December 14, 2014

Best place for an anchor light

ALMOST EVERY CRUISING SAILBOAT I see has an anchor light perched on top of the mast. What a silly place for an anchor light. What’s wrong with sailboat designers and builders? Have they never crept into a crowded anchorage late at night and nearly run into some yacht whose anchor light is hidden among the stars high overhead, instead of down low at eye level where you can see it?

There is nothing in the rules that says an anchor light must be the highest thing on a yacht. Rule 30 (b) of the international navigation rules says a vessel of less than 50 meters in length may exhibit an all-round white light “where it can best be seen.”

It used to be the fashion in the last century to run an anchor light about one-third of the way up the forestay, and often that light was a kerosene lantern (which is still legal, incidentally). But for some reason boat designers took it upon themselves to place a electric anchor lights atop the mast, about as far away from the battery as it’s possible to get. That meant extra-heavy copper cables running back and forth, cables that slapped against the interior of an aluminum mast at night when you were trying to sleep.  The cables were heavier because it was necessary to avoid the voltage drop occasioned by the long electrical circuit.

My anchor lights have always been suspended over the aft cockpit, slung beneath the boom. This is a more sensible height for the light — right where the eyes of a helmsman approaching at night would be focused. Some of the light splashes over the cockpit coamings and the adjacent cabin top, too, which is useful and also enables you to check on the anchor light from down below.

I don’t know of any official statistics that prove a low anchor light prevents more collisions that an anchor light set on top of the mast, but I can offer the circumstantial evidence that I have anchored in scores of busy places and never been hit. You may say that’s obviously because there’s someone up there looking out for me; but I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that. I don’t think I’ve been good enough to deserve special favors from above.

Today’s Thought
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
New Testament: John, i, 5.

Great minds like a think.
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack said...

100% correct John, sensible and simple. Of course mankind can't allow "that" to get in the way of progress! could we?

Washington & Main said...

I agree with you about anchor lights and I've actually been giving this some thought. My Alberg 35 Pendragon has one of those mast top lights; I can't imagine anyone seeing it who is seriously moving around an anchorage.

Years ago, I had a great little light that consisted of a plastic container for a 6 volt dry cell that powered a light inside a plastic Fresnel lens. There was a solar powered switch in it that would turn it on when it got dark, off when it got light. The whole thing had a rig for hanging from a halyard and a lower attachment point for securing it to a deck fitting. I'd put it about half way up the forestay on a Tanzer 22.

The great thing was that you could set this up in the afternoon, leave, it would turn on at nightfall, and turn off at dawn all on its own.

I've searched and searched but apparently these aren't produced. I think I'm going to go with a kerosene lamp off ebay (have kerosene lanterns in the cabin, so have to carry it anyway).

If someone knows a source for the anchor light I described, please post it. That thing was superior in every way to what's on the boat now.

Anonymous said...

We are new to sailing, but we use a solar-powered yard lamp (on a small pole that you stick into the lawn). We broke off the pole and now string the lamp partway up the forestay or partway up the mast, depending on whether the hammock is set up. Seems to work for us so far.