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Rules of the Road

Navigation rules are much like the rules of the road on the highway. They establish a consistent way to navigate safely and avoid collisions when two boats are crossing paths, are on course to meet head-on, or when one boat wishes to overtake another.

The rules vary slightly depending on whether someone is boating on inland or on international waters.

Best Practices

Read BoatBeat’s General Best Practices, in addition to the following tips, for more recommendation and information.

  • Navigation Rules: Discuss the “rules of the road” for the water way and the importance of knowing and obeying the navigation rules to prevent accidents. Not knowing the rules handicap boaters who should take a safe boating course or learn about the rules.
  • Boating at Night: Mention the dangers of boating at night, the proper use of navigation lights (not “headlights”), the importance of maintaining a safe and responsible speed when boating at night, and maintaining a proper lookout. Lighting such as “headlights” are prohibited if they interfere with navigation, such as a non-conforming spotlight or headlight.
  • Awareness and Safe Speed: Note the importance of boaters maintaining awareness of their surroundings at all times (what they see and hear) and stress the importance of traveling at a safe speed for environment conditions.

Fact Sheets

Basic Rules of the Road

Navigation Rules

Browse All Fact Sheets

Expert Sources

U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Auxiliary & Boating Safety

National Safe Boating Council (NSBC)

National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)

Browse Federal and State Point-of-Contacts

External Resources

Boat On Course (NSBC)

U.S. Aids to Navigation System


Case Study Sources