When were navigation lights introduced on ships?
Prior to 1848 there were no rules governing the navigation lights to be exhibited either by steam or sailing vessels.
However with introduction of steam vessels the numbers of collisions accelerated rapidly. In the period 1848–49 there were 3064 collisions involving British ships, in which nine steamships and 270 sailing vessels were lost.
In 1831, a select committee of the House of Commons studied the problem of collisions and introduced the first definite rule of the road for steamships. They also recommended the introduction of a platform forward for the steering wheel, so that the helmsman could see over the bow when navigating in confined waters. They also recommended that a steamship should show two lights horizontally when navigating along a river or shore. This rule does not appear to have been implemented.
In 1836, a select committee on pilotage made various recommendations, including the keeping to the starboard hand in narrow channels – this recommendation was not implemented until 1846.
The 1836 Royal Commission also made recommendations, namely that every steamship between sunset and sunrise should carry lanterns visible in all directions. A little later Captains Parkes and Pringle, conducting an enquiry into steamship accidents, recommended a white light at the masthead, a white light on the starboard paddlebox and a red light on the port paddlebox. It is, however, doubtful if the above recommendations were implemented, at least not to any great extent.
It was a Captain Evans who solved the problem by devising a white masthead light to show from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on either side of the ship. He also suggested the red and green side lights to show from right ahead to two points abaft the beam on their respective sides, and also the inboard screens to prevent the lights being seen across the bow.
Sailing vessels would continue to carry a single white light, as they had done for years as a custom of the sea. It was not until 1858 that the sidelights for sailing vessels were introduced.