Anchor Light vs. Masthead Light


Captain Shel Miller

Masthead light can be a confusing term.

Let’s look up anchor and masthead lights in the Glossary:

  • Anchor light. A white light that shines so it is visible from all around the vessel required when anchored or moored between sunset and sunrise. The best place for this light is usually at the top of the highest mast; as in: Once successfully anchored we turn on the anchor light.
  • Masthead light or steaming light. A white light shinning forward through an arcof 225° indicating a vessel is under mechanical propulsion. The light is located about 2/3 of the way up the mast on a sailboat; as in: Turn on the masthead light (steaming light) when under power at night.

The masthead light may be located at the top of a short mast on a powerboat but is usually located about 2/3 of the way up the forward mast on a sailboat. The official Navigation Rules refer to this light as the masthead light which must be turned on at night when a vessel is using its engine. When a sailboat has its sails up but also uses the engine she is referred to as a power vessel and must use her masthead light (steaming light) at night. See below:



The anchor light is just that; a light, visible from all around, that is turned on at night whenever at anchor or tied up to a mooring. Boats at dock do not need this light. See below:


For much more about Navigation lights click here.

Best Sailing,
Captain Shel

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