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VOL. 11 NO. 5
Take a class

Navigation rules

Know which rules apply to your boat’s location

Casting off

Boaters should be aware of these two sets of navigational rules:

  • International Rules, which apply to all vessels on the high seas outside established navigational lines of demarcation generally found at the entrances to harbors, rivers, and bays along the coast, and
  • Inland Rules, which apply to U.S. waters shoreward of the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters, as well as waters of the Great Lakes on the U.S. side of the International Boundary.

You can find the rules for boating on navigable inland waters in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook. Contact state and local governing agencies before boating to obtain local boat operating and navigation requirements.

You may purchase the USCG Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook from most recreational boating supply stores, book stores and mail-order marine book dealers. It’s also available online. While boats 39.4 feet and longer are required to carry a printed copy, having a printed copy of the handbook on your smaller boat provides a ready and valuable reference.

Below are a few of the Inland Rules:

  • Rule No. 2: The person in charge must do everything necessary to avoid a collision.
  • Rule No. 5: Every vessel should at all times maintain a proper lookout.
  • Rule No. 6: Maintain a safe speed that will allow you to take proper and effective action to avoid a collision.
  • Rule No. 7: If there is any doubt as to a risk of collision, it shall be deemed to exist.
  • Rule No. 8: Action by the give-way vessel must be early and large enough to assure the stand-on vessel that the give-way vessel is taking action.
  • Rule No. 9: Keep as far to the starboard side of the channel or fairway as is safe and practical.
For more information about Navigation Rules, take America's Boating Course.
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