Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Best Place for an Anchor Light?

I don't mind climbing that much, but bulbs burn out or corrosion ruins the connection at the worst times, and I'm not climbing up there a some rolly anchorage at the end of a long day, after dark, not just for a damn bulb. It's happened for the last time.

The rule does not say it has to be at the masthead. It says where it "can best be seen," which in my opinion--and many sailors agree--is absolutely not the masthead. Mostly it just looks like a star, way up there, giving no clue as to how far away it is, or helping anyone to actually see the boat. It can be confused with shore lights from a distance, and in an anchorage full of overlapping boats with lights of variable brightness on masts of variable height, it's just confusing. If you are moving directly towards the anchored boat, the shift of the light against the background is not easily noticed, and on a cloudless night there is no background. Every year high-speed dinghies and runabouts strike boats they didn't see, marked by a single light far above their view line. I have always left a cockpit light on in crowded anchorages (LED), which alone is more visible than that useless masthead light, since it lights up the boat and warns off drunken late-night navigators. That is what I do when the masthead light fails, generally adding a cabin light for good measure if in a crowded place. In most creeks, the cockpit light is enough. It would also be nice if I could reach it or at least lower it to the deck for maintenance.

1. A pole on the stern.
2. On the hard top, forward and inside the shrouds.
3. Add a plug an run something up the flag halyard.
4. Use the steaming light and stern light in combination. That gives 360 white coverage.

Commenters have mentioned that sealed LED will solve the reliability problem. Additionally, LED is the only rational answer when power consumption is considered.

Whatever I do will meet the 2-mile viability standard. No point in tempting liability.

Other ideas? But the masthead location is nonfunctional in my opinion.


rev.  11/24/2016

Several posters on the PDQ Owners Forum suggested the Davis 3300 Mega Light. LED, photo cell, tiny power consumption, plug-in, and deck lighting too. Sounds like the answer.

 Image result for daVIS 3300


  1. Well, we have a masthead light (LED - no burnout problems), but I rely on a solar powered driveway light for visibility in an anchorage... (I see they've gone WAY up in price since I got mine...)

  2. A sealed LED fixture at the masthead and wired using adhesive line heat seal connectors is pretty darned reliable. I also leave a cockpit light on in a crowded anchorage but when you've got a place to yourself I think the masthead is best. Your anchor light moves against the sky for anyone who's underway so it's easily discernable from the starfield.

  3. I agree with the reliability if it were sealed. I've used LED bulbs and it is contact corrosion that caused the failure. Changing the fixture sounds like a pain with it in the air, and it aint' coming down.

    But I can't agree with the "visible in the star field" comment so much. I don't think it actually works that way, not at all. If there are 20 boats out there and it's dark as the inside of a cow, All of them move against the star field in a confusing pattern, some taller and of variable brightness. If coming into an anchorage late with only masthead lights to guide me, I end up using a spot light, which suggest how useless they really are, IMHO. A week ago I decided to go for a midnight kayak excursion. The cockpit light was easy to see, the masthead light I couldn't pick out against the star field very well. I certainly didn't use it as a reference point and can't imagine that any one would, if the boat was better lit below. My rant.

    My other gripe is that this is a 50 year old problem that by far predates LEDs. Running both cockpit and masthead lights years ago was an unacceptable power drain. I've been living with this occasional hassle for too long, and though the next light will be LED, for power consumption reasons alone, it's not going to be up there.

  4. A few more thoughts. I hope there do not make me seem argumentative. That is not my intent. It is understanding.

    1. On a cloudy night there is no star field. Around here, stary nights are not that common.
    2. If I am driving my dinghy my view line is horizontal, not 60-80 feet in the air. I remember when teaching my daughter to drive reminding her that while signs are important, they won't hit you, and to keep here eyes, for the most part, scanning where she was going. A boat near mine was hit near Rockhall by a runabout that didn't see the masthead light. They weren't looking up.
    3. If you are headed directly at a boat with a masthead light there is very little shift until you are too close.
    4. They are hard to see with boats with hard tops. In many cases we can't look up at the required angle, period. They are cut off when we get within 500 feet. Window reflections add to the problem.

  5. Always thought the masthead was a poor location. Rules don't limit us to the masthead or one light. Seems like more lights lower down would be better. I have occasionally seen boats with flashing LEDs at deck level which seems like a very effective solution. Very noticeable, very dynamic in contrast to static shore lights, and of course right in the path of normal vision.

  6. 20 years ago on Lake Michigan/Grand Traverse Bay, the preferred location was a 360 deg lantern in the foretriangle. That's still what I prefer. I have a masthead light; it needs to be converted to LED but it's there and I use it but I still hang the Davis anchor light.