Advice Please: Which LED Tri-Light is Best?

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Those of you who have been readers here for a while know about our tale of woe with Morgan’s Cloud’s Lopolight LED tri-light. You can read the whole saga here, but the short version is that we have replaced this light three times over nine years (on warranty) because of failure and/or RF interference with our VHF radio.

And now the latest Lopolight, while still working, has started to exhibit the same RF-interference problem, which makes it fundamentally unusable, since monitoring VHF channel 16 while underway is just good seamanship.

Bottomline, we are all done with Lopolight, particularly since after we posted, many others commented about the same problems that they had experienced, which make Lopolight’s protestations that:

  • the problems we were having were extremely rare; and
  • it was something to do with our installation that was causing the lights to fail;

a tad difficult to credit. (Why is it that vendors always start with that stuff?)

Be that as it may, we need a new tri-light from a different vendor, and would be very grateful for input on what you have found works. To that end, please leave a comment about your real world (no hearsay please) experiences with LED tri-lights.

It would be great if you could include the following information:

  • Brand and model of light.
  • Rough guess of how many nights you have used it while underway. This is what really matters—simple age is pretty meaningless since many boats don’t use a tri-light for more than a few hours a year.
  • Do you monitor VHF while at sea?
  • If so, have you experienced any interference from the tri-light?
  • If no interference, what is the separation between your VHF antenna and tri-light?

Not only will your help save Phyllis and me from another expensive mistake, your combined wisdom will also help other cruisers make a good choice for years to come. Thank you.

Talking of expense, when commenting, please keep in mind that Phyllis and I are far more interested in reliability than price—stuff that breaks may be cheap, but it’s never economical—and further, we are not interested in options that retrofit an old incandescent light fixture with an LED bulb.

Update November 2019

We ended up with a Hella tri-light and so far we are very happy with it. It seems very bright and we have had absolutely no sign of an RF interference from it. It was also easy to install.

Disclosure: Hella sent us the light for evaluation at no charge.

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Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I have 3-4 years with the Aquasignal LED tri-color and have been quite satisfied. I had a decade or so trying LED bulbs made to fit my Aquasignal tricolor that originally had incandescent bulbs. Maybe I had bad luck, but the bulbs sometimes lasted only a few years, and I would go back to incandescent which always worked fine. After the second set of LED bulbs went bad (and the tricolor lens was getting a little foggy), I just bought a whole new tri-color, the LED version from Aquasignal, and, as said, have been happy (ie. no problems).
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. No RFI also.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
I got a little ahead of myself:
The last few years in Northern Europe are mostly coastal cruising, so I suspect I only have 15-20 nights altogether and another handful of late arrivals.
The VHF is monitored 24/7 underway and no RFI.
The masthead VHF antenna is about 12-18 inches from the tri-color light. I can be exact tomorrow.
I believe mine is the Series 40 tri-color, but again, I can be exact tomorrow. Dick


Probably 4 or 5 years ago I installed the NASA Tri led on my Mercator Mark and haven’t had a problem with it.
Last year they came out with the Supernova Combi Tri and Anchor L.E.D mastlight, which I installed on my Hardin 45. Great light very bright.
There’s only one caveat. You have to dismantle your old running lights as per USCG. ?

Bob Hinden

I installed a Lunasea Navigation Tri / Anchor Light / Flash in the spring of 2014 on Surprise. It was used in the 2014 PacCup (SF to Hawaii). 23 nights for that trip. During the 2018 PacCup it failed, no trip-color. After we reached Hawaii we took it down from the mast, contacted Lunasea, did some debugging, determined it had failed. Lunasea, after some conjouling from me that it was a safety issue, shipped a new one priority mail to Hawaii. We installed it and it worked fine for the return trip (~14 nights). I retuned the faulty one, they said it was “leaky diode” and that they see very few failures.

Overall I am happy with it. I haven’t noticed any VHF or AIS interference (which share the same masthead antenna):

Marc Dacey

I installed the same model last year. Time spent anchored out with it so far: zero, but it’s quite bright, works as advertised and our VHF whip is closer than I’d prefer; if it gave off RF interference, I’d hear it. None is detected and I tend to monitor 16 whether I’m at dock or sailing. I’ve since installed Lunasea red and green and warm white LEDs to update my Aquasignal 41 (the 25 watt ones, which are brighter than I’m required to have legally) for our pilothouse and stern. To see it, see this:comment image

Phil Streat

We have had an Aqua Signal LED tricolor & anchor light unit for about 8 years. I believe it is a model 32, although the current 32 looks different. We have around 60 nights of use on the tricolor lights and have had no problems or RFI issues. We use a deck level anchor light normally so the anchor light doesn’t get used but it does work. We do monitor VHF and the antenna is about 8″ away.


I have this Hella light:
but except for checking that it still works (it has worked since about 2009 including 3 winters up), I don’t use it. I use the deck-level navigation lights and a deck-level mobile anchor light.

The reason I chose this model is that it is hollow at the center so that you can pass a cable for another device mounted above the light vertically through its center (in my case an Echomax X/S-Band RTE).

After reading your original complaints about the Lopolight, I once powered up the radio while the tricolor light was on and found no interference but this is hardly a valid test.

If it were to break I would probably replace it but just to have a backup for the deck level lights.

I have all Hella nav and deck lights and am more or less satisfied. The forward decklight has developed a leak during one of the last 3 winters that I only noticed this winter when the mast was stored. Hella replaced it out of warranty but I will have to spend about 2 hours to redo the complicated cable splice when replacing it.

Could you tell me why you use the tricolor masthead navigation light? I have read numerous warnings that a sailboat with a masthead tricolor when viewed from a ship’s bridge can easily be mistaken as being near the horizon when it is actually right under the bow.
With LED lights there will be little or zero electricity savings of a tricolor over 3 independent nav lights.

Marc Dacey

Well, as I’ve just typed, for reasons of power usage and visibility, I’ve updated all nav lights to LEDs for this reason. The 25W incandescents (which I haven’t tossed; they are now spares) did eat a fair bit of power when night sailing, even the mast top light, but I don’t think trilights are obsolete. For one thing, when used properly (a big if, I know), they tell you whether the approaching vessel is sail or power, which affects maneuverability and COLREGS behaviour between your vessel and theirs. For another, not all boats at night have radar or AIS or show well even if you have radar. I recall noticing a sailboat while on an Atlantic delivery that just appeared as the occasional green-sector behind waves…it eventually appeared much closer than I had estimated, and I was glad to have had the warning the trilight gave me. That said, ours is a motor-sailer, and we often motor or motor-sail at night, keeping the deck lights on. I expect this to change on longer passages, however.

Ronnie Ricca

John and others,
I am a unlimited licensed 2nd Mate in the Gulf of Mexico so I opted to go with the more unusual sailing lights. I have LED Hella 3nm nav lights and LED Signal mate steaming light for motoring. For sailing, we have two of each red and green 180* Lopolight 2nm LED lights that are spaced 1m apart that we will use in conjunction with the deck level nav lights. Ours are new(year and change) and we haven’t sailed with them yet but tested a few nights at the dock. I hope I had the newest batch and we will have better luck. Working on the bridge at night, I know how dark some nights can be and if I can legally light up my boat more I will. That said if they fail, I hope another company has similar lights we can use. I have seen a trilight once offshore and its just one light as opposed to the other setup that is 3. Obviously, it’s a more intensive installation but one we think is worth it.

That said, I haven’t tried them with the VHF but will do so when I get back home, currently at work. Also, as a note, with every LED light we have, (Aqua Signal anchor, Signal Mate fore deck light (combo unit with steaming), and two Rigid Industries Dually with diffused lens spreader lights) we consume no more than 6 amps. It’s incredible, and the boat is lit up like a Christmas tree!



Hi all,

Back in 2010 we did an extensive refit of our 1982 vintage 46ft sailing yacht. I took the opportunity to remove the old trilight and install all around red over green at masthead, so that we run with deck lights and the new masthead coloured lights when sailing. To me it’s a “no brainer” as it gives both low level lights for close up (e.g. small fishing boats without lights in Asia) and high level for greater visibility at distance (e.g. fast moving cruise ships), and the all round coloured lights seem to have greater visibility and less ambiguity than a tricolour. We’ve had numerous positive comments from commercial traffic over the years since then.

From a practical standpoint, using leds removes any energy concerns, and it can make the mode switching easier with fewer mistakes possible (e.g. leaving on both the motoring and sailing lights becomes less likely). The deck level lights are always on when motoring or sailing at night, and you only switch between the steaming mast light and the two all rounds when going from motoring to sailing. This can be handled with a “one or the other, not both” switch. You do need to watch the distance between the all arounds if you want to be strict to the Colregs letter (> 1m separation), but that’s not particularly difficult to achieve.

From a Colregs standpoint, the tricolour is the “exception” not the all around lights. By that I mean that the regs say that vessels under 20m “may” replace their standard nav lights with a tricolour masthead light when under sail, but if they do so then they can not exhibit the all round lights also. So any size vessel has the default of the deck level lights combined with the all rounds.

We installed Lopolights and haven’t had any issue with them thus far, including no rfi. But we haven’t done any ocean crossings and have done less than 100 nights in all that time (we mostly do coastal day sailing).

Anyway, just my thoughts.



I am a huge fan of the Rule 25(c) light scheme: 112.5° red on the port bow, 112.5° green on the starboard bow, 135° white at the stern, and 360° red above green at the masthead. It is pretty much impossible to confuse that pattern with anything else on the water, from any angle. Adding the second red all-round for “hove to”, plus the white all-round for “anchored”, brings it to four lights up high – yeah, not cheap, but people spend 10x that much on electronic toys for the helm all the time.

If I just see a single white dot, is that a sailboat’s masthead trilight? A powerboat’s stern light? An anchored yacht’s all-round light? A guy in a kayak with a flashlight taped to his hat?

Julian Morgan

Good morning

I fitted a Hella NaviLED Trio 2NM Navigation and Anchor Lamp 2 years ago to our old boat (Steel 39 foot Callisto 385) which we sold a few weeks ago. The lamp worked fine for two sailing seasons including two long cruises in European waters. We always leave our VHF on Ch16 and I did not notice any interference or indeed any other issues. I fitted a Hella LED stern light about 5 years ago and that has worked faultlessly. The stern lamp was mounted adjacent to our AIS transmission aerial and GPS receivers etc. I like the Hella products that seem well made and are sealed for life.

I enjoyed the article on series drogues by the way and have just ordered a 139 cone Jordan type series drogue from Oceanbreak in the UK for our new (in construction) aluminium Allures 45.9.

Best Wishes


Gary Warner

Hi John – We retrofitted an old incandescent tricolor masthead light with the Lunasea LED tricolor with anchor light on oursailboat and were very happy with it. Had 2 seasons use before we went over to the dark side and were happy with the product. A nice feature on the anchor light is automatic turn off under daylight conditions. No experience with VHF interference, as we were not night time sailors.

We also retrofitted the anchor light on our power boat with the Lunasea LED anchor light and had about 20 nights our first season with no problems. Same daylight turnoff feature.

Another nice feature is a screw-on point on the top of the unit which is helpful in keeping the birds off. I believe it can be removed and replaced with a mechanical wind speed indicator as well.


I installed the ORCA masthead combo tricolor / anchor / strobe for the 2016 Pacific Cup and had no issues. The lamp is one year old but it was used continuously for the 14 days over to Hawaii and the 16 day return, all while monitoring VHF channel 16. The light was installed at the top of the mast, next to the VHF antenna as well as the wind instrument and we didn’t see any effects from the LED lamp.

Gino Del Guercio

I’m not 100 percent sure about this, but it’s my understanding that it’s against USCG regulations to have both. I have had good luck with the forespar LEDs on my pulpit. It’s also much more obvious if they’re not working. They may not be seen in the troughs, but they’ll be seen on the crests.


Some racing rules (here in Netherlands) are forcing to have tri-color and using only it for sail racing events.
So I have both – deck lights and tri-clolr+anchor light.
Mine are retrofitted LED bulbs into old AquaSignal mounts, but I’m planning to replace them for something newer, as the old mounts are leaking a bit.

Steve Ord

I would tend to agree that in close quarters a masthead trilight might be confusing but in rough seas deck level lights can get hidden by high waves. The deck lit boat is nearly invisible when in a trough and a masthead trilight can be seen. I have both and all are led


Henning has a valid point. It has to be balanced against the improved visibility achieved with a mast head tricolor. There have been many nights off shore when deck level lights disappear in the waves. It’s much easier to see a small boat at distance with a tricolor mast head light. We always use our mast head light off shore and make sure to switch to deck lights inshore for the reason Henning states.
I have always assumed ships are not keeping watch for small vessels and stay out of their way. AIS has been great for accurate determination of a ships
speed and course. They can see us many miles out and have called us by name in order to discuss passing arrangements. I think mostly just to talk to somebody in the middle of the night.


I agree with both Steve and Dave concerning which to use. Having raced to Halifax and in the Monheagen race (lot of fog) a number of times I will say you see a mast head before the deck mounted lights more often then not. When racing you can have a lot of crossing situations with the same boats so you get use to knowing which you can see and which you cannot.

On the issue of having both. USCG only says you can only have one or the other set up lit at a time. You would not be displaying a valid navigational light if you had both
your deck light and the Tri on at the same time. In addition the Tri is only for when you are sailing. Not motoring or motor sailing. The Bermuda race requires a back up nav light. And they say a Tri with a separate battery is acceptable as the backup. Being that it was offshore we had the Tri lit most of the time on the races I have done.


My Beneteau Oceanis came with Aquasignal H43 deck level nav lights and Aquasignal anchor light. I can highly recommend those. The LEDs are sealed, so only the cable connection is exposed to sea water (I have preemptively renewed the connection after 5 years to prevent failure because of corrosion).
No VHF interference. About 60 nights in use. I believe to remember that Aquasignal states a lifetime of 20.000 hours.
I had the stern light fail in year 4 – I suspect the welder that installed my davits and moved the light from the stern to the davits killed it. I approached Aquasignal at the Düsseldorf boat show “boot” and they stated “must not fail after 4 years” and sent a free replacement! Great product, great service!
On Hennings point: I agree with him. Would not use a tri-color light (except as spare/emergency light). The LED power consumption no longer is a point for a tri-color light.



Offshore racing rules require a masthead tricolor with a backup set of lights which people usually use deck lights for those. One note that was mentioned above – if you are under power you cannot use a masthead light since your steaming light would be located below the tricolor – violation of both USCG and Int’l regs.
I installed a switch at the a nav station that lets me select either deck or masthead. I’ve also installed the Davis Instruments windex light at the masthead so you can see the winder at night. This LED bulb is on anytime the navy lights are on.

Bill Attwood

Hi John
I subscribe to the view above that the masthead tri is best for use offshore, and the deck level lights are for use in closer quarters eg harbour approaches. In any sort of sea the deck level lights will be obscured a lot of the time. I have a Lopolight and have obviously been lucky, as it now has years of service and hundreds of hours of use. No problems with RF interference. Have you thought of fitting a choke on the cable?
Yours aye

Eric Klem

Hi John,

Good question on whether a tricolor is the right way to go, maybe there is something to be said for mounting lights like they used to do in the old days with light boards. Nowadays, you wouldn’t need the board but mounting them on the shrouds could get them 10-15′ off the water so they could be seen in reasonably large seas but still below the steaming light. There are problems with this approach such as the need to run wires up your shrouds and potential for misalignment on the leeward side if your shrouds are slack.

I can’t help with your original questions as I elected not to put a tricolor up at the masthead, I try to keep as little as possible at the top of the mast as we have a tall rig for a boat our size and any weight there is really problematic. Our Aquasignal lights at deck level work great and get used overnight several times a year but that is not what your are asking.


Bruce Cuthbert

We have had an Orca Green Marine tricolour with anchor and photodiode for 10 yrs, >50 nights at sea plus anchor light many more.
We don’t routinely have our VHF on , but have never had any interference.
Light /VHF separation about 75mm


We have had the OGM (Orca Green Marine) trianchor with strobe and photodiode since 2010. In that time we have cruised about 16,000 miles from the Pacific NW to Mexico, Polynesia, New Zealand and the South Pacific island. So far the light has worked faultlessly and I cannot detect any RF interference with either VHF, SSB or AIS.


Hi John,
We’ve had good luck with our Orca Green Marine LXTA-SP TriAnchor light. It’s a tricolor plus anchor light. Here’s the info:
* We’ve had it since early 2011.
* We are full time liveaboard cruisers, but we spend ~6 months per year in a marina.
* We have used the tricolor on night passages roughly 90-100 nights, and as a white all-around anchor light roughly 700 nights.
* Never noticed any radio interference. Didn’t know that was a thing about LEDs until reading your prior posts.
* No special measures were taken on install, as I replaced an incandescent masthead tricolor/anchor fixture with this LED unit to save power, and at the time I was ignorant of possible radio interference issues.
* Power draw is 1/3 amp.
* Seems to be one of the brighter anchor lights when in an anchorage with lots of boats, but not the very brightest.
* It has a light sensor to turn the light on-off day and night (anchor light for sure, never tried to see if it also works on the tricolor). Really like that feature. It saves power during early morning hours where it’s light out but we’re not up yet, and it allows us to turn the anchor light on when we first anchor and forget about it until we pull the anchor up. Less chance for me to screw up and forget. Very nice.
* Has a strobe feature on the anchor light that we’ve never used, and in a real emergency I doubt that would be bright enough to make a difference.
* The unit worked faithfully with zero issues since install 6 years ago, but just this month we’ve started having a problem where the tricolor is on instead of the anchor light, so we’re inappropriately showing a tricolor while at anchor. I don’t yet know if the problem is in the unit or a new problem in our wiring or switches. Figuring that out is on The List and I’ll update here when I know. If it is the unit that is the problem, I’m happy enough with it that I would buy another of the same make/model to replace it.

Regarding whether tricolors are obsolete, I always thought that they existed on sailboats because sails might block deck-level running lights from some angles. With outboard running lights there are only few sail settings that would block a running light, mostly light air sails like a code 0, but the issue still exists. I like having them as backup and also for use occasionally when deck running lights are compromising night vision and I want to see everything possible.


I missed a few of your questions in my first reply above…
* Distance between tricolor and VHF antenna: Both on masthead, not sure exact distance, not more than 12in.
* VHF is on 24hrs/day when at sea and when at anchor. Never heard any interference.

Rob Gill

Hi John, We have had a Hella NaviLED Trio 2NM Navigation and Anchor Lamp for three years with no issues in any mode. From my professional days, I always view the first priority of a light is to be reliable, and then secondly – to be seen from as far away as possible. So many times, I would pick up echoes on radar at 5NM and see the vessel late (< 2 NM) or not at all (hated that). For a ship doing 20 knots, 2 NM is way too late to be taking action and making alterations on small echo radar plots alone, was always unnerving in normal visibility – "why can't I see it" was always my reaction? As a number of commenters have said, any waves will occlude deck-level lights offshore which rules them out for me except as back-up or with steaming lights. I have no scientific evidence, but my own observations at sea shows the closer you are to the water the more water vapour and actual spray there is in the air – on a windy night at anchor, try shining your searchlight at sea level and see how far it goes before being reflected back. On calm nights, even a dim light can be seen from miles away – I once picked up a torch light played on the sails of a yacht drifting with no wind in the Gulf Of Mexico. They were out of diesel, out of power, dead ahead of us and desperately trying to raise me on their handheld VHF. I saw their lights before I heard them on VHF or saw them on radar – they were much relieved. Ship's lights aren't much brighter, but they are much higher up and can be seen much further. Lighthouses are usually really tall – one reason I would think (apart from extending the visible horizon), is to be clear of the sea mist at lower levels. With regard to perspective at night, I don't think the height of a mast makes any difference to an observer on a ship's bridge, particularly say over 2 NM. Judging distance on a dark night WITH NO VISIBLE HORIZON is not possible by light alone, and anyone basing their decisions on relative altitude of a light and its brightness, is fooling themselves. How does anyone tell if they are seeing a container ship's lights way in the distance, or a yacht / launch under power at say 3 NM? How we would tell is by using radar – the size of the echo helped identify ships and for sure we would have used AIS. This was confirmed by visual compass bearing and binoculars. It was devilishly difficult when two or more objects were on similar bearings to tell which lights were which. Around the coast, I believe the same applies. The only time I worry about our tri-lights is coming into harbour against background lights, but then we tend to be motoring and using… Read more »

Eric Klem

One other thought about deck level lights is that when you are steaming and can’t run your tricolor, the only light visible from your stern is pretty low. Unfortunately, many people are also not good at keeping a 360 lookout. The good news is that the closing speed will be lower.


Rob Gill

May I ask about the use of strobe lights that are sometimes available as a function of the masthead combo light and mentioned by several contributors above. As I previously posted, there is compelling reason to be seen from as far away as possible, especially in storm conditions with restricted visibility. Their use (strobes) is specifically cautioned against in the Collision Regs. Rule 36 states … “for the purpose of this Rule the use of high intensity intermittent or revolving lights, such as strobe lights, shall be avoided”. I understand their use is not uncommon on the East Coast of the US – are they that confusing? What do USCG have to say about their use?
Surely offshore a strobe wouldn’t be confused with a navigation beacon or buoy would it? Larry Pardy strongly advocated for their use in their book. A white signal flare is accepted as an alert, as is a search light played across the water that Rule 36 specifically endorses.

Rule 36 also states “any vessel may make light or sound signals that cannot be mistaken for any signal authorised elsewhere in these Rules”. Being hove-to and restricted in our ability to manoeuvre – and not having red and white spreader lights to make the appropriate signal (usually the preserve of commercial vessels), we plan to use our very bright masthead LED anchor light and illuminate the vessel further with our “brilliant” LED foredeck spotlight to further highlight our state. As a bonus we even may find some squid on deck in the morning!
The same goes for streaming the JSD, although we could be said to be “not under command” at this juncture. And since we would be “not making way”, but drifting, technically I believe we shouldn’t show our sidelights or stern light.
Any thoughts or views on best practice please anyone?

Rob Gill

Hi John,
I have puzzled this one for a while – as a once professional mariner it goes against the grain to be using the wrong lights. I think your KISS approach has merit in that having the tri-light shows the aspect of Morgan’s Cloud to a second party observer. It still doesn’t communicate the aspect of being “not under command” and unable to manoeuvre as the rules require, but VHF is probably sufficient in most circumstances. I still come back to my main premise of being seen first and foremost in restricted visibility, and being lit up like a christmas tree has an appeal.
On strobes, my own experience from the bridge (on the odd occasions I encountered them) is that they are very effective at attracting the eye, in the same way a lighthouse flashing light is often more evident than a steady light of equal intensity.

Ronnie Ricca

With regards to hove to, I would think you would be regarded as underway but not making way. You are still in command of your vessel, both machinery and sails are working. That said, normal sailing lights would be shown. With a drogue out, I think you would be regarded as a “restricted in ability to maneuver” (although that’s a bit of a stretch and I don’t think courts would see it as restricted but maybe in storm conditions). Once again you still technically have command since sails and machinery operable.

If I could guess, I would say the strobes are for emergency purposes. But I agree with John that I really just don’t know. I do know they are not in accordance with the Colregs unless for emergency purposes.


Rob Gill

Hi Ronnie,
You are probably correct, except that we wouldn’t be “Restricted in our ability to manoeuvre” which is defined by the work of the vessel, not the situation. In formulating my question, I was thinking of us hove-to with a drogue , or streaming a Jordan series drogue in storm conditions 9I should have been clearer). If we show normal sailing lights, with a drogue that takes over 30 minutes to retrieve are we really able to say we can manoeuvre to fulfil our obligations to keep clear under the regs? Not so sure. I don’t think this is a debate for the inquiries or courts, as they will always put the emphasis back on the skipper and safety of life at sea.
On balance, I believe we should keep our sailing lights on, but I think we should also make an effort to highlight our position and situation (best would be two vertical red all-round lights but otherwise deck flood lights or such like). Incidentally, as I remember it, when we were “not under command” with engine failure on ships, we would only show the two all-round reds, and not side lights or stern light to signal we were not making way, but would illuminate all our deck level lights to show the length and orientation of our vessel.
This is one of those times when early AIS identification and good VHF communication would be excellent safety tools.

Conor Smith

Regarding your comment of KISS approach to yacht lights, versus the sense to install more LEDs to have the proper lights at all situations, I think there is wisdom in keeping it simple. This whole post of nav-light woes, stems from the troubles you had when one installed LED light went awry, 4 different times. Which caused hours and hours of trouble shooting and problems and replacement. After some interesting comments and debate, you pondered the merit of installing two reds and a green, each side of the mast, a total of 6 new LED fixtures on the mast. So we went from woes and troubles of upgrading from a single trusty incandescent to a LED and are now at a point of considering adding 6 new LEDs to……improve the navigation light problem?? I am all about questioning the status quo and to constantly improve sailing and safety, but is adding new gear always an improvement? I think you would say not! If all of those lights do work, and that 1% of the time that a passage is spent hove-to, the light signals would be perhaps better. But is the time spent pulling new wires, 20 rivet holes, new circuit breakers, maybe troubleshooting one light that is starting to ground-out and bring the others down, ect, worth it? I suspect not, although I must confess as well, it would be great to light up the “red over green” lights while sailing by an anchorage and trying to listen for comments over the sun-downers of “what the hell is that” and “those cant be right”.

Steve Ord

I understand that both in the US and Canada streaming lights are no longer used on sailing vessels At least as far as I can see there is no mention of a streaming light.

Steve Ord

I guess this also depends on how large a vessel we are talking about and where. Mine is under 12m. and in the Great Lakes. Both the US and Canadian directions refer to vessels under 12m as not requiring the inverted triangle there.
(copied & pasted from the CDN Guide)
NOTE: In the Canadian waters of a roadstead (mooring area), harbour, river, lake or inland waterway, a sail boat under 12 m that is also being propelled by a
motor is not required to exhibit forward a conical shape (point downwards) where it can best be seen.
(copied & pasted from the US Guide)
EXCEPTION: If your vessel is less than 39 .4 feet (12 meters) in length, then it is not required to display the shape in inland waters

In addition regarding lights
Power Boats under 12 m (39’4”) – Rule 23
Option 1
– One (1) masthead light;
– Sidelights; and
– One (1) sternlight
A second masthead abaft of and higher than the forward one light

I have to admit that I never really noticed that these rules applied to INLAND waters ONLY. As I intend to be traveling further afield in 2018 I will be reading the Lloyds Article a lot more closely. Thank You for pointing that out.

Rob Gill

Hi John, Steve,
I agree the Collision regulations are a great piece of writing. But there are still anomalies as you point out, which are not universally applied. My own favourite at the moment is the strangely named “WIG” that appears to be written for seaplanes. From the regs again:

The term “Wing-in-Ground (WIG) craft” means a multimodal craft which, in its main operational mode, flies in close proximity to the surface by utilising surface-effect action.

Wouldn’t this by definition apply to foiling cats, moths, windsurfers, kite-boards and now even foiling Optimists (had to check the date wasn’t April 1).
All of these would appear, under this definition, have to give way to every other vessel including powered vessels. Unless they drop off their foils and become sailing vessels again of course.

Rob Gill

The give-way vessel?

Marc Dacey

You’re correct that motoring with sails up means deck lights on, trilight off and steaming light on. This goes even for the situation where you are in neutral. If the diesel’s turning, deck lights are burning.
I’ve seen a dayshape on Lake Ontario on a sailboat exactly once, a boat with tanbark sails displaying an anchor ball. By contrast, on my RYA course in France, all the fishing boats and nearly all the sailboats in southern Brittany displayed the correct dayshapes. I don’t know yet what it’s like in Nova Scotia, but the use of dayshapes in the Bay of Quiberon was not, I was told, optional.

Marc Dacey

Well, *logically* I agree, but I know the local water cops watch for throughput of cooling water at the stern to see if you are conforming to the deck light/trilight distinction. With sails up and movement achieved, it would be hard to tell what proportion, if any, was due to prop over sail, but if your motor is on while sailing, I believe one is motor-sailing, in gear or not. I suspect claiming “I was in neutral, constable, hence the trilight is correct” would not go over well!

Stein Varjord

I have a lot more experience with incandescent running lights than LED, but a big schooner (Skydancer) I skippered on Svalbard has Lopolight all over. The owner is also quite annoyed with them after having to change some of them several times. All on warranty, but still. Especially the tricolor and steaming light have been weak. Lopolight said that it might be worth moving the VHF antenna to the aft mast, since they suspected that when the VHF was sending on full power, it may create strong enough induced currents in the tricolor wire circuit to damage the LEDs. This especially as the two wires run in parallel up a 30 meter mast. After the antenna was moved, the tricolor and steaming light has lasted, I think. Might be just chance of course.

On Hennings thoughts about tricolor versus deck level lights, I do agree when in easy conditions. I feel deck level lights are easier to interpret and easier to separate from background lights. As others have mentioned though, offshore in severe weather, a mast top light is way better.

With incandescent lights, the bulb sends light in all directions, so a tricolor is a great way to save battery drain. With LED, they only send light in the required direction. Thus, a tricolor saves no battery drain whatsoever. The same number of diodes distributed in 2 or 3 units will still give the same amount of light and the same consumption. I still think masthead running lights should be considered essential equipment.

In 1986 I was racing in the English Channel outside of The Isle of Wight. Night, thick fog and around 15 knots of wind, tacking close to shore to avoid current. This was the IOR 3/4 ton class, which was extremely evenly matched, so even if this was 3 days into the race, the whole fleet was within 40 minutes sailing and most within 15. We would meet other boats every second minute or so. Quite stressful in the fog. The Italian boat used its deck level lights as the tricolor had stopped working. Those were very hard to spot. We would only see them when it was almost too late. The other boats tricolors seemed to be above the thickest of the fog, so we’d see them at a comfortable distance. The Italian boat, after getting complaints via VHF, also started a strobe light at the mast head. It would flash very strong for a very short time, kinda like a camera flash. The sequence was maybe 5 seconds or so. Quite slow. This strobe light was extremely visible and made it much easier to locate them than the ones with only tricolors. The strobe seemed to cut through the fog.

I assume this strobe was quite a lot stronger than a blinking LED, and I assume it’s not without controversy to use this, but I was impressed. I don’t know what the actual product was.

Rick Hearn

This doesn’t meet all your requirements to submit an answer but I would investigate the Tricolor produced by Marine Beam of South Carolina. Jeff is the local tech guy and knows his stuff, LEDs are his forte. Although I have some of his LED products, I don’t have the TriColor or know anyone who has. I do, however, believe in him and his company. His customer support has been top notch, including spending several hours on the phone explaining technical nuances of LEDs and lighting, if looking for a product that he supplies, I would spend the time researching his product first.

Dick Stevenson

Hi all,
I have used day signals to indicate motor sailing fairly regularly in the Med, but especially in Northern Europe. Many (but probably not most) boats I have noticed do also. My sense is that they are taken seriously, but are far from always used.
As for which lights to use in fog, my take is that many fogs are thick on water level and thin up higher so that sometimes the top of the mast is just hazy. Being as how ship’s bridges are also high, I always have the tri-color on in fog when sailing. Closing shore/harbors lights change to side lights.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Erik Snel

Hi John,

We have the Nasa combined 3-color/anchor Supernova LED light on top. We have had this since 2012, so it’s been available much longer than a previous commmenter suggested. During this time, we must have used the 3-color for 100+ nights while underway and the anchor light at least the same numbers.
No problems whatsoever, we seem to have good reception/transmission on VHF as well as SSB.
We have also bought quite a number of these lights for our sailing club (>30) which have all functioned without any problem as far as I am aware (and I would be aware as I did the purchases…).

As for visibility, I would not agree with Henning’s remark: the height of running lights on a typical freighter are at least as high as our 3-color light. Therefore, it’s crew will interpret the distance of the 3-color top light more accurately than the on-deck running lights.
The only exception is on inland waters where many smaller craft (professional and leisure) will lead to a different reading.

Bill Attwood

Hi Rob
WIG is a specific type of aircraft, which uses just surface effect – no contact with the water, so quite different from foilers. The Russians developed a real monster of a WIG aircraft, but I don’t think it went into service.

Rob Gill

Thanks Bill,
Just googled WIGs – wonders never cease. I guess my real point here is there are ambiguities in some situations. As John mentioned, how is any craft (powered or otherwise) to keep clear of an AC50 doing 45 knots, when at times you can’t even tell what tack they are on? Ditto kite surfers.
I guess the main saviour here as sailing evolves, is common sense. Most of these sailors appear to treat us as the terrestrial objects that we surely are, by comparison.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John and all,
It was my take and training, going way back, that a sailboat with the engine running, even if in neutral, was considered a motor boat with respect to the regs. I believe the argument was that a sailboat, with the motor running, was no longer constrained in its ability to maneuver (which is why sailboats have certain privileges) and thereby came under the rules of a vessel under power.
I have never questioned this interpretation as it made sense to me and have heard it repeated upon occasion. Is there any entity that can speak definitively to this question?
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Marc Dacey

Only in the most minor of ways from this entity. Outside of our YC is a channel into Toronto’s Inner Harbour. It’s tight and busy and has a ferry crossing, which, being constrained, has right-of-way, as do the rather rare commercial vessel (they use the much larger eastern entrance, typically). Tall ships, however, and large tourist boats use it six months a year. We often sail through here, but to meet the inland regs regarding maneuvering, are obliged to have the engine on in neutral. We switch off after we exit this channel either into the inner harbour, or out into Lake Ontario. We use deck lights and a steaming light at night, even if sailing, to indicate our readiness to be propelled by motor, even if we are actually under sail, hence my comment above. I’ve seen similar behaviour on light air days in canals and other restricted waterways: sailing, with the motor in neutral; presumably, the trilight would be off were it night.

Stein Varjord

Hi Dick

I can’t give better reasons than John has already done, but I can maybe give it a small amount of added authority. Since the early eighties, and still running, even though I now live in Amsterdam, I’ve been one of the sailing judges for the Norwegian National Sailing Federation. This means we get to make final rulings in court like hearings. Being quite experienced, i normally am the leader of these hearings. When there is material damage, insurance companies are not formally bound to follow our ruling, but they always do. Same goes with infringement of the general rules at sea. The racing rules quite frequently are in conflict with them and we have to decide what applied. The proper authorities can make their own decisions, but they always accept our verdict.

I’ve had several cases with collision between racing boats and other boats at night. It’s is not strictly our mandate to handle events where not all parties have acknowledged our authority, as you do by participating, but we do a hearing as an advisory service, when there has been substantial damage. There we’ll elaborate how the various rules apply to which vessel at which time. We’ll establish the known facts of the situation and make a ruling.

In a few cases, the racing boat has had the engine running to charge batteries. There has been a collision with a not competing sailing boat on opposite tack. The not competing boat has noticed the running motor on the racer after the collision and claimed right of way because the racing boat “must be seen as a motor boat”.

The verdict never has any doubt. As long as the engine has not in any way affected the motion of the boat, it is purely sailing. The racing rules are very clear on defining this specifically. The general rules of the sea are less thorough in clarifying it, but still they are clear enough.

The main engine running, without the propeller engaged, does not change the status of the boat any more than having a generator running.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Stein and John,
Stein, that is very interesting. Thanks for reporting in such detail. It is appreciated.
I have been impressed with John’s arguments right along, but wrote mostly to convey the understanding (and training, if memory serves) I had over the years and the argument that was advanced to supported that argument.
It is very nice to receive such reports of actual field experience and precedent in these areas.
I regret moving west and not anticipating a stop in Amsterdam again, which would have given me the opportunity to meet for a coffee or beer.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Just to make sure: I have read warnings about possible misinterpretations of a tricolor light at the top of the mast close-in as being deck level lights farther away in literature, e.g. sail certification test preparation material. So it was not my idea.
And now that we have discussed it so thoroughly, my tricolor light will get more use during the several nights we plan to sail this summer.
On our boat, all the nav and deck lights can be switched from either the wheel or the nav desk below (via an impulse relay, working like a ballpoint pen, with momentary switches, way more reliable than NMEA2000-based switching). So it’s easy to switch between the lights from the cockpit or from below.
Germans are famous for inventing unnecessary rules (or over-enforcing international rules), such das the motoring cone, so people do get fined around here. Some of those that were fined at one time reacted by mounting the cone permanently (as can be seen by the green moss that grows on it), probably thinking that if they get caught having it up when they shouldn’t, they can always claim they were in the process of taking it down – which doesn’t work the other way around.
It’s also something of a local phenomenon that could probably be traced down to individual police officers.

Stein Varjord

Hi Henning.

I’m rebuilding my electric system at the moment, so your mention of impulse relay switches caught my attention. Which system do you use? Are you happy with it?


Hello Stein,

my impulse relays mount to a standard metal profile, the same that is used in building electrical panels, which I had re-made from stainless sheet. They are click-on. I will have to look up the exact model next weekend on the boat.
They only take electricity while being operated (turned on or turned off), not when on or off. The have a manual operation button and indicator of the status. On deck I used (on)off(on) switches, meaning momentary switch up and momentary switch down, with a waterproof cover. So one outside switch combined with two relays allows to control two lights independently. I didn’t use indicator lights outside as they would always be either too weak or too bright and also hard to seal waterproof.
I am happy with them because they are so robust but they make quite a racket when being operated, so not super-elegant.
I’ll come back with the model hopefully next week.

Stein Varjord

Hi Henning.

Thanks for the effort. I’m no electrics wizard, but quite able to learn. I have tendency to be a bit over the top on perfectionism, but I can also restrain myself, sometimes. 🙂 In this context, I think perfectionism lies in reliable and practical function, not quietness. There are several functions I’d like to be able to switch from more than one spot. Even things as simple as interior lights. Maybe this type of relays is overkill for that, but I’m still interested.


Hello Stein,

here are to pictures of the impulse relays, showing manufacturer and model:
comment image
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The red dot visible on the first one is the on/off indicator.

Patrick Genovese


I have an aquasignal series 34 tricolor/anchor light combo.

No VHF interference from it at all an has not given me any trouble. My VHF radio is on all the time when under way and even at anchor while we are on board.

While my night mileage is not great I bought the unit based on a recommendation from a long term cruiser who had sailed about 15k miles with it in the 3 yrs before making the recommendation to me. He was my neighbour in the yard when my boat was hauled out.

Last year I replaced the standing rigging and while the mast was down I had the opportunity to subject it to a thorough inspection. It was still pristine with no signs of deterioration of the plastics or the metal connectors inside. As of now my unit is closing in on its 4th year of service.


Bill Attwood

Hi Rob
Strange isn’t it, that on the sea Landrovers can share the road with F1 rockets. I have never been closer to one of those racing machines than Youtube and I hope it stays that way. I suspect that the cojones of the men who sail them make walking difficult.


Hi John,

I currently own the Lunasea Navigation Tri / Anchor Light LLx-53BK-81-00 and used it for approximately 50 days. I had the earlier model which switched to strobe mode while beating (pounding) through square 8′ waves for 10 hours. I probably used the earlier model less than 20 days. The company acknowledged that this was a known problem and replaced the unit free of charge.


Mark Bigalke

Full time cruising for 5 years Caribbean to NZ. Installed Stecktronics STM-400. Offer 2 or 3 wire versions. Our 2 wire system replaced Aqua Signal. Flawless performance . Auto on anchor light, tricolor, slow flash, fast flash or SOS signal all operated by simply turning anchor light switch at circuit breaker on and off 1 to 5 times depending on desired light. Laminated card comes with light and posted at circuit breaker. Is a servicable light. On mast head next to VHF and AIS. No interferance. Price about $450 in 2011. We received side flash lighting on hard in Panama, boats on either side with extensive damage. We have lighting protection system for carbon mast. No damage on our vessel, but plate discolored on hull where I believe lighting exited to ground. Maybe only thing on boat not needing repair in our cruising. Family run business. Made in Florida.

Francisco Moreno

Also Stecktronics LED here. They use an Aqua-Signal housing and put their own electronics inside.

Installed 48 months ago about 30 cms away from a 4-foot VHF-radio antenna port and aft of it and 30 cms away from a 4-foot AM/FM antenna starboard and aft. No interference, though I’m thinking we’ve never actually tested AM/FM concurrently.

Full-time cruising 36 months. The anchor light gets used about 250 days/year, whereas the tri-color has seen about 80 nights.

A rock-solid product. We kept our boat’s factory switches for tri, anchor, and strobe light; however, if we repeatedly switch on/off the anchor light, we can set the strobe do automatically repeating SOS, etc., as Mark Bigalke points out.

Dark and stormy nights while under sail, and as time goes by more and more often: we have lights on the spreaders pointing up (we don’t have any pointing down). Cheap $100/pair Attwoods. These light up the main and mizzen sails quite nicely and I expect make our boat quite visible, but have never had a chance to test.

Tom Jelsing

A LED does not emit noise itself. The noise is undoubtedly coming from a so-called switching circuit that controls the current in the diode by continuously turning on and off the current at different time intervals. The longer the current flows compared to not flowing, the higher the average value of the current and the light emitted. The advantage is that the power loss will be minimal, but the disadvantage is that the continuously switching on and off radiates high frequency radio waves. It’s hard to shield off the noise, as also the LEDS should be placed in a metal box 😉 A better solution would in a 12V system be to connect 3-4 diodes in series and provide them with a constant DC power and then accept a 10-20% increase in a already very low power consumption.

Stein Varjord

Hi Tom.

That’s exactly the kind of detail knowledge I look for. Knowing WHY is so cool because it makes one able to look for better choices. However, since I’m the annoying type of nerd, I’ll reward you with questions. 😀

When you say 3-4 diodes in series, do you mean the LEDs in series so they fit the actual voltage by adding up, or do you mean other types of diodes to modify the current? Iv’e noticed that some LED lamps can accept voltages from 8 to 30 Volts or so, but I assume they are switching as described. Also, how does the switching reduce the power consumption?

Bill Attwood

Hi Tom.
Forgive a stupid question, but how would the diodes help in a DC system? I have always thought they act like a one-way valve in an AC system eg the current produced by the alternator is AC and is rectified to DC by the diode/rectifier assembly. I guess the answer lies in your idea of placing 3 or 4 in series, but an explanation understandable to a layman would be appreciated – or point me to the appropriate Wiki site.
Yours aye,



LED’s have a maximum current rating. Typically they would have a resistor of the appropriate value in series to limit the current across the junction and set the brightness level. This resistor value would also be based on the input voltage. Several diodes in series would act the same as incandescent bulbs using the loss across the junction instead of the resistance in a filament. It is important never to allow a LED to draw more than the rated current. They will explode with a loud pop and a bit of smoke.

The reason that the manufacturers use a high speed switching circuit is to make the light more energy efficient. No wasted energy from limiting resisters and to allow for no performance loss with changing input voltages. How ever this does make them noisier and less reliable. I hope this helps.


A diode connected to a AC voltage only passes half the wave. Bridge rectifiers use four diodes to create a DC voltage. When a diode is used in a DC circuit it is usually for isolating components. A real life example would be to use a diode off your running light circuit and a diode off your tricolor mast head light to connect your compass light. This allow the compass light to function with either circuit turned on but will allow both lights to be independent.

Marc Dacey

Very interesting information here. I think I had heard this at some point in relation to some LEDs coming out of … Fiji…maybe? It was a selling point for them. Clearly, it matters a great deal for trilights next to VHF whips, less so in other applications.

Bill Attwood

Hi Dave
Thanks for the information, it was very helpful, particularly in understanding Tom’s idea.
A supplementary question. Wouldn’ t the problem be best solved by inserting a dc/dc converter into the beginning of a circuit supplying all LED’s? This would ensure a clean and stable supply.
Yours aye

Tom Jelsing

Hi Stein, Bill and Dave

Here’s a little closer explanation, what I mean would be a good solution to avoid RFI from LED switch regulators located close to VHF/AIS antennas. The voltage drop across a LED lies in the area around 2-4 V depending on the color and the current in the diode. The voltage drop over a given diode type may also vary 10-20%. If we assume that the voltage drop for a given diode (eg. Red) is 2.5 V @ 25 mA, the voltage drop across 4 diodes in series will be 10 V. If we want a current of 25 mA at a supply voltage of 12.6 V, you can be tempted to believe that it can be done with a series resistor on (12.6-10) /0.025 = 100 Ohm. However, if the voltages over the diodes actual are 2.2 V and the engine charges at 14.4 V, the current in the diodes will be (14.4-8.8) / 100 = 56 mA. So that’s a bad solution. The right solution is to drive the diodes with a constant current source, delivering constant 25 mA (or what you want) independent of the supply voltage and voltage drop across the diodes. There should only be room for a little voltage over the constant current source.