To Anchor Light or Not to Anchor Light?

Should it even be a question?
Musings by Capt. Jack Findlater, IE

Captain Jack FindlaterI had just finished tying up after an afternoon sail and was settled in the cockpit having a sun downer, when I overheard an obviously very disturbed sailor walking down the dock with a friend. He was saying,

not only was that officer rude last night, he gave me a citation for not having an anchor light displayed, even though I was in the city anchorage. I specifically remember my sailing instructor telling the class that an anchor light was not required in a designated anchorage. Iâm not paying this fine, Iâm going to beat this one in court and show that SOB...

Although pleased that this was not one of my former students, it did give me pause to consider how many times I had heard similar confused application of the exception to the anchor light requirement of Rule 30, Inland Navigation Rules. This LIMITED EXCEPTION specified in paragraph (g) of Rule 30 (Inland) actually reads,

(g) A vessel of less than 20 meters in length, when at anchor in a special anchorage area designated by the Secretary, shall not be required to exhibit the lights and shapes required by this rule. [Underlined emphasis added]

NOTE: (As an aside, the fog signal requirement of Rule 35 is similarly waived for these anchorages. The following discussion rationale applies to both waivers, although it focuses on the light because it directly applies to smaller vessels.)

So, if the city anchorage mentioned above was a special anchorage area designated by the Secretary (of Homeland Security) there should have been no citation. Where did this unhappy sailor go wrong? It was in omitting the designated by the Secretary phrase from his understanding of the exception. Just because an anchorage exists, and may even be defined and administered by a state or local government, that anchorage does not automatically become one of these designated Special Anchorage Areas. My outraged friend will learn this significant difference at his hearing, after which he may be a little wiser and surely will be a little poorer.

To find out where such anchorages exist, go to The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33 Navigation and Navigable Waters, Part 110, Anchorage Regulations (CITE: 33CFR110.1) [available free at and most public libraries]. Here in Subpart A, Special Anchorage Areas, there are 96 listed locations with very specific boundaries described. Some, like 110.30 Boston Harbor, Mass and adjacent waters have multiple individual anchorage locations specified and supplementary rules and regulations so there are a few more individual sites than the 96 major listings. Even so, considering all of the possible places to anchor in the U.S., there are not a lot of these special anchorages as a percent of the total anchorages.

Additionally, in Subpart B, 33CFR110, there is a listing of 65 Anchorage Grounds each with very specific locations and supplemental restrictions and instructions (e.g.: 110.206 Detroit River where a 24 hour anchor watch is required and 110.40 Buzzards Bay, et al where, among other things, anchored vessels must maintain the capability to get underway within 30 minutes). In these Anchorage Grounds the anchor light requirement is not waived.

What the words in the CFR exception do not say is that you are prohibited from displaying such a light. As a result, while I do mention the limited exception when I teach the anchor light requirements, I also challenge the students to tell me where such an anchorage is located. I also ask them to give me a good reason for not displaying an anchor light, at the same time we discuss the exception. So far no one has been able to give me a good reason for not displaying an anchor light at all times when at anchor, required or not. (Hopefully, that technique will keep my students from the fate of the fellow on the dock.)

I do that because I believe that when we teach The Rules we incur a serious obligation to make sure that our students understand the importance of the safety aspects of what they do while at anchor as well as underway. Here, in Florida, we have had a number of fatalities in the last several years directly attributed to the lack of an anchor light and a resulting collision on a dark night. I believe it is dangerous and foolish to anchor without ensuring your vessel is easily visible to others. Thatâs why, when I anchor my personal vessel, it looks like we are lit up for the boat parade. I try to instill that same sense of why not, whatâs the down side of doing more for safety, even if not absolutely required? in my students.

I would like to suggest the information above about these Anchorage Regulations is an appropriate local addition to the Bare Boat Charter (ASA 104), Coastal Navigation (ASA 105) and Advanced Coastal Cruising (ASA 106) curricula. At a minimum, a handout with the web site and a homework suggestion would suffice. Checking these lists for anchorage regulations should become as much a part of routine pre-trip planning as checking the local Notice to Mariners is to avoid chart problems.

It seems to me that the biggest errors are not made by those who donât know, but by those who only know part of the correct answer. Whatâs the old line? I only know enough to be dangerous. Letâs all work together to make sure our students donât use that line.

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