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Boating Rules of the Road

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Always expect Boating traffic so it is always a good time to review the Rules of the Road. Sometimes mariners refer to vessel "Right of Way" but the Coast Guard has designated two terms for vessels, the "Give Way" and "Stand On" vessels to better clarify the rules which were developed not to determine liability in the case of a collision but more for collision avoidance.

It is important to understand when you are a "Give Way" or "Stand On" vessel and what it means.

Below is a simple definition:

"Give Way"

If you are the Give-Way vessel, you must act as if the "stand-on" vessel has the right to keep going the way it is going. It is your responsibility to signal your intentions to the stand-on vessel, and it is your responsibility to maneuver your boat around the other in a safe manner. Also known as a "Burdened" vessel, as it has the burden of making the maneuver.

"Stand On"

If you are the Stand-On vessel, it is your responsibility to acknowledge the intended actions of the give-way vessel. You must also maintain your current course and speed until the give-way vessel passes, or you enter a dangerous situation.

There is an order that determines the right of way for vessels of different types. The lower the vessel on the list is the "give way" vessel, and must stay out of the way of vessels that are higher on the list:

Overtaken vessel (top priority)

Vessel not under command

Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver

Vessels constrained by draft

Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear


Sailing vessels

Power driven vessels

Remember that these rules apply in all conditions, either day, night or in restricted visibility. The Rules specifically require that any action taken to avoid collision, if the circumstances allow, will be positive, made in ample time, and in keeping with good seamanship.

Any changes in course or speed should be large enough to be readily apparent to the other

vessel. This means that you should avoid last second changes in course, and you should avoid a small series of changes. Change direction early, and make a large turn.

It is important for you to study these and the other rules of the road in order for you and your family to enjoy safe boating.

To read the full navigation rules click here to visit the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center

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