Hurricane lamp on the boom, or electric beacon at the masthead? Duncan Kent gives advice on the best place to hang your anchor light


Every time I go off for a week, or even a long weekend, I spend as much time as possible at anchor. There’s something about being in charge of your own destiny that culminates in a night at anchor.
After a good day’s sail I often end up entering an anchorage after dark, picking my way through a forest of unlit masts and almost imperceptible hull silhouettes. Most boats are poorly lit – if at all – and the few that are lit have an all-round white light at the top of their mast, which boatbuilders these days like to call an anchor light.
The masthead anchor light came about to make life easy for builders. Wires have to go up to mast for a tricolour (de rigueur for today’s small to medium-size cruisers), so why not take one more up for an all-round white ‘anchor’ light?
In the Colregs, Rule 30(b) simply states that for a vessel under 50m LOA ‘an all-round white light should be placed where best seen’. Traditionally, this always meant hanging it in the foretriangle. An anchor light at the masthead was never a consideration until a couple of decades ago.
Anyway, the purpose of the anchor light is not to satisfy regulations, but to enable your vessel to be seen by others so that they can take avoiding action. Being keen to light up my rig or decks to an incoming vessel, rather than show a light 40ft up my mast where it often gets lost in amongst the jumble of shore lights surrounding many anchorages, I often hang mine from the stern end of the boom, raising it to ensure it is visible above the sprayhood. This also serves as a useful cockpit light when eating al fresco on warm summer evenings.
However, there is a point to the old custom of hanging it in the foretriangle: it gives some indication of where your anchor cable is laid out, so that others can avoid snagging it when they drop their own hook. This is particularly useful in crowded anchorages, where swinging room can be tight.