Boat Dock Lights For An Outdoor Space You’ll Love

The right boat dock lights provide excellent illumination at night and look good during the day.

You bought your waterfront home to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the water. So why do you spend your nights sitting in the living room? Especially when, with the flip of a switch, you could be relaxing on your dock under the stars?

With a few well-placed lights, your dock can be a great place to unwind after work, have a real conversation with your family, or entertain friends.

But it takes more than putting up a couple of lights. You need to put the right lights in the right place to make your dock as safe and useful as possible.

It’s not hard, but it does take some planning. Let’s start with the basics.

Types of Boat Dock Lights

It all starts with basic lighting principals used by the pros. Lighting designers often talk about building layers of light.

  • Ambient lighting makes space safe to move around.
  • Task lighting puts extra light where it’s needed.
  • Accent lighting highlights interesting objects.

Not every space needs all three layers. But using these three layers will give you the most useful and attractive lighting.

Also, some lights will serve more than one purpose. String lights, for example, can act as both ambient lighting and task lighting. Ambient lighting when strung around the perimeter. Task lighting when crossed over a table or sitting area.

Ambient Dock Lighting

Ambient lighting fixtures cast an even glow of light across the dock. They provide general lighting that allows you to see everything on the dock so that you can move around.

Ambient dock lighting fixtures come in two types. Fixtures for lighting the deck and fixtures for lighting everything above the deck.

Lighting the Deck

Deck lighting fixtures sit below the waist level and shine their light onto the deck below in a soft, even glow.

Rail Lights

Rail lights attach to the side of pilings or posts. Their small size lets them blend into their surroundings during the day and provide light where you need it at night. Rail lights are best when you don’t want your light fixtures to be a major part of the design of the dock.

Post Cap Lights

Post Cap lights attach to the tops of pilings or posts. Unlike Rail lights, they are meant to be seen. They come in many different styles and finishes that add a touch of style to the dock.

Look for Pagoda style lights that have shades to direct light to the deck and away from your eyes. Avoid lantern style lights that shine light in all directions making it hard to see into shadows.

Cone Piling Cap lights do more than light your dock, they keep birds from landing on your pilings. LEDs line the edge of the cone and illuminate the deck below.

ambient and task dock lights
Bollard lights light the deck while goosneck lights provide task lighting.

John Coley image from Flickr
Some rights reserved

Bollard Lights

Use bollard lights when you don’t have pilings or posts for attaching lights. These free-standing posts come in a wide variety of sizes, styles, and finishes. Look for bollard lights that direct light to the walking surface instead of your eyes. If you live near saltwater, look for marine-grade lights.

Step Lights

Step lights make stairs safe to use at night. Use one light for each step.

Lighting the Space

auhnix photo Flickr
Add a touch of class to your dock with String Lights

String Lights

String lights add a nice touch to any outdoor space. Place them around the perimeter or criss-cross overhead. They come in many different styles and lengths.

Task Lighting Fixtures

Task Lighting provides extra light where needed for cooking, reading, and other tasks. But because most docks are open spaces with no ceiling, it can be difficult to find places to mount task lighting.

Pole Lights

Pole Lights have been used to light cleaning tables on docks for decades. Even if you don’t plan on doing any fishing, a pole light is a good way to light a grill or sitting area.

Barn Lights

Gooseneck Barn lights are a stylish way to add task lighting to a dock. They come in many different finishes and styles so it’s easy to find one to match your taste. You can buy them with arm lengths from a few inches to over three feet.


Lamps are the easiest way to add task lighting to your dock. These can be anything from a battery-powered LED candle to a plugin floor lamp or table lamp. Some even come with a built-in speaker. From modern to traditional and every style between, you can find an outdoor lamp to match any dock.

Accent Lighting Fixtures

Accent Lighting is more decorative than functional. It draws attention and creates visual interest in an object or area. Use accent lighting to highlight your dock’s most interesting features.

dock lights
The water is your dock’s most interesting feature. Make it stand out with underwater lights.

Underwater LED Lights

Underwater lights bring out the best of the most interesting feature on any dock, the water. A glowing pool of light instantly transforms your dock into a tranquil retreat.

Strip Lights

Strip lighting is thin and flexible. Hide strip lights in small spaces where no other lights fit. Use strip lighting to add visual interest to even ordinary objects such as tables and chairs.

Path Lights

Having dock lights is not enough. You need a safe way to get from your house to your dock. Path lights add a safe passage between your home and dock. They also make your dock look like a part of your home, not an island in the dark.

What Else You Need to Know

Damp and Wet Rated Fixtures

Light fixtures sold in the U.S. carry an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) rating on the label that indicates where they should be used.

Dry-rated lights are for interior use only. Never use them on a dock. Even an enclosed area, such as a storage room, is exposed to high humidity and extreme changes in temperature.

Damp Rated fixtures will stand up to high humidity but must be protected from the rain. They are best for inside storage areas and protected areas under a roof.

Use Wet Rated light fixtures anywhere exposed directly to rain or splashing water. On a dock, this is any location that is not in an enclosure or under a roof.

What’s Your Style?

Your dock has a style it’s own. Choose light fixtures that match the dock’s architecture and highlight it’s best features.

Match the architectural style of your home or create a unique style for your dock. Mix styles and finishes for an eclectic design or choose fixtures with the same style for a uniform look.

Light Color Temperature

Color temperature is how warm or cool a white light looks. Warm White and Sunlight color temperatures will make your dock feel warm and inviting.
Color Temperature: Warm White 2700K, Sunlight 3000K, Bright White 4000K

Good lighting transforms your dock into an outdoor space you’ll love to use. With the right lights in the right place, your dock is safe and more enjoyable to use.

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