Originally Posted by capta
I have had several very bad experiences, including almost running down a sailboat in the Anegada Passage (I was on a freighter) with vessels with tricolor masthead lights, so I applaud your decision to go with the much more intelligent, vertical set up.
Having almost been run down by a MSC cargo ship in broad daylight with the sails up and the AIS transmitter blipping away I would caution that lights are not enough. IMHO a red/green on the mast and deck lights isn't going to make a lot of difference compared to a tricolor. In chatting with several ships in the open ocean I was told that they could not see my deck lights due to wave action until they were very close.
Most big ships at night are easy to spot because they are lit up like Christmas. The exception is ships carrying hazardous cargo. They seem to fall into the "only the required lights, mate" I presume as a hedge against an electrical failure that results in a fire/explosion.
My solution is to light up "big time" if I am concerned that a ship can not see me. I have halogen lights at deck level that light up the sails. If they can't figure out from 1,000 sq ft of sail that I am a sailboat we are beyond hope. I have also added a long strip of reflective tape (the same stuff that is on your life jacket) down the side of the mast to reflect any light aimed in my general direction.
In traveling the Delaware Bay one night - an area with a lot of ship traffic - I overheard a conversation between several of the commercial ships. We were chatting about where I would duck at out the way as 8 ships - 5 in one direction - 3 in the other - were going to pass each other. Of course that was exactly where I was. At the time I only had deck mounted navigation lights and the AIS. There was a second sailboat in the mix but the commercial ships were not concerned about her. They said: "she is easy to see." The reason was that she had white lights on both her top and bottom spreaders. This has led me to the conclusion that adding additional "working" lights is a far better idea than being concerned about the specific characteristics of my navigation lights. With LEDs this has become more feasible as one can add a number of lights and still keep the amperage draw low. In the old days such a solution would most likely drain the batteries before dawn.
The trade off of course is visibility. The darker your ship the better your night vision so the better you can see. The brighter the ship the easier it is for others to see you. I admit that I have not come to a personal conclusion as to what is the right balance.
As I prattle on let me shift the scenario. Another big concern for me is seeing and being seen in a crowed anchorage at night. When approaching an anchorage most people are not looking 65 feet in the air for your anchor light. Even if they are looking up anchor lights from the deck of a sailboat look a lot like stars. Then of course there are the idiots who don't bother to turn on their anchor lights (not to be confused with those that turn on their strobes "to be seen" not realizing that in the US this is a mayday call.
) The solution for many of us is to purchase solar powered walkway lights from the local hardware store and mount them at deck level at night. At least that way there are lights on your boat at the altitude that correlates to where people are actually looking.
Fair winds and following seas