Imagine yourself out at sea in the dead of night. A low, thick fog begins to settle in, limiting visibility to less than a football field. How are you going to be able to detect if the water in front of you if safe to traverse through? What if there are other ships nearby or one laying directly in your path? Fortunately, navigation lights were invented to assist in such situations.
If you have flown in an airplane, sailed on a cruise, or are that idiosyncratic person who has traveled into space, you’ve been in the presence of navigation lights before, whether you were cognizant of them or not. Navigation lights are signals for other crafts to detect and analyze. Sailors, pilots, and even astronomers rely on these lights every day in order to further guarantee safe travel. Sea vessels and air- and spacecraft are required by international law to have and use navigation lights. They must be turned on from sunset to sunrise. Special circumstances, such as low-visibility and inclement weather, also require them to be on.
Commonly mistaken, is the conviction that navigation lights solely aid in navigation, however, this is not true. Conventionally, navigation lights reveal the orientation, bearing, and current status of the vessel they are installed on. For example, an anchored ship will display white lights letting other vessels know the ship is at anchor. Various types of navigation lights exist. Strobe lights produce high-intensity flashes to avoid crashing with other crafts. Right-of-way lights shine green and red. The green light is mounted on one side of the craft, while red light is on the opposite side. Depending on which color light an oncoming craft spots, the operator will be informed if he or she has the right-of-way or not. Therefore, navigation lights are not all the same. Different lights provide personnel with different signals. That is to say, each light has a distinct meaning.
Revisiting the situation presented in the beginning, you see flashing colored lights off in the distance. Recognizing and reading the navigation lights, you are able to determine the ship’s intended course. To elude a collision, you adjust your ship’s heading to the left, causing the two ships to drift untouched past one another; the avoidance is a success. Navigation lights are responsible for keeping various types of craft safe during travel and are heavily depended on daily. Without them, the skies, seas, and space would be a more unpredictable, dangerous place.