Boaters call the basic laws governing the steering or sailing of a vessel “The Rules of the Road.” These navigation rules define the roles and responsibilities of vessel operators. If all operators followed these rules, most accidents could be avoided.

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Too many boaters get out on the water without knowing the navigation rules for meeting, crossing and overtaking situations. If two boats are approaching each other and one doesn’t know the rules, it becomes a dangerous game of “sidewalk shuffle.” But instead of awkward apologies, the result is costly accidents or worse.



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When it comes to navigation rules, you must know the Rules of the Road. The most basic rules are what to do when two boats are going to meet each other, whether that’s crossing each other’s path, meeting head-on, or overtaking another boat as illustrated below.

First, it’s important to know which boat is the stand-on (stays its course) or the give-way (changes its course). Generally, the boat to the starboard side is the stand-on boat. The same as with cars at an intersection – the car to the right has the right of way.


Crossing Situation – boat to the starboard side is the stand-on boat

Boat Live 365 crossing situations illustration

Meeting Head-on Situation – head on, port-to-port passing is preferred

Boat Live 365 head on situation navigation illustration

Meeting Head-on Situation – specifically for sailboats

Boat Live 365 sailboat head on navigation illustration

Overtaking Situation – both port-side or starboard-side passing are acceptable

Boat Live 365 overtaking navigation illustration

One critical navigation rule you need to know and comply with is Rule 5, which states, “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout 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.”

“Proper lookout” doesn’t mean the boat operator, unless there’s only one person onboard. Otherwise someone should be specifically designated pre-voyage to be responsible to lookout for danger in all directions. For example, if a person is in the water needing to be recovered, it’s the lookout’s duty to maintain constant eye contact with that person to help the operator maneuver the boat. It’s not an exciting responsibility. It’s a responsibility meant/designed to keep your time on the water exciting, not dangerous.


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Boating is serious fun. We’ve provided a variety of advocate tools and outreach methods, choose what works best for you and your community.

  • Visit spread the word for easy outreach through personal social media outlets and boating forums.
  • Provide year-round education on all boating safety topics – download pamphlets, flyers, banners, and posters. Great event materials. Search by topic in the resource section.
  • Download our marketing playbook, an advocates dream resource for creating change. Find it under the Boat Live 365 topic in our resource section.
  • Don’t know where to start?  Contact us. We’re happy to help.


*U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics, 2019


Beacon Awareness Day is always April 6, do you know why?  April 6th, or 4-06, represents the 406 MHz beacon technology used by rescue teams around the world to save lives. Share this fact and all of Boat Live 365 safety tips.  #406Day

download icon, orange shaped like documentVisit our resource library for downloads, event materials, tips and ideas on how to create a safe boating culture 365 days a year.

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Review the most commonly sough out navigational “rules of the road” on the official USCG Boating Safety App

Features include:

  • Find the latest safety regulations
  • Request a vessel safety check
  • Check your safety equipment
  • File a float plan
  • Navigation Rules
  • Find the nearest NOAA buoy
  • Report a hazard
  • Report pollution
  • Report suspicious activity

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Learn your Navigation Rules with an in person seminar or course. America’s Boating Club has a wide variety of learning opportunities for everyone.

To truly spread the Boat Live 365 message, please make a concerted effort to discuss and promote all of the “Serious Fun Topics” together, all year long.

Reference to any specific commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the U.S. Coast Guard.