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Rules of the Road

There are two sets of navigation rules; inland and international. A nautical chart will show you the demarcation lines where the rules change from international to inland and vice versa. In general, these demarcation lines follow the coastline and cross inlets and bays. On the seaward side of the demarcation lines international rules apply. We will concentrate on the inland rules, since most of your recreational boating will occur on the landward side of the demarcation lines.

The Nav Rules are written with the understanding that not all boats can maneuver with the same ease. Therefore, Rule 18 states that certain vessels have the right-of-way over other vessels by virtue of their ability to maneuver.

A power driven vessel underway must keep out of the way of the following:

A sailing vessel, under sail only, and vessels propelled by oars or paddles. (Note: when a sailboat has its motor running, it is considered a power driven vessel).
A vessel engaged in fishing, whose fishing equipment restricts its maneuverability. This does not include a sport fisher or party boat and generally means a commercial fishing vessel.
A vessel with restricted maneuverability such as a dredge or tow boat, a boat engaged in work that restricts it to a certain area, or a vessel transferring supplies to another vessel.
A vessel not under command  broken down.
Each of these vessels must keep out of the way of the next vessel in the hierarchy. For example, a sailboat must keep out of the way of a vessel engaged in fishing, which in turn must keep out of the way of a vessel with restricted maneuverability. And everyone must keep out of the way of a vessel not under command.

When two power driven vessels are in sight of one another and the possibility of collision exists, one vessel is designated by the rules as the stand-on vessel and the other is designated as the give-way vessel. The stand-on vessel, the boat with the right of way, should maintain its course and speed. The give-way vessel must take early and substantial action to avoid collision. If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, the stand-on vessel must act to avoid collision.

Meeting Situations

In the following situations, the give-way vessel must take action to keep well clear. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, you should take action to avoid collision.

Meeting Head-On

When two power driven vessels are approaching head-on or nearly so, either vessel shall indicate its intent which the other vessel shall answer promptly. In a meeting situation neither vessel is the stand-on vessel.

It is generally accepted that you should alter course to starboard and pass port-to-port. The accompanying sound signal is one short blast. If you cannot pass port-to-port due to an obstruction or other vessels, you should sound two short blasts to indicate your intention to pass starboard-to-starboard. Make sure the other vessel understands your intent before proceeding. The other vessel should return your two-short-blast signal.
                                                  Click here to view animation

When two vessels are moving in the same direction, and the astern vessel wishes to pass, it must initiate the signal to pass as shown in the diagram. The vessel passing is the give-way vessel and should keep out of the way of the vessel being passed. The vessel being passed is the stand-on vessel and must maintain its course and speed. If the stand-on vessel realizes that the course intended by the give-way vessel is not safe, it should sound the danger or doubt signal.

If you are the overtaking vessel, remember that you are the give-way vessel until well past, and safely clear of, the passed vessel. Do not cut in front, impede or endanger another vessel.
Inland Rules

"I intend to pass you on your starboard side"
1 short blast (1 sec.)

1 short blast (1 sec.)

International Rules:

"I intend to pass you on your starboard side"
2 prolonged blasts/1 short

1 prolonged/1 short/1 prolonged/1 short

Inland Rules

"I intend to pass you on your port side"
2 short blasts (1 sec.)

2 short blasts (1 sec.)

When two power driven vessels are approaching at right angles or nearly so, and risk of collision exists, the vessel on the right is the stand-on vessel and must hold its course and speed. The other vessel, the give-way vessel, shall maneuver to keep clear of the stand-on vessel and shall pass it by its stern. If necessary, slow or stop or reverse until the stand-on vessel is clear.
                                       Click here to view animation

In the example above, the red vessel is the give-way vessel and should alter course and speed to pass behind the green vessel. If the skipper of the green vessel does not observe the red vessel taking action to avoid collision, then he/she must take the required action to avoid a collision.

Sailing Craft and vessels propelled by oars or paddles
danger zone
Sailing craft and boats propelled by oars or paddles have the right-of-way over power driven vessels. An exception to this is if the sailing craft or self-propelled vessel is passing a power driven vessel. In an overtaking situation, the overtaking vessel is the give-way vessel, even if it is not propelled by an engine.

Click here to view animation

Sailing vessels have special situations when meeting and crossing each other.

Click here for additional sailing information

give way
Navigating Narrow Channels

The rules tell you to stay to the starboard side of narrow channels. Make sure that you do not impede a vessel that is constrained by draft, i.e. a large vessel that must operate within the channel in order to make way safely. When crossing a channel, do so at a right angle and in such a way as to avoid causing the traffic in the channel to make course or speed changes. Do not anchor in a channel unless you cannot make way (broken down, etc.).

If you approach a bend in a river around which you cannot see, sound one prolonged blast to alert vessels approaching from the other side of the bend that you are there. If another vessel is around the bend, it should answer with one prolonged blast. Conversely, if you hear a prolonged blast as you approach the bend, answer with a prolonged blast.

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This page was last updated on: September 11, 2010
Click here to view animation
Water Skiing

Fast becoming one of the most popular sports in the nation, water skiing also has certain aspects of danger. First, it should be a team sport. The team players are the skier, the boat driver and an observer to keep an eye on the skier and relay messages to the driver. The boat should also be equipped with a wide angle rear view mirror so the driver can see the skier.

Many states require that there be a water skier observer and often there are age restrictions. Check your state specific information for these regulations as well as permissible hours of operation, any speed and distance requirements and PFD wearing reequirements.

Be sure to follow all normal operating procedures and stay well clear of other boats, docks and obstacles. Since the tow rope should be at least 75 feet long remember to keep the skier at least twice that distance from potentially dangerous obstacles.

The water skier should be able to communicate to the towing boat with hand signals. A clear understanding in advance of the desires of the skier will lead to a safer sport. Try not to think for the skier, let him or her direct the actions of the boat.
Hand Signals
Do not water ski after dark. It is very dangerous and against the law. Many states have rules regarding when you can water ski.
Personal Watercraft

A Personal Watercraft (PWC) is defined as a vessel which uses an inboard motor powering a water jet pump as the primary source of motive power, and which is designed to be operated by a person sitting, standing, or kneeling on the vessel, rather than the conventional manner of sitting or standing inside the vessel. It is not a toy. If you operate one, you have the responsibility of knowing and obeying boating regulations and practicing boating safety.

The U. S. Coast Guard classifies personal watercraft, PWC, as inboard boats. That means personal watercraft are subject to the same rules and requirements as any other powerboat plus additional requirements specific to PWC.

In addition to the general regulations in effect for motorboats, PWC owners must also be aware that there are local laws and ordinances around the country that further restrict PWC operations. They include age of the operator (13 in Louisiana), sunrise to sunset limitations, special no wake zone provisions, assigned operating areas and restrictions, and speed and distance limits. Make certain you know the laws that apply to you in your area of operation. For example, some states prohibit wake jumping or require no-wake speed when within 100 feet of the shoreline.

Federal Regulations require that all personal watercraft be registered and display a registration number in accordance with state and federal guidelines.

Properly fitted, CG approved personal flotation devices (life jackets) are required for each person on board, and in most states they are required to be WORN by a PWC operator. The PFD should have an impact rating equal to, or better than, the PWC maximum speed. There must also be a CG approved, Class B-1 fire extinguisher aboard the PWC.

Many PWC have a lanyard connected to the start/stop switch. If your PWC is equipped with such a switch, it will not start unless the lanyard is attached to it. Never start your engine without attaching the lanyard to your wrist or PFD. If you fall off, the engine automatically stops running so your craft will not travel a great distance and you can easily swim to it. It will prevent the PWC from running unattended in areas populated by swimmers or other watercraft.

PWC operators need to keep in mind that a jet drive requires moving water through the drive nozzle for maneuverability. If you approach a dock, shore, or other vessel at a rapid speed and shut off the engine, you will have little or no maneuvering capability.

The Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA) also recommends that the operator wear eye protection, a wetsuit, footwear, and gloves.

The vast majority of PWC operators are responsible boaters. They are considerate of the environment, obey the law, and respect the rights of others to enjoy our waterways. Most complaints to law enforcement officials regarding the operation of PWC's fall into the following categories. If you are a mature and conscientious operator, avoid these breaches of common courtesy and consideration.

Wake jumping! This is not only irritating to boaters attempting to be watchful and maneuver in heavily congested areas, but it is extremely dangerous. In one case, a wake-jumper in Florida got tangled up in the props of a cabin cruiser and was killed.

No wake zones! If you want to get on the wrong side of a responsible boater, disobey no wake zones. You are likely to find yourself with a ticket, since most boaters and shoreline property owners will not hesitate to report violators of slow-no-wake areas.

High speeds too near shore or other boats! Most states require 100-200 feet of separation between boats and the shore when moving at more than no-wake speeds. (No wake means the slowest possible speed your boat will go and still provide maneuverability.)

Noise! Excessive noise near shore or near anchored boats is sure to draw negative attention. Be considerate of property owners and other boaters.

There are environmental issues that PWC operators need to consider as well:

Pollution! Refuel on land to reduce chances of spillage into the water. Don't overfill your fuel tank. Check and clean your engine well away from shorelines.

Turbidity! In shallow waters where PWCs can easily operate, the bottom gets stirred up, suspending sediment which cuts down on light penetration and depletes oxygen. This can affect bird and fish feeding. To avoid this, operate your PWC in deeper water. If you do have to traverse shallow water, run at idle speed.

Vegetation! In coastal areas be aware of low tide. Low water levels expose sea grass beds and other delicate vegetation. Disturbances can cause erosion and long lasting damage. As a side effect, ingesting seaweed and seagrass is not good for your engine. Feed it clean water and it will run and maneuver much better.

Wildlife harassment! A PWC near shore can interrupt feeding and nesting wildlife, and cause animals to deviate from their normal behavior. And that, by law, is illegal. Mammals such as otters, manatees, and whales can be injured by direct contact with a boat, and it is believed that the noise from watercraft can even adversely influence breeding cycles and cause birth defects. So avoid areas of high animal populations.

Remember, our waterways belong to everybody! If all boaters act responsibly and courteously, obey the rules, and protect the environment, our seas, lakes and rivers will provide all of us a lifetime of enjoyment and recreation.
Source: Boat