In the past week at Lake of the Ozarks, there have been two separate nighttime crashes: one left three people dead, the other injured two.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol says alcohol may have been involved in those crashes, so without a doubt, having a sober captain is a crucial piece of water safety (not to mention Boating While Intoxicated is a crime). But navigation on the water at night is certainly unique, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol points out lights are imperative to prevent boat accidents. Light requirements are designed so other boaters are able to see one another and determine the direction they are traveling, but navigation lights will not necessarily help a boater see better at night.

Missouri has a 30 mph nighttime speed limit effective 30 minutes after sunset to one hour before sunrise. Depending on visibility, it may be prudent for boaters to travel much slower than the 30 mph speed limit at night.

Troopers on Lake of the Ozarks regularly have encounters with vessels failing to properly display navigation lights; for example, between May 26 and June 12, 2017, troopers issued approximately 12 citations and 84 warnings to boaters for navigation lights burned out, displaying lights other than prescribed on a watercraft, or not displaying navigation lights.

The required navigation lights differ depending on the type and size of your vessel. State law requires boat operators to display the required navigation lights between sunset and sunrise.

Generally speaking, vessels are required to:

-Display a red light on the port (left) side of the vessel and a green light displayed on the starboard (right) side. The red and green lights should be visible from at least one mile away on a dark, clear night.

-Additionally, an all-around white light must be visible from at least two miles on a dark, clear night.

Section 306.100 RSMo. provides the complete description of vessel navigation lights based on the length of the vessel. Section 306.100 RSMo. can be read in its entirety here:

There are various combinations of lights which meet the requirements by state law. 

It is illegal to display spotlights or docking lights continuously, but those lights may be used briefly to identify hazards in the water.

“If you will be out on the water after dark, check your navigation lights before you leave the dock or ramp,” MSHP Captain Turner reminded. “When boaters understand and obey the law, and vessels are in good operating order, everyone’s experience on the water becomes safer. Do your part to make our waterways safe at night by displaying proper navigation lights and by reducing your speed when visibility is limited.”


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