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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Navigation rule violations were a contributing factor in 53% of accidents, 34% of deaths, and nearly 60% of injuries.*

Boating feels like freedom

The ocean spray, the wind that takes your breath, water and sun for miles — you are free! Before you get to that point, you are typically surrounded by boaters, personal water crafts, kayakers and more. 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 and sometimes fatal.

Advocate to boat safely and freely

navigation rules, boat in the water with a navigation signShare the Rules of the Road
When it comes to navigation rules, the Rules of the Road are a critical component for safety. Boaters can take this simple course from America’s Boating Club. There are technically 37 Navigation Rules, listed here by the US Coast Guard. 

In the meantime, we’ve illustrated the most basic rules and what to do when two sailboats meet each other (rule 12), when one boat is overtaking (rule 13) another, when two boats are meeting head-on (rule 14) and what to do for crossing situations (rule 15).

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.

Rule 12: Head-on Situation – for sailboats

Boat Live 365 sailboat head on navigation illustration

Rule 13: Overtaking – both port-side or starboard-side passing are acceptable

Boat Live 365 overtaking navigation illustration

Rule 14: Head-on Situation – head on, port-to-port passing is preferred

Boat Live 365 head on situation navigation illustration

Rule 15: Crossing Situation – boat to the starboard side is the stand-on boat

Boat Live 365 crossing situations 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 look out 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 and 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, (new update coming). 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, 2023


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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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.