Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Public Safety Lights

Most towers use a Public Safety Light (PSL) on their towboats. The most common is probably a rotating light with red and amber bulbs that spin around inside a clear bowl. I've had a few debates with folks about the rules and legalities of these light, and the alternatives, like strobe lights. One individual insisted that a PSL must be rotating, so that it can't be confused with with a flashing navaid light, like a flashing red buoy. So, here is the actual 33 CFR 88.12 as cut and pasted from here

§ 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.

"Alternately flashing red and yellow"; could a rotating light be construed as alternating flashing? Sure, why not. Also, most of the PSLs I've seen are red and amber, not red and yellow, because as I understand it, yellow PAR bulbs are hard to find.

I have also seen plenty of flashing lights, even strobe lights on some towboats. Are these other lights in violation of the Rules? What the actual rules say about lights that aren't required is pretty vague: (Rule 20b)

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 which 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.

So, a couple of thoughts here. First of all, as I interpret the above paragraph, if it is daylight and unrestricted visibility, then the rules say you can pretty much show any damn lights you want. During such times when the rules shall be complied with, you can't display any lights that could be mistaken for other specified lights. So, a red and amber rotating light should be perfectly legal. And, so should an alternating pair of red/amber flashing LED strobe type lights. Or red and yellow if you can find them.

Just remind your operators that the PSL provides their zero-nada-nothing in terms of right of way (there is no "right of way", actually. I'll post more on that soon).

How many of us forget to turn the darn thing off? I solved that one on my towboats by installing a $2.00 flashing 12volt LED (fits in a 1/4" hole) in a prominent spot on the dash board, usually right next to the tachometer. Wire the LED into the same circut as the PSL.