Rules of the road

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Rules of the road


Post by welder »

Vessel Types

Power Driven Vessel - Any vessel propelled by machinery. This includes any boat that has an engine. Sailboats are considered powerboats when they have the engines on, even if the sails are up.

Sailing Vessel - Any vessel under sail alone. The engine only has to be on for a sailboat to be considered a powerboat.

Vessels engaged in fishing - Any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls or other fishing apparatus which restrict maneuverability, but does not include vessels fishing with trolling lines or other fishing gear which do not restrict maneuverability.

Seaplanes - Any aircraft designed to operate on the water.

Vessels not under Command - Any vessel that for some exceptional circumstance is unable to maneuver as required by the Rules, and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel. Examples would be, but not limited to, the boat operator had a medical condition that rendered them incapacitated such as heart attack, stroke or slip and fell knocking him unconscious, or if there is a mechanical failure such as but not limited to a steering cable or rudder malfunction, or an engine failure.

Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver - Any vessel that cannot maneuver as required by the rules because of the size or operation of the vessel. A fishing vessel pulling in nets and a buoy tender placing a buoy are both examples of a vessel restricted in their ability to maneuver.

Vessels constrained by draft - Any vessel that cannot deviate from a course/channel because they might run aground. A freighter in a narrow channel is an example of this.

Underway – Vessel is not anchored, moored, at the dock, or aground. If vessel is drifting it is considered to be underway.

Restricted visibility - Any condition such as fog, mist, falling snow, rain, or other similar causes that make it difficult to see other vessels.

Operator Responsibilities

Many Vessel Operators do not know the rules! Having the Right Away does not release the Vessel Operator’s liability if there is a collision. Even if the boat operator is following the Boating Rules of the Road, if there is something that can be done to avoid a collision, then that action must be taken, even if it deviates from the Navigation Boating Rules of the Road.

The Boat Operator is responsible for the safety of everyone aboard the vessel at all times, and has a responsibility to fellow boaters who are sharing the water, be courteous and respectful of others. Watch the boat noise (a legal requirement) avoid congested waters as much as possible, avoid disturbing wildlife and sea grasses, and look out for the safety and well being of other boaters by giving a hand to those in need.

The Boat Operator must always operate at a safe controlled speed for the situation in which the vessel is being operated, and any legally mandated speed requirements that there may be, such as a slow/no wake zone.

Take care to avoid careless, reckless or negligent boat operations, such as operating too closely to other vessels and boating under the influence.

New Homeland Security measures require steering clear of naval vessels, and other restricted facilities such as bridges, power plants and dams.

Right Away

The Boating Rules of the Road are written to tell the Vessel Operators what to do when operating a vessel near other vessels. Boats are called one of the following:

Give-Way Vessel - The Give-Way Vessel, also know as the “Burdened Vessel” because it has the burden to stay clear of the Stand-On Vessel. The Give-Way Vessel is responsible to signal their intentions to the Stand-On Vessel, and to maneuver the boat around the Stand-On Vessel in a safe manner.

Stand-On Vessel - The Stand-On vessel has the responsibility to acknowledge the intended actions of the Give-Way vessel and maintain current course and speed until the Give-Way Vessel passes, unless the Stand-On Vessel enters a dangerous situation, at which time the Stand-On Vessel must take any action necessary to avoid a collision.

The purpose of the Boating Rules of the Road is to help avoid an accident, if the Boat Operator gets into an accident, they can be held liable, even if they followed the Boating Rules of the Road because the Rules also state that the Vessel Operators must avoid a collision by any means, regardless of which vessel is the Stand-On Vessel.

Overtaken Vessel “Priority Order”

1. Vessel not under command
2. Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
3. Vessels constrained by draft
4. Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear deployed
5. Sailing vessels
6. Power driven vessels

Collision Avoidance Rules

Rules apply to vessels in all conditions of visibility regardless of night or day, sunny, foggy, rain or sleet.

All Vessels must maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing at all times.

Every vessel must proceed at a safe speed at all times. Several factors should be considered when determining safe speed, including but not limited to the state of visibility, traffic density, and vessel's maneuverability. Consider also the state of wind, sea, and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards.

The Boating Rules of the Road specifically require that any action be taken to avoid collision, if the circumstances allow.

Any changes in course or speed should be large enough to be readily apparent to the other vessel. This means that the Vessel should avoid last second changes in course, and avoid small series of changes. Change directions early, and make large turns to signal the other Operator.


The main situations of collision risk are overtaking, meeting head-on, and crossing. When one of two vessels is to keep out of the way “Give-Way Vessel”, the other is the “Stand-On Vessel”, which must maintain course and speed. The Stand-On Vessel must take avoiding action when it becomes apparent that the Give-Way-Vessel is not taking appropriate action.

The Crossing Rule - Both International and Inland Boating Rules of the Road state that when two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel on the Starboard Side is the Stand-On-Vessel and the Vessel on the Port Side is the give-way vessel which must keep out of the way.

The Give-Way Vessel has the duty to avoid a collision. Typically, this means altering speed and/or direction to cross behind the Stand-On Vessel.

At night, the Give-Way Vessel will see a red light crossing right-to-left in front and will need to change course. The Stand-On Vessel will see a green light crossing from left-to-right, and should maintain course and speed.

The Meeting Situation – When in doubt whether the situation is a crossing or a Head-On Meeting the Vessel Operator should assume that it is a Head-On situation, in which neither vessel has a clear-cut "right-of-way," and each must act to avoid the other. Each vessel in a Head-On situation must alter course to starboard so that each will pass on the port side of the other.

At night, both red and green side lights will be seen at the same time and both Vessels must steer to Starboard to avoid collision.

The Overtaking Situation - Any vessel overtaking any other vessel must keep out the way of the vessel being overtaken. The Vessel that is Overtaking or “Passing” is the give-way vessel and the Vessel being Overtaken or “Passed” is the stand-on vessel and must maintain course and speed.

A vessel is deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft (behind) her beam.

This is the angle prescribed by the stern light, so in other words if the Boat Operator can see the stern light then they are the Burdened Vessel and must steer clear of the other Vessel. If the Boat Operator can see either side light, it is a crossing situation.

The Burdened Vessel must sound one short blast if they plan on passing the Stand-On Vessel on THEIR Starboard side. If the Stand-On Vessel understands the signal and agree, they will sound one short blast in response.

The Burdened Vessel must sound two short blasts if they plan on passing the Stand-On Vessel on THEIR Port side. If the Stand-On Vessel understands the signal and agree, they will sound two short blasts in response.

Operating in a narrow channel - Avoid larger vessels that can only travel in a channel. Smaller Vessels must give way to a larger Vessel that could potentially run aground or get into a collision if it were to leave the channel.

Try and operate on the edge of the channel. Be extra cautious when approaching a bend in the waterway and cannot see the oncoming traffic.

Sound a prolonged blast as a warning to traffic headed your way.

On the Great Lakes and Western River system, Vessels going downstream are Stand-On Vessels and Vessels going up stream must Give-Way.

Operating in Restricted Visibility

Operating a boat in areas or at times of restricted visibility requires extra concentration by the Boat Operator and the Lookout. Operate the vessel at a speed at which the Skipper can identify and react to a situation and still have enough time to avoid a collision.

Operate at a safe speed for the prevailing circumstances.

Have engines ready for immediate maneuvering, including reverse.

Don't rely on radar or other electronic imaging alone.

Take avoiding actions early and provide ample time for the other vessels to maneuver.

When in doubt, reduce the Vessels speed.

Sailing Vessels

Power vessels must keep clear of sailing vessels in open waters. A sailboat with motor running is defined as a motor boat. The “Priority Order” between sailing vessels is more complicated then Power Vessels. When two Sailing Vessels are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision, one of then shall keep out of the way of each other as follows:

When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side is the Burdened Vessel and shall keep out of the way of the other.

When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward is the Burdened Vessel and shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward.

If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or the starboard side, shall keep out of the way of the other.

For the purposes of these rules the windward side shall be side of the Vessel the wind is coming across or hitting first and the Leeward side is the opposite of that.

For a complete listing of the navigation rules, refer to the document Navigation Boating Rules of the Road published by the U.S. Coast Guard (COMDTINST 16672.2 Series) and available through the U.S. Government printing office or on the web at

For state specific navigation requirements, refer to the state laws where you intend to boat.
PacificV2325, Honda BF225

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Re: Rules of the road


Post by welder »

This was offered by member, cptom , as a easy way to remember who has the right of way .
Thanks Tom.

I just saw your "Rules of the road" and thought I would throw out the numonic sp? I was taught (by one of the Captains' classes) to help people remember the give way/ stand on rules. I hope all our members are on the water enough to know this, but there are always newbies that might need a little help. Basically the order of who has right away.

N ew Not under command
R eels Restricted Ability to Maneuver
C atch Constrained by Draft
F ish Fishing
S o Sailing
P urchase Power
S ome Seaplane
PacificV2325, Honda BF225

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