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Boating Safety

More Navigation Rules:

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Nav. Rules Page 1, 2

Look out. 

Rule 5  Lookout:

Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.

This is the second most important rule of safe navigation.  Keeping a watch on everything going on around you is vital.  This does not mean just looking ahead. You must look for boats that are approaching from behind or to the side so you can avoid them.  If you have passengers, assign one of them to keep a lookout. They can tell you when there are other boats approaching, from what direction, and how far away they are. They can also tell you if the other boat is gaining on you or  going to cross your path.  Have your lookout take a bearing (the direction relative to your boat)  on the other boat and estimate if the bearing changes. If it does not change you are on a collision course.  You may need to change course or speed to avoid the other boat. 

Safe Speed: 

Rule 6 - Safe Speed: Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

This is self explanatory.  Slow down, especially at night and in restricted visibility.  There is a rule for restricted visibility. See Rule 19 USCG NAVCEN - Navigational Rules on line

Avoid Collisions:  The most important Navigation Rules

Rule 7 -

Risk of Collision (a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist.

Rule 8 - Action to Avoid Collision

(a) Any action shall [be taken in accordance with the Rules of this Part and], if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.

These two are the most important navigation rules.  The entire point of the navigation rules is to prevent collisions!   The full title is International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.  You are required to take whatever action is necessary to prevent a collision. Even if this contradicts another rule.  Just because you are the stand on vessel does not mean you should proceed if a collision is imminent.  An old ditty goes, "he was right, dead right as he sailed along, but he's just as dead as if he were wrong."  When you are the 30 foot boat crossing the path of the 1000 foot tanker, keep in mind  the ship's pilot can't stop or easily turn, and when you get too close he might not even be able to see you under his bow.  So stay away.  Don't push your luck.

There is a lot more to rule 7 and 8 than shown above.  Read the Rules. USCG NAVCEN - Navigational Rules on line.


Part D particularly covers sound signals.  Boats and ships use sound signals to tell other boats and ships what they are doing, or what they are going to do. This is a little like turn signals and brake lights on a car, which tell other drivers what a driver is doing.  So do use sound signals. 

You will rarely hear these from recreational boats. Recreational boaters often tend to ignore or are ignorant of these rules. But all commercial vessels use them so it is important for you to know the signals, especially if you do your boating in an area with a lot of commercial traffic. Even though small vessels under 12 meters in length are not required to carry a sound producing device under the navigation rules, they are required to be able to make signals;  so this is why under U.S. regulations and state laws you are required to have a horn.

Horn signals are divided into short blasts, (a short duration toot of about one second), and prolonged blasts ( a long duration toot of about six seconds).

One short blast;  International - Means I am turning to starboard (right). This is the same for overtaking and vessels meeting head on.  Inland - This means that when meeting head to head they will pass on your port side. When being overtaken they will pass on your starboard side.  If this is acceptable to you, answer with one short blast.

Two short blasts;  International  - Means I am turning to port (left).  This means that when meeting head to head they will pass on your starboard side. Inland - When being overtaken they will pass on your port side.  If this is acceptable to you, answer with two short blasts.

Three short blasts;  International and Inland Means I am in reverse (backing down).  This is most often heard when a vessel is backing out of a pier. 

Five short blasts:  International and Inland  - The danger signal.  When you hear this signal it means you should take immediate action to avoid a collision.  If a boat is approaching and  you don't understand their signal or it will create a dangerous situation, then you should sound five short blasts.  If another boat  makes five short blasts,  you need to assess the situation, contact the other vessel by marine radio, if you have one (channel 13), and determine what is the safest action. 

These are the basics.  Read through the navigation rules (you will be tested on them by your state) and learn them thoroughly.

In addition to the above many states and local jurisdictions have rules of their own. For Instance:

Personal Water Craft, PWCs ( Jet ski, Sea Doo, Wave Runner,  Aquatrax, etc.)

Almost all states in the USA have adopted special rules that apply only to PWCs. Most of these involve regulating the activities of people who ride PWCs.  They often limit how close you may come to other vessels, to shore, to docks,  and swimmers.  They may limit speed. (many lakes and waterways have speed limits that come under local laws)  They may also limit things such as wave riding (surfing waves), wake surfing, and in general activities that annoy or harass other boaters.  The USA isn't the only country that regulates PWCs.  In the UK it is illegal to annoy other boaters. Many states and local jurisdictions may also have noise limits that apply not only to PWCs but to all boats.  If a PWC is your boat of choice, make sure you know the rules in your area.  Check with local authorities or the state Boating Law Administrator.  Directory of State Boating Law Administrators

Restricted areas.  There are areas that are restricted from navigation. These are almost always marked on charts. Most of them you can pass through if you are not stopping. But you may not anchor, or fish, or dawdle. Some restricted areas are off limits, period. You may not enter them!  Such areas as the water around nuclear reactors, military reservations, power plants, government buildings, dams, and so on may be restricted.  If you do enter a restricted area you will likely be boarded and cited by the U. S. Coast Guard, other government agencies, or the police.  It is best to stay out of restricted areas. 

Nav rules Page 1

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