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The "Rules of the Road" or Collision Avoidance Regulations (COLREGS) were designed to give direction to vessels in order to set a standard that everyone could follow in order to prevent collisions of two or more vessels. They are many in number and cover almost every imaginable sequence of events which may lead to collision. You do not have to memorize them all but be aware of the basic rules which apply in order to operate safely on the water.

We wish to acknowledge the COLREGS (copyright acknowledgement source colregs) which are used here to avoid any conotations.


Pleasure craft do not have a unlimited right of way.
The COLREG rules provide right of way for vessels that are constrained by draft or manoverability.

Good Seamanship

Practicing the art of good seamanship is a talent that is developed over time by acquiring knowledge and skills. You must keep safety foremost in your mind when operating your boat. Do what you can to stay out of the way of other boats.

You will be using terms when dealing with the rules of the road which may be unfamiliar to you. Because the rules are federal laws, the definitions of these terms are important. The following terms are found throughout the rules of the road. You should have a thorough understanding of their meaning.

Vessel - Every craft of any description used or capable of being used on the water.

Power Driven Vessel (Motorboat)
Any vessel propelled by machinery.
Sailing Vessel
Is UNDER SAIL ALONE with no mechanical means of propulsion.
A sailboat propelled by machinery is a Motorboat
(including motorsailing).
Not at anchor, aground or attached to the dock or shore.
Danger Zone
An arc of 112.5 degrees measured from dead ahead to just aft of the starboard beam.
The right and duty to maintain course and speed.
Stand-On Vessel
The vessel which has the right-of-way.
Give-Way Vessel
The vessel which must keep clear of the stand-on vessel.
Visible (when applied to lights)
Visible on a dark, clear night.
Short Blast
A blast of one to two seconds duration.
Prolonged Blast
A blast of four to six seconds duration.

Proper Lookout

The rules are very specific about maintaining a proper lookout. We must keep eyes and ears open to observe or hear something which may endanger someone or affect their safety. You must look up for bridge clearances and power lines, down for floats, swimmers, logs and divers flags and side to side for traffic prior to turning your boat. A proper lookout can avoid surprises.

A good rule to follow is to assign one or more people to have no other assigned

responsibilities except the task of lookout. They can then rotate the lookout duty.

Sound Signals

If you were to operate in New York Harbor or the Cheasepeke you would well understand the importance of being able to signal your intention. The number of times I have used whistles to indicate my intentions only to find that the other vessel did not understand to even more remote reactions prompts this page.

Vessels are required to sound signals any time that they are in close quarters and risk of collision exists. The following signals are the only ones to be used to signal a vessel's intentions (inland rules only).

  1. One short blast - I intend to change course to starboard.
  2. Two short blasts - I intend to change course to port.
  3. Three short blasts - I am operating astern propulsion (backing up).
  4. Five or more short and rapid blasts - Danger or doubt signal (I don't understand your intent).

Note: Inland rules (Great Lakes) use sound signals to indicate intent to maneuver.
Under international rules the signals are given when the maneuver is being executed.