Boat Maintenance

The Navigation Rules


When you drive your car, you yield the right of way to the vehicle approaching you from the right at an intersection. You drive on the right side of the road, keeping right except to pass. In many ways, the navigation rules used at sea, and on rivers and lakes for your boat are similar to those for your car.

This collision could have been avoided: the boat coming from the right always has the right of way!


Read the Rules At The Beginning of the Season

Before you take your boat out for the first run of the season take a quick look through the text of the Navigation Rules. few minutes spent on the rules may save you hours of anguish and thousands of dollars later. There are a view basic things to remember as far as the navigation rules go. The most important thing to remember is to do everything necessary to prevent a collision, including stop your vessel. Old-timers may tell you that “Rule 2-B” lets you get away with anything. This is not the case; Rule 2 it is known as the “General Prudential Rule.” while Rule 2-B permits you to take any action to avoid a collision, even to the extent of violating other navigational rules, Rule 2-A requires that act as a “prudent seamen” would under the circumstances. the very best thing you can do is obtain a copy of the Navigation Rules, read them, and follow them.



The navigation rules may seem complicated and contradictory when you first look at them. Here are a few hints to help you understand what they are trying to tell you:

  • Yield to boats approaching from the right. The Practical Application: Never expect those approaching from the left to yield to you.
  • When approaching someone head-on, move to the right, so you pass them port-to port. The practical application: It’s just like a car — keep to the right side of the channel when someone is coming at you, except to pass.
  • Yield to vessels that are less manageable than yours. If you’re a powerboat, keep out of the way of them. There are specific rules that tell you what vessels you must yield to. Often these vessels display lights to assist in their identification at night. There are seven easy, mnemonic memory aids to assist you in remembering what these vessels are:
  1. “Read over green is a sailing machine.” Sailboats are less maneuverable than powerboats. A powerboat can move against the wind without any special effort. A sailboat must tack back and forth to move into the win. This means that a sailboat is unable to keep out of the way of a powerboat.
  2. “Red over red, the captain is dead.” Two red lights, arranged vertically on a vessels mast indicates that something aboard the vessel is not working and the problem renders the vessel on able to keep out the way of other vessels. The rudder may be jammed or the steering system may have failed.
  3. “White all around, vessel aground.” A vessel aground displays two all-around white lights at their masthead. Their deck lights are also lighted. The red and green navigation lights should be doused while at anchor or a ground. The all-around white light, the anchor light, should be mounted as far forward on the boat as possible.
  4. “White over red, pilot ahead.” A white light stationed above a red light indicates a pilot boat working in a harbor or in any channel. Recreational vessels do not usually deal with pilot boats but they are to be avoided.
  5. “Red over white, fishing at night.” This light pattern indicates fishing at night usually by trawling.
  6. “Red over white over red, trouble ahead.” This light pattern is reflective of service vessels or dredges working within or on a channel. The side on which you may pass these generally stationary vessels is indicated by two green lights arranged vertically.
  7. “Green over white, fishing at night.” These aren’t weekend fishermen, these are shrimpers or longline boats working for a living. Again, stay away.

Remember that almost all vessels have a white masthead light that can be seen only from the front and the sides.

  • If you see green to the left and read to the right, the vessel is approaching you head-on.Keep to the right unless you make other passing it’sarrangements by radio.
  • If you see red light on your right, you are looking at a vessel’s port side. If he is moving, you need to take all actions necessary to yield the right-of-way to him. The common practice is to turn right, come parallel to his course and pass behind him. This is called “cutting his stern.”
  • If you see a green light only, you are looking at vessel’s starboard side. If he is moving, he is required to yield the right of way to you — unless he is a vessel to which you must yield.

When Underway

If you approach a moving vessel from the rear and see a yellow light, you are approaching a towboat. Contact him on your radio to make suitable passing arrangements. Beware of oncoming traffic in narrow channels. two vertical white lights also indicate a vessel towing. If the vessel has its spotlight directed astern, it has a very long tow.

Rowboats and other small vessels are permitted to carry only a flashlight, to be shown in time to prevent you running over them. Keep a sharp lookout, even when your boat is operating fully in the channel. Remember, not everybody may obey the Rules.


Next Week: Boat Trailer Maintenance





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