To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

That Range Light

Coping with operator error is difficult.

The ColRegs (The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) are required on boats. Rule 20 describes when lights must be used (sunset to sunrise and restricted visibility). Rule 25 describes lights to be used on sailing vessels.

We have both version of the running lights — deck-level and masthead. We also have the necessary inverted cone to be used when motor sailing.

When operating under power at night, we also have to exhibit a forward range light. This has been a problematic little thing. Even replacing it this week was a pain in the abdomen.

A few years ago, we replaced the bulb and the lens in it. And that was a right awkward job. The fitting is smallish and fussing around with it hanging from the mast is a recipe for dropping it or parts of it. It's a very popular fitting, however, because it's small and rugged.

Operator error is a big part of this light's life. We have "ANCHOR LT", "RUN LTS", "SPOT LT", "RANGE LT", "TRI" and "MAIN SPRD LTS" on the circuit breaker panel. Which one is this forward running light on the mast?


I decided to replace the old range light with a bigger (but hopefully easier to maintain) fixture. What we give up in rugged, we hope to make up for in ease of support.

In the picture, you can see the old space where the light used to be. There's a special-purpose pad welded to the mast just for the old light.

Above it is the new fixture with a cone that illuminates the deck ("MAIN SPRD LTS") and the lens that provides the necessary forward range light.

The installation required — I think — six trips up the mast one day. Six. And a final trip, today.

Why so many? Wrong size drill bits. I have a habit of using too small a bit for a given screw. In wood, this occaisionally leads to a crack here and there. But for the most part, I get by.

In aluminum, though, there's no "getting by". The hole has to be the right size or else. For the #10 screws, it's ¹¹⁄₆₄″ or nothing. It took four tries to get to that realization.

[Yes. Four.]

Then the ¹¹⁄₆₄″ bit broke. Leaving a chunk in the mast.

So I had another trip to get a smaller bit to drill the broken piece out. Then I used the smaller bit to make a starter and the broken bit to ream it out to the right size.

Aluminum slivers raining down everywhere. Hopefully, they're all cleaned up.

Then I had to switch tools one last time to actually put the fixture up. Yes, you can send stuff up in a bucket, but it was a lot of change: drill, screws, TefGel, electrical tools, etc. Easier to go down, switch tool bags and go back up.

By the time I had the minimum done, it was 6-ish, way too late to really finish the job. The wind had picked up and my energy levels had ebbed right away.


There's a profound "droppage" worry while up the mast. You have to work slowly and carefully because you can't drop anything. If you do, it's eitehr going to hurt someone, damage the boat, or fall into Biscayne Bay. The trifecta would probably happen if you dropped the drill into the head of the person holding the safety line.

The worry factor saps the energy required to juggle the TefGel (1) container, (2) lid, (3) brush, (4) screw and (5) screw-driver. Five Things. Two Hands. When you start getting the shakes, it's time to come down.

Sadly, it didn't seem to work. CA hit the switches. The deck light worked. The range light didn't.

She checked carefully. The ammeter showed that current was flowing. Something was getting switched on. Not a short circuit. Not an open circuit.

But I saw no lights.

After dinner, I realized the problem.

I told her to hit the "RUN LTS". That thing is the "RANGE LT". A quick check showed that — indeed — I had done enough correctly that it was working.


Today, I put on the final twist of heavy-duty self-sealing silicone tape and cable ties. I also reseated the fixture's lens to get all of the screws firmly tightened.