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Mico Verde


June 6th, 2005
Danielís Bay, Nuku Hiva

An open letter to the cruising community concerning setting a proper light while on the hook

In my freshman (rookie) season of cruising Iíve been very surprised to discover a widespread trend of not setting a proper anchor light. Originally I found this custom very surprising since, a trait, very common among cruisers Iíve meet, is the desire (at least externally) to be known as someone who always does everything ďthe right way.Ē

Spend a night in nearly any anchorage in Mexico or Polynesia and count the number of anchor lights set at 2200. Most nights one would be hard pressed to find even a quarter of the boats with lights set and of that number only half would be visible beyond half a mile (when not occluded). What does a highly visible light constitute? Ideally one that can be seen at two miles out and as close to 360 degrees as possible. Iím deliberately skipping any reference to the COLREGs since everyone knows these inland and international rules already. Instead Iím speaking in terms of what is most useful to other cruisers and the vessels which most commonly come into contact with us.

For most small boats a good anchor light is already installed at the time of purchase. To use it one has to simply flip a switch at dusk and regular maintenance involves a trip up and down the mast now and again.

So what is it that hinders or altogether precludes so many normally ďresponsibleĒ sailors from setting this light? The worst answer I can imagine to this question, which is also the most commons is: power consumption. Cruisers donít want to splurge amp-hours on something that doesnít immediately add to the overall enjoyment of our lifestyle. In nearly every case Iíve heard this response, the vessel in question had at least one reefer and a full SSB rig. These yachts are already very much in the habit of using high tech equipment which pulls in a ton of amps on a daily basis (100+). So why not set a 1.5 amp light for 12 hours at a cost of around 16 amps more? The cabin fans most likely consume more power! If it can be determined that the damage caused by collision at night occurred because there was no light on your vessel, it will almost certainly be the fault of the negligent skipper. Try sorting this one out in Mexico! And have you checked your yachtís insurance policy on this point lately?

There have been real strides made in the past couple of years in the arena of LED lights for marine use. These lights draw only a fraction of an amp. Many masthead anchor light models have even started to incorporate tri-color, strobe and photo-sensor/auto-on features. My only complaint with these lights is a tendency to resemble a very bright, blue star. However, these lights (specifically the ones available from Orca Green Marine at www.ogmarine.com) are now USCG approved as they have been tested for the two-mile visibility requirement.

Financial and legal liabilities aside I also find this issue troublesome given the strong sense of ďalways help the other guy out; itíll be you somedayĒ in our community. Who hasnít carefully plotted a passage for daylight arrival only to encounter light winds halfway across and as a result had to stand into a strange harbor at midnight? Itís times like these that seeing those gently rolling amber lights to guide you in, and let you know youíre where you thought you were, really helps.

One final rant; please donít think that your Davis Mega-Light, hung from underneath the dodger in the cockpit is a good substitute for an anchor light. The Mega-Light is a great product, which does function extremely well if hung either at the top of the mast or in the fore triangle off the forestay (in the international custom). However, hanging the light under the dodger provides very limited visibility for upwind vessels and the low height diminishes the range of sight greatly.

If all this isnít enough, just consider the alternative Ė waking up in the middle of the night and seeing a trawler plow right through your saloon (and the collision was your fault).

Warren Johnson
s/v Mico Verde of Seattle




SV Mico Verde