Great Find: Cheap Dinghy Lights

Amazing "Almost Legal" Dinghy Lights by Capt. Matt

We've always had trouble meeting the lighting requirements for our dinghy. With no electrical system, finding hardy, waterproof lights that attach easily has been a challenge. From our observations, it would appear that most cruisers have a problem in this department! The dinghy is a vessel and requires all the things a vessel needs to be legal. Things are a bit easier if you row your dinghy, but if it has a motor aboard then you are operating a power vessel. To make things even more confusing, the Coast Guard requires items and some states add their own items. 
Too late for dinghy ops? I think not!
For example, we are cruising in Florida with our 10’ dinghy with a 15 HP motor.

US Coast Guard Requirements
Registration numbers and registration
Legal lifejackets for everyone on board
If operating at night, an approved visual distress signal
If capable of speeds >7 knots, red-green sidelights and an all-around white light 1 meter above sidelights. If < 7knots, just an all around white.

Florida requirements (if different than above)
Must meet Coast Guard requirements
Sound producing device (whistle)
At night, three visual distress signals
Coast Guard described lights

Most of these requirements are fairly easy to meet. We keep two type-II PFDs bungled to the top of the fuel tank all the time, and we have two more we throw aboard when guests are coming. We keep our registration, whistle and some of our boat cards in a small waterproof card case lashed to the transom. 

We tried this sort-of inexpensive dinghy light kit from Attwood off of Amazon for about $30. It worked well but the mounting system is problematic, especially for our inflatable. There is just no way to mount the forward bicolor light/sidelight on the rubber/hypalon hull. It would work well on a hard dinghy. The mounts are a bit flimsy and they do rust and then fall apart. There is a dinghy light kit available from West Marine, but it seems a bit overpriced to us at over $150! Plus, online reviews indicate it may have bad mounts as well...

Since none of these options work for us, from day 1 we had to try other things. Nothing worked great. There doesn’t seem to be any better selection to be had, so we made up our own system. Here’s what we’ve done: for the all-around light, we bought this tactical flashlight with a white cone. 
I made a simple mount for this from Lowes with a section of 3/4” PVC pipe and threaded screw fittings. The threaded cap is through-bolted to the top of my engine cowl. The light is held in place by a tube of duct tape (fancy, I know!) but this could be upgraded to a PVC coupling or something. When not in use, the pipe unscrews and lays on the floor of the dinghy. I also wrapped the pipe in SOLAS reflective tape, which looks better and will reflect others' flashlights.

The light also does SOS flashing, which is handy as the “visual distress” signal. But, if we are being very particular (like law enforcement tends to be in Florida when it comes to people on boats) it is not a Coast Guard approved visual distress signal. This light is approved and is easy to carry as well. NOTE: while the information I've found leads me to believe that this light meets USCG requirements, I'm not sure about Florida regs which state "three visual distress devices".
Click the photo for more information.

For the sidelights, we have one GREEN and one RED Mini LED Glowsticks by Night Ize. Click the picture below to find the right colors on Amazon. I picked these up at Lowes for $3 each, and bought the white one too because, well, it’s cool! We’ve put these along the forward grab lines with zip ties. They are there all the time since they are waterproof and you simply twist them to turn them on or off. Spiffy.
Ready for night-time ops! Launch the shuttlecraft!
I like these LED Glowsticks so much that I may even pick up a second set. I think they'd be great to have on board if your boat lights failed, if you were paddleboarding after dark, etc etc.

So there you have it. A spiffy solution to the dinghy lighting solution. I managed to use duct tape AND PVC, which is mega bonus points in the world of man-things.

The Boat Galley: “Things to Carry in the Dinghy”

US Coast Guard Requirements for Boaters (PDF document download)

Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) Boating Requirements

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  1. You're so on top of things, Matt :-) Seriously, good tips. Something for us to think about if we spend time cruising in the States this year.

  2. We had the same problem with lights for our inflatable which is used for search and rescue on inland waters. Since it's used for SAR that makes it a commercial vessel, i.e. more stringent requirements, we started with a very cheap set of West Marine lights which used suction cups which promptly dropped off the boat so we stuck the sternlight to the top of the outboard with, no laughing, ShoeGoo and the bow lights to the front of the inflatable with the same method. They've been there now for four?? years and haven't fallen off once. As I recall the lights were less than $50.

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