In this study, the effect of UV-A and different wavelengths of visible light irradiations combined with or without a photosensitizer (methylene blue, MB) on the establishment of viable but nonculturable (VBNC) state in Escherichia coli was investigated. Survival of the E. coli was investigated by measuring plate counts, respiring cell count (RCC), direct viable count (DVC) and total counts over a period of up to 72 h. The inhibition rates of various light sources in the presence or absence of MB on E. coli in seawater were ranked in the order UV-A>red light>white light>blue light>green light (from greatest to least activation). E. coli survived for 10.2, 19.0, 21.3 and 24.04 h under exposure to red, white, blue and green light and for 6.8 h under exposure to UV-A in the presence of MB according to t99. Although the VC declined to undetectable levels in a relatively short time, the RCC showed that some cells were still capable of respiration and, therefore, are assumed to have entered the VBNC phase. This is the first time that red light has been shown to have a stronger effect on E. coli survival and VBNC than white, green and blue light in seawater environment.