Running with those fancy LED lights? Prepare to get boarded!
We are not lawyers! If you have specific questions the best thing to do is to reach out to your Sheriff. They have always been happy to answer our questions!
We have seen a lot of posts on Facebook about people getting pulled over by the Sheriff when having their underwater lights on. Having a couple of USCG captains as part of the crew we were always were taught that the only lights you can have are your running lights and deck lights if needed. We saw people on Facebook challenge the sheriff exactly what law states you can not have other lights on when it would make you more visible to other boaters.
The biggest thing to remember is the USCG and both Sheriff’s use different sets of laws. While most of the rules are the same some are a little different in how they are enforced. So we talked to the Sheriff and dug deep into the CFR’s to see what we could find.
The first place we went was international and inland rules of the road. This is some of the most important information any captain needs to know. (Fair warning like any rules and government document it is dry) You can find it here USCG Rules of the road Warning captains rant “Everyone should be tested on this before they should be able to drive a boat. You do not even need a drivers license to drive a boat. Every week I have to give way even though I am the stand on vessel because people do not know the rules of the road.” rant over.
The section you are really looking for is Rule 20 Part C Section (b) which reads:
(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 as 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.
Note the last line “interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout” If you are running bright LED’s you will be interfering with the ability to look out and see obstacles and other boats which is open to interpretation.
That was all we could find so we did reach out to the Macomb County Sheriff Sergeant Maceroni to get it straight for the Sheriff’s mouth.
The response we got back from Sergeant Maceroni
“We have issued citations in the past under MCL 324.80171; Marine Safety, Violating Rules. Specifically Admin Rule 281.1233 (navigation lights) and/or 33 CFR 88.05 which regulates law enforcement vessels.
As I am sure you are aware, vessels can have blue lights activated anchored or moored but not if they are underway at any speed.”
So we did break this down:
Admin Rule 281.1233 can be found here which is the DNR’s version of the International/USCG lights standard. While it talks about navigation lights on small vessels it does not talk about other underwater lights or other lights that we could find.
33 CFR 88.05 does talk about other lights. More importantly, law enforcement vessels stating that:
§ 88.05 Law enforcement vessels.
(a) Law enforcement vessels may display a flashing blue light when engaged
in direct law enforcement or public safety activities. This light must be located
so that it does not interfere with the visibility of the vessel’s navigation
(b) The blue light described in this section may be displayed by law enforcement
vessels of the United States and the States and their political subdivisions.
So this in detail says the cops can use blue the light while underway!
So playing devil’s advocate we reached out back to the Sheriff to ask if it’s only the blue lights that are the objectional offense.
Sergeant Maceroni replied back
“It is our policy that any lights activated while a vessel is underway that are NOT the normal navigational lights and/or the proper location of such lights is a violation. We use Michigan Marine laws as our primary enforcement source of information.” he further stated “With all that being said, navigational lights are not at the top of our list for enforcement. If a vessel does not have lights activated (or are dim) that will be an issue every time. Obviously, visible lights are crucial for safety reasons. However, improper colors or location are technically illegal and will more than likely result in the vessel being stopped for said infraction.”
To date, everyone we know who has gotten pulled over has just gotten a warning. Look, we know you guys spent a lot of time an money buying and installing new LED lights. We have no less than 250′ of them on the pirate ship as well, but these guys are out there to protect us. When all else goes to shit these are the guys and gals who have to see the carnage and worst of people have to offer out there. If you are running with your LED lights on there is a chance you will get pulled over. Once you do all bets are off.
While anchored or moored run all of your lights as much as you want. While underway, Only your navigation lights are allowed.
As always just ask the Sheriff if you are in doubt. Everyone law enforcement officer we have met(except the MSP on Houghton Lake) are boaters themselves and are more than willing to explain the laws. If your not comfortable with that ask us and we will get the answer.
Hope this helps,
Boat Safe and see you out in the bay!