Table of Contents

Navigation Rules

There are two terms that help explain these rules.

Stand-on vessel: The vessel that should maintain its course and speed

Give-way vessel: The vessel that must take early and substantial action to avoid collision by stopping, slowing down, or changing course

Meeting Head-On

Power vs. Power: Neither vessel is the stand-on vessel. Both vessels should keep to the starboard (right).

Power-driven vessels meeting head-on

Power vs. power meeting head-on

Power vs. Sail: The powerboat is the give-way vessel. The sailboat is the stand-on vessel.

Power-driven vessel meeting a sailboat head-on

Power vs. sail meeting head-on

Crossing Situations

Power vs. Power: The vessel on the operator’s port (left) side is the give-way vessel. The vessel on the operator’s starboard (right) side is the stand-on vessel.

meeting head-on

Power vs. power in a crossing situation

Power vs. Sail: The powerboat is the give-way vessel. The sailboat is the stand-on vessel.

Power vs. sail crossing situation

Power vs. sail in a crossing situation

Overtaking

Power vs. Power: The vessel that is overtaking another vessel is the give-way vessel. The vessel being overtaken is the stand-on vessel.

Power-driven vessel overtaking another power-driven vessel

Power vs. power overtaking

Power vs. Sail: The vessel that is overtaking another vessel is the give-way vessel. The vessel being overtaken is the stand-on vessel.

Sailboat overtaking a power-driven vessel

Power vs. sail overtaking

Additional Rules for All Vessels

Vessels approaching a landing dock or pier must give way to any departing vessel. All vessels must operate to avoid collision.

A vessel departing a shoreline or tributary must give way to through traffic and vessels approaching the shoreline or tributary. When leaving a dock, a vessel must keep out of the way of vessels traveling the waterway.

Vessels must not change course abruptly without first determining that it can be done safely without risk of collision with another vessel.

If an operator fails to fully understand the course of an approaching vessel, he or she must slow down immediately to a speed barely sufficient to maintain headway and steering until the other vessel has passed.

Vessels must use the proper sound signals to indicate their course and to issue warning signals in fog or other weather conditions that restrict visibility. See the Sound-Producing Devices page for sound signals.

No vessel may obstruct or interfere with the takeoff, landing, or taxiing of seaplanes. Seaplanes on the water must, in general, keep well clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation. If risk of collision exists, the seaplane must comply with all Navigation Rules.

No vessel or person may obstruct or block a navigation channel, entrance to a channel, mooring slip, landing dock, launching ramp, pier, or tributary by drifting, anchoring, fishing, or mooring.

Rules for Power-Driven Vessels

If operating a power-driven vessel, you must give way to unpowered vessels unless you are:

  • Being overtaken by an unpowered vessel
  • Operating a deep draft vessel that must remain in narrow channels
  • Towing another vessel

If operating a power-driven vessel, you must maintain a direct course when passing sailboats that are under sail alone. Power-driven vessels must give these vessels sufficient room to pass safely.

If operating a power-driven vessel, you must steer around any other vessel underway or any person swimming.

Rules When Encountering Vessels with Limited Maneuverability

You must give way to:

  • Any vessel not under command, such as an anchored or disabled vessel
  • Any vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver, such as a vessel towing or laying cable, or a vessel constrained by its draft, such as a large ship in a channel
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing

Rules When Operating in Narrow Channels

If operating a vessel in a narrow channel, you must:

  • Keep as far to the right of the channel as is safe and practical.
  • Use the appropriate sound signals, use caution when overtaking another vessel, and take steps to permit safe passing.
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