Life Gear LED Glow Sticks, a nav light solution for tenders?

Life_Gear_200hour_Glow_Stick.jpg

As much as it bugs me that 34 out of 35 sailboats in the Northeast don’t use radar reflectors, I am entirely willing to cut us all some slack for not using navigation lights on dinghies and tenders. But while a serious nav light install is hard to pull off on small boats, I’m having surprisingly good luck with the inexpensive 200 Hour LED Glow Sticks pictured above…

The USCG regulations, page 28, state that if your vessel is less than 23 feet in length and its maximum speed does not exceed 7 knots, then it may display an all-around white light and, if possible, sidelights, instead of the lights prescribed previously (e.g. typical steaming and nav lights).

aqua-signal_series_23.jpg

Ever try to do that, put up an all-around light like an Aqua Signal Series 23 in your dinghy or tender?  Blinded, yes?



It doesn’t take too long to realize that what works better is a flashlight you can just shine at any approaching vessel or your vessel to increase visibility, and when you’re not doing that, the flashlight is then available to shine ahead to see where you’re going. There are, of course, downsides. My night vision is trashed by any flashlight in my own boat, not to mention when another boat flashlights me attempting to figure out what direction I am going in.  

What I have been going with instead is a flashlight at the ready and the nifty Life Gear 200 Hour Glow Sticks pictured at top as navigation lights. They come with lanyards that are easy to attach to the tender; their batteries purportedly last for two hundred hours, and they’re surprisingly resilient to salt-water and UV light.

I say surprising as I had not expected a whole season out of them, but I am now into season two. At $5 each — at Home Depot, for instance, or by the 12 pack at Amazon
— I have a set of three including a red & green pictured below, and blue/white light attached to my engine as a stern light.

Stay safe my friends.

– Dan Corcoran is an avid sailor and leads ServiceSPAN, a back office work center automation technology company.

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17 Responses

  1. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    A quick disclaimer that the product is not as bright as it appears in this picture, they are only a fraction (less than 20% ?) of the brightness of an aqua signal or a USCG certified navigation light.
    In this picture the front of the tender is lit up by the strobe on the camera, and the water around it was not. If there was actually enough light to read the numbers on the tender, the water would be reflecting light also, and the LEDs in these lights would not be visable.

  2. Bob Mueller says:

    Dan, the regulation that you cited (33 CFR 83) is for international rules only. If you are inside the demarcation line, then you are subject to the inland rules. Under the inland rules you must display red & green sidelights (in addition to an all-round white) on all power driven vessels. If you are a hand powered vessel, then you can get away with just using a flashlight under both inland and international rules.
    Keep in mind that the sidelights must be visible for 1 mile, and your white all-round masthead light must be visible for 2 miles. You must also have the red and green side lights positioned so that they are only visible 22.5° abaft of your beam. And you can only see both side lights when looking directly off the bow. Is this arrangement critically important on a dinghy? Probably not. While we can debate whether your proposed dinghy lights are effective, I don’t think there is any debate about their legality. I don’t believe they are legal under the rules.

  3. Patrick Harman says:

    I realize that the LED glow lights are not legal. However, as a mariner any light is better than no light. For sail boaters using a flash light on your mainsail is the best way to inform other boaters that you exist. Illuminating the mainsail with a flashlight is not officially recognized as a navigation light, but it sure is effective.
    Anything that makes boating safer gets my vote gets my vote. I particularly light inexpensive concepts, even if only partially acceptable.
    Pat Harman

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Bob, Far from me to debate legality but I can tell you that here in Camden and nearby ports I have almost never seen a tender under 15 feet running at night with proper sidelights. And rarely with any lights at all. Most do the flashlight thing, as Dan describes.
    When I recently spent a few night hours testing thermal cameras from my tender around Camden’s moderately busy outer harbor, I wore an Energizer Hard Case LED head lamp which I used as a “running lights” as necessary. I had red, green, and several intensities of white at my disposal — none in my own eyes, and I’m careful about blinding others — and that felt good. (Product info here: http://goo.gl/oRZvD )
    I’m hugely respectful of the national and international standards for lights, signals, etc., but they just don’t work very well for small boats. It’s a matter of awareness and politely announcing your own presence. I like Dan’s glow light solution and I also like my own quicky headlamp solution.

  5. yachtvalhalla says:

    And FREE batteries? From their website:
    What’s more, replacement batteries are free*!
    *Life+Gear offers FREE replacement batteries (will safely recycle your old batteries for you.
    True?
    In SE Asia it is common to put a small strobe in the rigging, as low as possible for all-around viewing. This is not a substitute for an anchor light but a supplement. Reasoning is that most local boats, often moving at high speed, don’t look up to see an anchor light at the top of a mast. We use an anchor light low in the rigging instead of at the top of the mast and a blue strobe (so as not to be confused with a navigation light). The strobe also helps us locate the boat when returning from shore in a crowded anchorage in the dark. “Blue under white is our boat all right”!

  6. Bob Mueller says:

    Pat: actually the official rules recognize shining a flashlight on the sail as your only lighting, as long as your vessel is not power driven and under 7 meters. It doesn’t seem like bad idea for a boat of any size. Any way to increase visibility is good.
    As I said, we can debate the effectiveness of Dans lighting idea. It sounds like a decent enough idea to me, depending on the range of visibility of the lights. Dan’s post references a specific section of the rules, and his post infers that his idea is legal. While the idea is a bright idea (pun intended), it is clear to me that the idea is not legal under the inland rules. Before we see legions of readers start adopting the idea, I wanted to point out to those readers that it is not legal. What is legal, and what is safe does not always coincide. Certainly a boat that is lit smartly, yet not legally, is far better then no lights at all.
    Every area is unique. I have never been to Camden harbor. Is the entire harbor considered a no wake zone? That would make it more safe with less lights. Where I boat on Sandusky Bay, as soon as I leave the safety of the marina there is no speed limit. There is constant traffic traveling at planing speed, and sometimes much faster. I have a regular routine on Fridays after dark where I use my dinghy to cross a channel where boats are frequently at planing speed. I would not consider venturing in these waters without being very well lit! From my perspective, glow sticks are not going to cut it. However, I can certainly think of areas near me where that level of lighting would probably be sufficient. Areas where the boats are not going faster then idle speed. Inside the Vermilion River for example. The area has so much light pollution, i am not sure that any boats need to be lit at all!
    God forbid there is an accident at night: If you are the one that is not legally lit, you are definitely going to get a larger percentage of the responsibility. Both legal and fiduciary.

  7. Jim says:

    While rowing my dinghy at night, I wear a climber’s helmet with an all-round white navigation light mounted on top — and a cord running to a battery stowed under the seat.
    The helmet protects my eyes from the glare of the all-round white light.
    I confess, though, that my bright nav light close to the water has drawn complaints from other boaters. But I figure that it’s better that I “embarass” them with my bright light than to have them run me down.
    Jim

  8. Sandy Daugherty says:

    My crew was stopped and warned by Maryland Natural Resources Police for not having nav lights on my 9 foot dinghy two years ago. It was the Fourth of July and the stop may have been an excuse to check for Alcohol impairment, but it is in fact the law on the Chesapeake. Since that time I have glued the rubber suction cup of the Aqua Signal to the engine cover and bow of my dinghy.
    That said, I also have these glow sticks on board and continue to find uses for them. Some are attached to my sub-SOLAS life jackets, some hang from the frame of the bimini as a night light when returning to the boat at night. There are two in the Nav Station chart drawer, one in each head, and so on. The price is right, the amount of light is right for a number of uses, the red doesn’t obscure chart features as badly as my 12 volt lights do, and they just tickle my cheap thrill nerve endings!

  9. Igor says:

    Uau !!!
    Loved those light sabers ! Which one was Dart Vader’s, the red or the green one ?

  10. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Glad I tickled your cheap thrill nerve endings Sandy, it does have that effect doesn’t it.
    Geez Bob, any chance you were reading the article too quickly? I cringe that anyone might believe I implied it was legal, I think I was clear that the idea especially falls short of the all round white light requirement while providing the link where a reader can go to read the full requirement that would be violated. Responsible journalism, yes ? no ?
    Jim has a remedy for the white light. Got a picture to share with you, your tender, and the light ? Is it really that embarrassing? I think I could look past that.
    You can not count on this if your inspected … but my surprise safety inspection in Kennybunkport Maine went well this past July 16th including these lights. During the inspection I asked the two USCG Aux folks if they would frown upon a tender in their harbor “getting by” with the glow lights and a flash light. I added that I planned to write about it unless they thought it was a problem. After laughing (tickled there cheap thrill nerve endings?) they responded I went beyond what most people do, didn’t think I violated any rules for a tender that small and offered an additional safety inspection sticker on the spot for my tender (pictured above.)

  11. Graham Collins says:

    Sounds good, but any tips on how I could ensure my 6 year old boy doesn’t make off with these to wage star wars battles with???

  12. Anonymous says:

    Inland Rule 20 – Application
    (a) ***
    (b) The Rules concerning lights shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited, except such lights which cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in these Rules or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of a proper look-out.
    Inland Rule 36 – Signals to Attraction Attention
    If necessary to attract the attention of another vessel, any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorized elsewhere in these Rules, or may direct the beam of her searchlight in the direction of the danger, in such a way as not to embarrass any vessel. Any light to attract the attention of another vessel shall be such that it cannot be mistaken for any aid to navigation. For the purpose of this Rule the use of high intensity intermittent or revolving lights, such as strobe lights, shall be avoided.

  13. Waveguide says:

    How about a baseball cap with a tricolor mounted on top? Just keep looking forward. ;-D I’m headed to the patent office…

  14. MaineFog says:

    For the latest in LED pool lights, dingy chase light, hat top warning lights, lost in the water lights or hockey game “He shoots, he scores” lights, try one of these. I have a red one and a white one.
    http://store.solargoose.com/octopuslight.aspx

  15. Eric says:

    As an U.S. Army mariner I give you 2 big thumbs up. I am happy to see this kinda thinking going on with a PWC/Sailboat/Yacht. I’ve run across soo many boaters that seem to run with blinders on when underway.
    Some don’t want to talk on the radio. Others just plain ignore the rules of the road. There have been times where if it was’nt for the moon we would not have noticed the sailboat. This is really great to see. Any light is better than no light.
    Again 2 BIG thimbs up and SAIL ARMY!!!!

  16. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    The salt water caught up with these lights, preventing a season 3. 2 of 3 are dead, water got past the seals and killed the insides.
    Poor score for marine longevity? Maybe, but I look at the bright side …
    … I get to repeat the cheap thrill of purchasing the identical lights all over again.

  17. Chris s/v/ Pelican says:

    I picked up a set of these lights and did a very informal test. At night, I placed both of them at the end of our marina dock. I then walked to the other end of the dock (about 1500ft) and they were still VERY visible (not dim). I think they are adequate for an inflatable. The biggest issue I see is how low down an inflatable is to the water, and even in couple foot waves ANY lights would be tough the see.
    Also – and this is very important – I bought them through Amazon. There is a knock-off non-Life Gear version of this light stick that looks just like the Life Gear one. However, the battery compartment is open to the outside (it has a plastic pull tab when you first go to use it to allow the battery to contact the leads). Obviously, this version is not even CLOSE to being water resistant. Make sure to only get the Life Gear version.

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