Administrative Code

Virginia Administrative Code
Title 4. Conservation and Natural Resources
Agency 15. Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
8/3/2020

Chapter 420. Watercraft: Navigation Lights and Shapes

4VAC15-420-10. Application.

The navigation lights requirements in this chapter shall be complied with in all weather and from sunset to sunrise on the public waters of the Commonwealth. During such times no other lights shall be exhibited, except such lights as cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in this chapter or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout. The lights prescribed by this chapter shall, if carried, also be exhibited from sunrise to sunset in restricted visibility and may be exhibited in all other circumstances when it is deemed necessary. The lights specified in this chapter shall comply with U.S. Coast Guard specifications.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-20. Definitions.

For the purpose of this chapter, except where the context otherwise requires, the following words and terms mean:

"All-round light" means a light showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 360°.

"Flashing light" means a light flashing at regular intervals at a frequency of 120 flashes or more per minute.

"Inland waters" means the navigable waters of the Commonwealth shoreward of the navigational demarcation lines established by the U.S. Coast Guard dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States.

"Length" and "breadth" of a vessel mean its length overall and greatest breadth.

"Masthead light" means a white light placed over the fore and aft centerline of the vessel showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 225° and so fixed as to show the light from right ahead to 22.5° abaft the beam on either side of the vessel, except that on a vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length, the masthead light shall be placed as nearly as practicable to the fore and aft centerline of the vessel.

"Power-driven vessel" means a motorboat or any vessel propelled by machinery.

"Restricted visibility" means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms, or any other similar causes.

"Sailing vessel" means any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being used.

"Seaplane" includes any aircraft designed to maneuver on the water.

"Secretary" means the secretary of the department in which the U. S. Coast Guard is operating.

"Sidelights" mean a green light on the starboard (right) side and a red light on the port (left) side, each showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 112.5° and so fixed as to show the light from right ahead to 22.5° abaft the beam on its respective side. On a vessel of less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length, the side lights may be combined in one lantern carried on the fore and aft centerline of the vessel, except that on a vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length, the sidelights when combined in one lantern shall be placed as nearly as practicable to the fore and aft centerline of the vessel.

"Special flashing light" means a yellow light flashing at regular intervals at a frequency of 50 to 70 flashes per minute, placed as far forward and as nearly as practicable on the fore and aft centerline of the tow and showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of not less than 180° nor more than 225° and so fixed as to show the light from right ahead to abeam and no more than 22.5° abaft the beam on either side of the vessel.

"Sternlight" means a white light placed as nearly as practicable at the stern showing an unbroken light over an arc of the horizon of 135° and so fixed as to show the light 67.5° from right aft on each side of the vessel.

"Towing light" means a yellow light having the same characteristics as the "sternlight" defined above.

"Underway" means that a vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.

"Vessel" means every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, but does not include surfboards, tubes, swimming rafts, inflatable toys and similar devices routinely used as water toys or swimming aids.

"Vessel engaged in fishing" means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus that does not restrict maneuverability.

"Vessels in sight of one another" means one can be observed visually from the other.

"Vessel not under command" means a vessel that through some exceptional circumstance is unable to maneuver as required by these rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.

"Vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver" means a vessel that from the nature of its work is restricted in its ability to maneuver as required in this chapter and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel; vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver include, but are not limited to:

1. A vessel engaged in laying, servicing, or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable, or pipeline.

2. A vessel engaged in dredging, surveying, or underwater operations.

3. A vessel engaged in replenishment or transferring persons, provisions, or cargo while underway.

4. A vessel engaged in a towing operation such as severely restricts the towing vessel and its tow in their ability to deviate from their course.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-30. Visibility of lights.

The lights prescribed in this chapter shall have an intensity as specified by the U.S. Coast Guard, so as to be visible at the following minimum ranges:

1. In a vessel of 164 feet (50 meters) or more in length: a masthead light, 6 miles; a sidelight, 3 miles; a sternlight, 3 miles; a towing light, 3 miles; a white, red, green or yellow all-round light, 3 miles; and a special flashing light, 2 miles.

2. In a vessel of 39.4 feet (12 meters) or more in length but less than 164 feet (50 meters) in length: a masthead light, 5 miles; except that where the length of the vessel is less than 65.6 feet (20 meters), 3 miles; a sidelight, 2 miles; a sternlight, 2 miles; a towing light, 2 miles; a white, red, green or yellow all-round light, 2 miles; and a special flashing light, 2 miles.

3. In a vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length: a masthead light, 2 miles; a sidelight, 1 mile; a sternlight, 2 miles; a towing light, 2 miles; a white, red, green or yellow all-round light, 2 miles; and a special flashing light, 2 miles.

4. In an inconspicuous, partly submerged vessel or object being towed: a white all-round light, 3 miles.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-40. Power-driven vessels underway.

A. A power-driven vessel underway shall exhibit:

1. A masthead light forward;

2. A second masthead light abaft of and higher than the forward one; except that a vessel of less than 164 feet (50 meters) in length shall not be obliged to exhibit such light but may do so;

3. Sidelights; and

4. A sternlight.

B. An air-cushion vessel when operating in the nondisplacement mode shall, in addition to the lights prescribed in subsection A of this section, exhibit an all-round flashing yellow light where it can best be seen.

C. A power-driven vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length may, in lieu of the lights prescribed in subsection A of this section, exhibit an all-round white light and sidelights.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-50. Towing and pushing.

A. A power-driven vessel when towing astern shall exhibit:

1. Instead of the lights prescribed in 4VAC15-420-40 A 1 or 2, two masthead lights in a vertical line. When the length of the tow, measuring from the stern of the towing vessel to the after end of the tow exceeds 656.2 feet (200 meters), three such lights in a vertical line;

2. Sidelights;

3. A sternlight;

4. A towing light in a vertical line above the sternlight; and

5. When the length of the tow exceeds 656.2 feet (200 meters), a diamond shape where it can best be seen.

B. When a pushing vessel and a vessel being pushed ahead are rigidly connected in a composite unit, they shall be regarded as a power-driven vessel and exhibit the lights prescribed in 4VAC15-420-40.

C. A power-driven vessel when pushing ahead or towing alongside, except as required by subsections A and B of this section, shall exhibit:

1. Instead of the light prescribed in 4VAC15-420-40 A 1 or 2, two masthead lights in a vertical line;

2. Sidelights; and

3. Two towing lights in a vertical line.

D. A power-driven vessel to which subsection A or C of this section apply shall also comply with 4VAC15-420-40 A 1 and 2.

E. A vessel or object other than those referred to in subsection G of this section being towed shall exhibit:

1. Sidelights;

2. A sternlight; and

3. When the length of the tow exceeds 656.2 feet (200 meters), a diamond shape where it can best be seen.

F. Provided that any number of vessels being towed alongside or pushed in a group shall be lighted as one vessel, except as provided in subdivision 3 of this subsection:

1. A vessel being pushed ahead, not being part of a composite unit, shall exhibit at the forward end, sidelights and a special flashing light;

2. A vessel being towed alongside shall exhibit a sternlight and at the forward end, sidelights and a special flashing light; and

3. When vessels are towed alongside on both sides of the towing vessels, a sternlight shall be exhibited on the stern of the outboard vessel on each side of the towing vessel, and a single set of sidelights as far forward and as far outboard as is practicable, and a single special flashing light.

G. An inconspicuous, partly submerged vessel or object being towed shall exhibit:

1. If it is less than 82 feet (25 meters) in breadth, one all-round white light at or near each end;

2. If it is 82 feet (25 meters) or more in breadth, four all-round white lights to mark its length and breadth;

3. If it exceeds 328.1 feet (100 meters) in length, additional all-round white lights between the lights prescribed in subdivisions 1 and 2 of this subsection so that the distance between the lights shall not exceed 328.1 feet (100 meters), provided that any vessels or objects being towed alongside each other shall be lighted as one vessel or object;

4. A diamond shape at or near the aftermost extremity of the last vessel or object being towed; and

5. The towing vessel may direct a searchlight in the direction of the tow to indicate its presence to an approaching vessel.

H. Where from any sufficient cause it is impracticable for a vessel or object being towed to exhibit the lights prescribed in subsection A or G of this section, all possible measures shall be taken to light the vessel or object towed or at least to indicate the presence of the unlighted vessel or object.

I. Where from any sufficient cause it is impracticable for a vessel not normally engaged in towing operations to display the lights prescribed by subsection A or C of this section, such vessel shall not be required to exhibit those lights when engaged in towing another vessel in distress or otherwise in need of assistance. All possible measures shall be taken to indicate the nature of the relationship between the towing vessel and the vessel being assisted. A searchlight may be used to illuminate the tow.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-60. Sailing vessels underway and vessels under oars.

A. A sailing vessel underway shall exhibit:

1. Sidelights; and

2. A sternlight.

B. In a sailing vessel of less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length, the lights prescribed in subsection A of this section may be combined in one lantern carried at or near the top of the mast where it can best be seen.

C. A sailing vessel underway may, in addition to the lights prescribed in subsection A of this section, exhibit at or near the top of the mast, where they can best be seen, two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being red and the lower green, but these lights shall not be exhibited in conjunction with the combined lantern permitted by subsection B of this section.

D. A sailing vessel of less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length shall, if practicable, exhibit the lights prescribed in subsection A or B of this section, but if not, shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light that shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

E. A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed above for sailing vessels, but if not, shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light that shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

F. A vessel proceeding under sail when also being propelled by machinery shall exhibit forward where it can best be seen a conical shape, apex downward. A vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length is not required to exhibit this shape, but may do so.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-70. Vessels fishing with apparatus that restricts maneuverability.

A. A vessel engaged in fishing with nets, trawls or other fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability (as defined in 4VAC15-420-20), whether underway or at anchor, shall exhibit only the lights and shapes prescribed in this section. A vessel when engaged in trawling, by which is meant the dragging through the water of a dredge net or other apparatus used as a fishing appliance, shall exhibit:

1. Two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being green and the lower white, or a shape consisting of two cones with their apexes together in a vertical line one above the other;

2. A masthead light abaft of and higher than the all-round green light; a vessel of less than 164 feet (50 meters) in length shall not be obliged to exhibit such a light but may do so; and

3. When making way through the water, in addition to the lights prescribed in this section, sidelights and a sternlight.

B. A vessel engaged in fishing with nets, trawls or other fish apparatus that restricts maneuverability, other than trawling, shall exhibit:

1. Two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being red and the lower white, or a shape consisting of two cones with apexes together in a vertical line one above the other;

2. When there is outlying gear extending more than 492.1 feet (150 meters) horizontally from the vessel, an all-round white light or a cone apex upward in the direction of the gear; and

3. When making way through the water, in addition to the lights prescribed in this section, sidelights and a sternlight.

C. Vessels engaged in fishing with nets, trawls or other fish apparatus that restricts maneuverability in close proximity to other vessels engaged in fishing may exhibit the additional signals established by the U.S. Coast Guard.

D. A vessel when not engaged in fishing with nets, trawls or other fish apparatus that restricts maneuverability shall not exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in this rule but only those prescribed for a vessel of its length.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-80. Vessels not under command or restricted in their ability to maneuver.

A. A vessel not under command shall exhibit:

1. Two all-round red lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen;

2. Two balls or similar shapes in a vertical line where they can best be seen; and

3. When making way through the water, sidelights and a sternlight in addition to the lights prescribed in this section.

B. A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver shall exhibit:

1. Three all-round lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen. The highest and lowest of these lights shall be red and the middle light shall be white;

2. Three shapes in a vertical line where they can best be seen. The highest and lowest of these shapes shall be balls and the middle one a diamond;

3. When making way through the water, masthead lights, sidelights and a sternlight, in addition to the lights prescribed in subdivision 1 of this subsection; and

4. When at anchor, in addition to the lights or shapes prescribed in subdivisions 1 and 2 of this subsection, the light, lights or shapes prescribed in 4VAC15-420-100.

C. A vessel engaged in a towing operation that severely restricts the towing vessel and its tow in their ability to deviate from their course shall, in addition to the lights or shapes prescribed in subdivisions B 1 and B 2 of this section, exhibit the lights or shape prescribed in 4VAC15-420-50.

D. A vessel engaged in dredging or underwater operations, when restricted in its ability to maneuver, shall exhibit the lights and shapes prescribed in subdivisions B 1, B 2, and B 3 of this section and shall in addition, when an obstruction exists, exhibit:

1. Two all-round red lights or two balls in a vertical line to indicate the side on which the obstruction exists;

2. Two all-round green lights or two diamonds in a vertical line to indicate the side on which another vessel may pass; and

3. When at anchor, the lights or shape prescribed by this section, instead of the lights or shapes prescribed in 4VAC15-420-100 for anchored vessels.

E. Whenever the size of a vessel engaged in diving operations makes it impracticable to exhibit all lights and shapes prescribed in subsection D of this section, the following shall instead be exhibited:

1. Three all-round lights in a vertical line where they can best be seen. The highest and lowest of these lights shall be red and the middle light shall be white.

2. A rigid replica of the international code flag "A" not less than 3.3 feet (1 meter) in height. Measures shall be taken to ensure its all-round visibility.

F. A vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length, except when engaged in diving operations, is not required to exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in this section.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-90. Pilot vessels.

A. A vessel engaged on pilotage duty shall exhibit:

1. At or near the masthead, two all-round lights in a vertical line, the upper being white and the lower red;

2. When underway, in addition, sidelights and a sternlight; and

3. When at anchor, in addition to the lights prescribed in subdivision 1 of this subsection, the anchor light, lights, or shape prescribed in 4VAC15-420-100 for anchored vessels.

B. A pilot vessel when not engaged on pilotage duty shall exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed for a vessel of its length.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-100. Anchored vessels and vessels aground.

A. A vessel at anchor shall exhibit where it can best be seen:

1. In the fore part, an all-round white light or one ball; and

2. At or near the stern and at a lower level than the light prescribed in subdivision 1 of this subsection, an all-round white light.

B. A vessel of less than 164 feet (50 meters) in length may exhibit an all-round white light where it can best be seen instead of the lights prescribed in subsection A of this section.

C. A vessel at anchor may, and a vessel of 238.1 feet (100 meters) or more in length shall, also use the available working or equivalent lights to illuminate its decks.

D. A vessel aground shall exhibit the lights prescribed in subsection A or B of this section and in addition, if practicable, where they can best be seen:

1. Two all-round red lights in a vertical line; and

2. Three balls in a vertical line.

E. A vessel of less than 23 feet (7 meters) in length, when at anchor, not in or near a narrow channel, fairway, anchorage, or where other vessels normally navigate, shall not be required to exhibit the lights or shape prescribed in subsections A and B of this section.

F. A vessel of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) in length when aground shall not be required to exhibit the lights or shapes prescribed in subdivisions D 1 and D 2 of this section.

G. A vessel of less than 65.6 feet (20 meters) in length, when at anchor in a special anchorage area designated by the secretary, shall not be required to exhibit the anchor lights and shapes required by this section.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-110. Seaplanes.

Where it is impracticable for a seaplane to exhibit lights and shapes of the characteristics or in the positions prescribed in the rules of this part, it shall exhibit lights and shapes as closely similar in characteristics and position as is possible.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-420-120. Penalties.

Except as otherwise provided by statute, any person who violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor for each such violation as provided by § 29.1-746 of the Code of Virginia.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.



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