The Guide to Buying the Best Boat Driving Lights and Headlights
Navigating on the open water on a dark night is very hard, especially if you don't have any boat driving lights. The only navigation lights that are required by law are those that light up your boat so other boats can see you. There are no laws requiring boats to be able to light up other objects, only to illuminate themselves.
The biggest misconception about finding the best boat headlights for nighttime driving is that you can take the headlight or light bar off a car or truck and use it on a boat. It seems simple - but it won't actually work very well. Illuminating the open water is a far different animal than illuminating land. The good news - you're in the right place to learn what to look for in finding the best boat driving lights and headlights.
We encourage you to check local regulations prior to utilizing boat driving lights. It is not considered legal on some water bodies, although it can be very dangerous to navigate at night when traveling through marshes or areas that have floating debris. Hence the reason you will even see large ships navigate with driving (spot) lights. That being said, if there are on-coming boats you should not turn on your driving lights as it may blind them.
Table of Contents
Features of the Best Boat Driving Lights and Headlights
The best boat lights for night driving need to be capable of shining a long distance, while also penetrating through any fog that may be on the water.
1. Long Distance Illumination
There is very little for light to reflect off of on the water, so unlike land, it takes a powerful light that can shine far beyond what would be deemed acceptable on land.
2. Color Temperature Optimization
Shining a boat headlight for driving a long ways is half the battle - if you can't cut through the increased humidity associated with being on the water then it doesn't matter how far your light shines, you won't be able to see.
The ideal color for boat driving lights is in the spectrum of 2000k to 3000k. This is considered by most to be a "warm white" light color and does a great job at shining through fog rather than illuminating fog. This is why your fog lights are a more yellow-orange color compared to your standard daylight lights.
3. Durable Housings
There are two things that cause premature failure in boat headlights and driving lights: vibration and moisture. Combatting these two feats isn't easy and it must be designed for, and specifically for marine purposes.
There are manufacture grade waterproof ratings - and they don't all mean they are "waterproof" per say. The waterproof grade you need for a boat driving light is IP68 minimum if not IP69K at best. This will ensure your light stays dry for the long haul and is at minimum risk for moisture degradation.
As far as being vibration resistant, the lights must have proper hardware and reinforcement to minimize the impact of vibration on lights.
4. Corrosion Resistance
Weatherproof and marine grade are two different animals. Weatherproof will work for most cars, trucks, ATVs and UTVs but it won't always work for boats. Marine grade is the standard when looking for the best navigation lights. If you don't strive for marine grade, you're at risk to see the light and components slowly deteriorate over time and within a couple months the light will look like it's 10 years old.
Most quality boat driving lights or headlights are specified as marine grade, and you shouldn't settle for any less. This means they are made of corrosion resistant hardware and of a corrosion resistant housing with proper coating.
Our Recommended Best Boat Headlight for Driving
The best boat headlight for driving at night meets the above criteria we discussed - and then some.
Here's a quick recap of the 4 features to look out for:
- Long Distance Illumination
- Color Temperature Optimization
- Durable Housings
- Corrosion Resistance
Long Range Marine Driving Light
The Long Range Marine Driving Light Bar was designed specifically for driving at night. It shines over 1,200 yards - giving you the long range reach you need for illuminating an open waterway.
- Military Spec Aluminum Housing - Vibration Proof and IP 68 Waterproof.
- Long Range Illumination - Reaches out over 1,200 yards.
- Adjustable Intensity - Increase intensity on open water, decrease intensity for on-coming boats and to prevent from disturbing homeowners in canals.
- Color Temperature Optimization for Fog Penetration - Features Warm White 2200k high efficiency LEDs for lighting up a waterway on a clear or foggy night.
- Marine Grade & Saltwater Resistant - Made to hold up to the elements boaters put them through.
Other Navigation Lights
While the purpose of this article was focused on finding the best boat driving lights and headlights for navigating at night, there are other navigation lights that are actually required by the U.S. Coast Guard and are referred to as "running lights" as well as recreational / leisure lights that are not required.
Required Navigation Lights
The U.S. Coast Guard requires bow and stern lights for navigating at night. These allow others to see you, but do not help you see hidden objects ahead.
Bow Navigation Light
On the bow (front) of the boat, a red navigational light is required on the vessel's port (left) side and a green navigational light is required on the vessel's starboard (right) side. These lights allow others to figure out which side of the boat is facing them and which direction you are traveling.
Stern Navigation Light
On the stern (rear) of the boat, a white light sometimes called a "sternlight" is required - it must be installed for operating at night. On some boats, this light is mounted in the center of the boat at the highest point. The light shines 360 degrees and allows others to identify you.
Not Required Navigation Lights
The U.S. Coast Guard only requires bow and stern navigational lights, they do not require driving lights or "headlights" for illuminating the water ahead, or interior lighting for boats. These are considered leisure and recreational lighting.
Boat headlights and driving lights are not required by the U.S. Coast Guard and on some water bodies are unlawful. Most boaters use headlights / driving lights on a temporary basis to be able to determine where they are located within a waterway or channel.
Boat Interior Lighting
Interior lighting for boats is not considered navigational lighting and are not required. Interior lighting can help boaters illuminate the deck so they are able to see where they are walking within the boat at night. Many interior lights are available in Red, Green, Blue, and White light. White and blue light can mess with your night vision and also attract bugs. Green will still attract bugs, but messes with your night vision less. The ideal color for interior boat lighting is red because you can maintain your night vision and it does not attract bugs.
For more information on interior boat lighting and how the different colors attract bugs and your night vision, read our Guide to Buying the Best Interior Boat Lights.
Night Time Boating Recommendations
Regardless of whether you decide to use boat driving lights or headlights, here are some good general practices to keep in mind when night time boating.
1. Slow Down
Judging distance at night is far more difficult than during the day - and floating debris is far more difficult to see at night than during day. It's important to slow down at night and travel with as much awareness as possible.
2. Adjust Interior Lighting
While underway, it's best to turn your interior lighting off. This ensure you maintain the best night vision possible.
3. Use Hearing to Your Advantage
It's easy to get distracted by a good song, but when traveling at night you need to heighten your senses. It's best to keep the music off so you can hear neighboring boats.
4. Use Boat Driving Lights on Open Water
The only time you should use boat driving lights is on the open water, when there are no on-coming boats. If boats are coming in your direction, your driving lights should be turned off to prevent from blinding them. Use your night vision to navigate past them and then turn the lights back on to illuminate possible floating objects.