4 to 6 seconds long.

Vessels less than 12 metres long can use any efficient sound signalling device – such as a pealess whistle or a compressed gas or electric horn – that can make a sound for 4 to 6 seconds and that can be heard within a range of 0.5 nautical miles.

Radar Reflectors

A passive radar reflector can help a radar-equipped vessel detect your vessel. Vessels less than 20 metres long or built mostly from non-metal materials must have a radar reflector mounted above the superstructure, when possible not less than 4 metres above the water. The reflector must be able to perform under the range of foreseeable environmental conditions.

The radar reflector requirement does not apply if your vessel is very small or if it operates only:

  • in limited traffic during daylight hours when the visibility is good; or
  • where no vessels use radar.

Refer to Ship Safety Bulletin 07/2008: The Importance of Properly Fitting an Effective Radar Reflector on Small or Non-Metallic Vessels for more information on the need to carefully select and install radar reflectors.

Remember: Having a radar reflector simply helps you be seen. You still have to keep a proper lookout for other vessels.

More Information


17. Vessels less than 12 metres in length are not required to exhibit the day shape in Canadian waters of a roadstead (a partly sheltered anchorage), harbour, river, lake or inland waterway. ^


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