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Fire/Rescue Boats

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  • Fire/Rescue Boats

    Disclaimer: This thread involves flashing lights. I know, I know, but please bear with me, it's not the usual crap (at least I hope it's not.)

    My department operates a small 19' fire/rescue boat. At the insistance of some of our officers, the warning lights on the boat are red & blue. In this area, red & blue on land vehicles means law enforcement. Most of the boats operated by other FD's in this area have red or red/amber warning lights. Most law enforcement agency vessels have blue lights only.

    The point of all this is, I don't want people to confuse us with a law enforcement organization.

    So my questions are:
    1) Does anyone know what USCG, etc. policy/regulations are for warning lights on vessels operated for fire/rescue services?

    2) If your department operates a fire boat, what color are your warning lights?

    I hope this doesn't turn into the usual lights discussion. Thanks in advance for your input.

  • #2
    Our departments boat is owned by the police and has a blue lightbar and used by the Marine Patrol, its a navy blue hull,battle ship gray deck with a white Coast Gaurd like diagnol stripe and cabin. It is a 25' and carrys a 600gpm pump,BLS bag,life jackets, rope,1.5 hand line and a front mounted monitor.
    Our 17' Boston Whaler is just white with a single blue strobe light on a pole and two on the console just carrys a BLS in addition to flotation devices.

    The Harbormasters office falls under the catagory of "special police" here like the park rangers, but both are under the control of the police department.

    The fd acuteally owns a zodiac with no lights and that is used only for fresh water ops andh as no lights and maybe used during a boat fire as a RIT boat but the HM just got a 10' John boat with more capcity than the zodiac so that maybe used now instead.

    The color of the lights should stay the current red/blue.
    Last edited by dfdex1; 06-21-2003, 12:27 AM.


    • #3
      Try this site. If you can not find it, I am sure that you can email them and ask a specific question.

      I know that the city of Tampa Fla has two fire boats and the lights on them are all red and white. Tarpon Springs Fla has a small boat with red lights and I have seen the city of Daytona Beach Fire Boat which has red lights.

      I would think that it depends on the primary use and who purchased it as to what type of lights are on it.

      I am not sure the Standard Number...but I know that NFPA now has a standard on Fire Boats. I am sure that this lighting issue is addresses in that.
      09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
      IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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      The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


      • #4
        In Wisconsin, inland waters and the Great Lakes, any "law enforcement" vessel needs to be identified with a blue flashing light.

        My dept. has a short 15ft fishing boat with a little extra equipment, nothing special. We only have port, starboard markings and a white light on the back, standard lighting for any boat. We do not have any revolving light on it. If it did have a flashing lights it would be red.

        I have seen other departments use red, white, or amber or a combination of the three colors. All are correct and allowable by fire department "vessels."

        Keep your head down and your powder dry.
        Lt.Jason Knecht
        Altoona Fire Rescue
        Altoona, WI
        Jason Knecht
        Township Fire Dept., Inc.
        Eau Claire, WI

        IACOJ - Director of Cheese and Whine


        • #5
          Who has jurisdiction over the waterway?

          You may find that you need to comply with Coast Guard rules if you operate on waterways with commercial traffic or "documented" vessels. Here in Chesapeake Bay country, I get to see a few boats, including some Biiiggggg ones! All have one thing in common with lights, A Red light on one side, a Green light on the other, and a White light on (or close to) the highest point on the vessel. All lights are steady (not flashing) and are called "running lights". My thinking is that if those are required for that purpose, then the use of Red, White, and Green are somewhat restricted and blue comes up as a logical choice for "Emergency" vessel identification. I have also seen towing and salvage boats with amber flashing lights. Stay Safe....
          Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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          • #6
            The USCG just asked us to change our boats flashing lights from blue to amber. Blue is for law enforcment. Amber is for emergency response. I still think it now looks like we are SEA TOW!!!
            B Holmes


            • #7
              Sorry I did not see this thread sooner, but here is the answer to the original question from the US Code of Federal Regulations which apply to all vessels operating on navigable waters of the US (some lakes and ponds contained completely in one state would not fall under this rule).
              PART 88--ANNEX V: PILOT RULES
              Sec. 88.11 Law enforcement vessels.

              (a) Law enforcement vessels may display a flashing blue light when
              engaged in direct law enforcement or public safety activities. This
              light must be located so that it does not interfere with the visibility
              of the vessel's navigation lights.

              (b) The blue light described in this section may be displayed by law
              enforcement vessels of the United States and the States and their
              political subdivisions.
              It should be noted that this is the only blue light allowed by the "COLREGS" or "Rules of the Road." Also note that it does not state that blue lights have the right of way, but it does not exlude the right of way either. Most states have laws requiring boaters yield to and stop for blue lights on the water (state waters extend for 3 miles off shore).
              Sec. 88.12 Public safety activities.

              (a) Vessels engaged in government sanctioned public safety
              activities, and commercial vessels performing similar functions, may
              display an alternately flashing red and yellow light signal
              . This
              identification light signal must be located so that it does not
              interfere with the visibility of the vessel's navigation lights. The
              identification light signal may be used only as an identification signal
              and conveys no special privilege. Vessels using the identification light
              signal during public safety activities must abide by the Inland
              Navigation Rules, and must not presume that the light or the exigency
              gives them precedence or right of way.
              (b) Public safety activities include but are not limited to
              patrolling marine parades, regattas, or special water celebrations;
              traffic control; salvage; firefighting; medical assistance; assisting
              disabled vessels; and search and rescue.
              BK, as you can see, we, as an FD, are in fact allowed the exact same light as Sea Tow (for the record I am a captain with Sea Tow). Your USCG commander screwed up however (not all that uncommon), as a flashing yellow is not a legal light for your boat, you may display a red and yellow alternating light only (beyond the basic navigation lights).

              It is important for all of us to know that there is no wiggle room in these rules. There is another rule in the rules of the road to the effect that you may not display any other signals except those authorized by the Col-Regs (except in distress). An amber or yellow flashing light is only allowed in three places, a submarine operating on the surface, the front barge of a long string of barges on "westen rivers" and high speed craft (such as hovercraft) operating on the water. Red flashing is only allowed in conjunction with aircraft operations and military vessels.

              That said, like any FD/PD relationship, the USCG may in some areas turn a blind eye to the use of unauthorized lights. In my area there are several fire boats running around with blue lights, and I've seen many other light combinations elsewhere. However, should the local USCG command change and the new commander wants to change things he/she can, and your FD can be hit with fines (and even jail time) for displaying an illegal light.

              I think we got the shaft when these rules were written. No doubt responding to a boat fire or medical emergency is a priority and should be afforded the same priviledge a law enforcement vessel gets responding to the exact same emergency.
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              IACOJ Fire Boat 1


              • #8
                Thank you Brother!

                This is exactly what I needed.

                Originally posted by Fire304
                An amber or yellow flashing light is only allowed in three places, a submarine operating on the surface, the front barge of a long string of barges on "westen rivers" and high speed craft (such as hovercraft) operating on the water.
                Do you know the CFR chapter for this? My department also operates hovercraft which have blue strobes on them.


                • #9
                  Sorry this is going to be so long of a reply, but I want to get all the important stuff across to you.

                  First off, let me start "da book."

                  Oh, the book is "US Dept of Transportation, United States Coast Guard, Navagation Rules, International-Inland"

                  In this book there are two sets on rules, one is the International COLREGS, or Rules of the Road, which is mostly found in 33 CFR. Int'l rules are based on an international treaty. Inland rules are domestic laws and are found in Public Law 96-591. With very few exceptions, all of us will be dealing with the inland rules (even if you are on the ocean, unless you go more than 3 miles out to sea or past the "COLREG demarcation line" which is usually USCG territory, not ours). The two set of rules are for the most part simular, but there are some important differences.

                  You can DL the rules as a .DOC or .PDF here:

                  Down load it and reference it while you read my post here...

                  Reference to specific laws can be found on page vi of the Rules.

                  You should also have a paper copy in your boat and all operators should read it often.

                  Specific rules...

                  International and Inland Rule 20 b
                  (b) The Rules concerning lights shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited , except such lights as cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in these Rules or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of a proper look-out.
                  Any light which might be confused with other lights are simply not allowed.

                  The following are authorized yellow (amber) lights...

                  Internation and Inland Rule 1c, footnote 1:
                  Submarines may display, as a distinctive means of identification, an intermittent flashing amber (yellow) beacon ... (32 CFR 706).
                  Inland rule 21g,
                  (g) “Special flashing light” means a yellow light flashing at regular intervals at a frequency of 50 to 70 flashes per minute...
                  And it's use...
                  Inland Rule 24 f,ii
                  a vessel being towed alongside shall exhibit a sternlight and at the forward end, sidelights and a special flashing light...
                  I was incorrect when I orriginally said this was a "western rivers" Rule, it applies to all inland waters.

                  I never realized this before, but according to this rule, if we tow another vessel along side or push it we are required to place a "special flashing light" on that vessel, although I've never seen it done. I'll have to mention this to my boss at Sea Tow.

                  For hover craft...
                  Internation and Inland Rule 23b
                  (b) An air-cushion vessel when operating in the nondisplacement mode shall, in addition to the lights prescribed in paragraph (a) of this Rule, exhibit an all-round flashing yellow light.
                  White flashing lights...
                  The catch all...
                  International Rule 36
                  Signals to Attract Attention
                  Any light to attract the attention of another vessel shall be such that it cannot be mistaken for any aid to navigation. For the purpose of this Rule the use of high intensity intermittent or revolving lights, such as strobe lights, shall be avoided.
                  The inland rule is almost identical, except it does not have the last sentance (about revolving and strobes), see rule 37.

                  Inland rule 37, Accepted Distress Signals...
                  ...A high intensity white light flashing at regular intervals
                  from 50 to 70 times per minute.
                  So, since we are mainly effected by the inland rules, white flahing lights are ruled out, since they are a distress signal. Yellow flashing lights are used on barges, submarines, and hovercraft, so they are forbidden as warning lights.

                  Red flahing lights...
                  Per Rule 20b, nowhere in the Rules is there mention of red flashing lights. There are special rules for the Navy (the military is exempt from the rules) which call for red flashing lights in several places including flight ops and man-over-board indicators (can be found in 32CFR). But since these are not in the Rules, it would appear that a flashing red light on a fire boat could not be confused for any other navigation signal. That said, a red flashing light is not a recognized signal, however the yellow and red flasher is, so another boater could be "confused" by an unrecognized flashing light.

                  I don't think I'd want to get into a ****ing match with the USCG over a red flashing light. In the end you'd probably win which would just leave the CG with a bad attitude about you, not good for a working relationship.

                  The blue strobes on the hover craft are legal if it is a law enforcement vessel (see Rules Annex V/Pilot Rules), however a fire department hovercraft would not be allowed the blue. This could become a real quandry if the FD uses blue lights on shore (as NY state does) and had to turn those off and turn on the red/yellow light in the water.

                  It is also important to point out that Rule 23b uses the words "shall display" not "may", which means if you are hovering on the water you will use a yellow flashing light.

                  I also need to point out that these rules only apply to vessels operating on the "navigatable waters of the US." A body of water is considered navigable if it lies within more than one state, or if it has direct access to the ocean. A lake like Tahoe or Champlain is navigable since they fall in two states. A lake completely enclosed by one state and not connected to either the ocean or another state via a canal (in other words, you can't drive your boat out of the lake to the ocean w/o a trailer) it probable is not covered by these rules. However, there is almost always some local version of the rules passed by state laws. So if you are running your hover craft on a small lake you may be fine just the way you are.

                  Hope that answers your q's BP. Drop me a line if you ahve any more Q's
                  If you are new to posting please CLICK HERE for an essential lesson
                  A bad day in the boat is better than a good day in the office. And in my case the office is a boat!

                  IACOJ Fire Boat 1


                  • #10
                    Thanks Brother, you answered all my questions and gave me some great ammo for changes.

                    We operate on one of the great lakes and connected rivers so these rules do apply to us.

                    Thanks again and stay safe.


                    • #11
                      Always glad to help bro.

                      Other than the hover craft, what type and size craft do you operate? Most rescue craft, or fire suppresion as well? All we have here is a small Zumbro rescue boat and the harbor master's boat for covering a fairly large area of water. There is a CG station about 30 minutes away and a larger rescue boat and a decent sized fire boat can be on station in about an hour.

                      Oh yeah, any water in your neck of the woods is going to fall under Inland Rules of the Road. The sad fact is that most private boaters fall under one of two catagories, Yahoos and FMY's (Fast Moving Yahoos) and don't have a clue about give way and stand on vessel rules and lighting. Despite that, I am a firm believer in following the rules even when no one else is, and it does make you look much more profesional in the eyes of those who make a living on the water.

                      Its important that you check out your local laws as well, most states have some limited form of waterborne regulations which you may be able to use for or against your arguments. You may find that under state laws you are allowed a blue light, then it becomes a fed vs local authority argument.

                      Good luck!
                      If you are new to posting please CLICK HERE for an essential lesson
                      A bad day in the boat is better than a good day in the office. And in my case the office is a boat!

                      IACOJ Fire Boat 1


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