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Aids To Navigation

Navigational aids are similar to traffic signs. They are placed at various points along our waterways to boaters locate their position and steer clear of danger.

The expression ”red right returning” simply means that the red buoys are passed on your starboard (right) side when returning to port from the open sea (or going upstream). The opposite is also true when leaving port toward the sea, red buoys are port (left) side and green buoys are starboard (right).

All navigational aids are protected by law. It is a criminal offense to damage or interfere with them. Never tie your boat to a buoy, day beacon, or light structure mooring. If you should collide with or damage an aid to navigation, report it immediately to the Coast Guard or local sheriff's office.

Rules of the Road

To help everyone avoid collisions, the following rules of the road were set up. On the water the stand-on boat has the right of way. The give-way boat must keep out of the stand-on boat's way. (Navigation laws, fine of up to $350).

Crossing Situation:

The boat to starboard (right is the stand-on boat and has the right-of-way. It must hold course and speed. The give- way boat keeps clear and passes behind the stand-on boat.


A boat being overtaken has the right-of-way. It must hold course and speed. The passing boat must keep a sufficient distance to avoid collision or endangering the other boat with its wake.

Meeting Head-on or Nearly So:

When two boats approach each other “head-on”, each must alter course to the right to avoid collision. If the two boats are far to the left of each other, no change in course is necessary

More Rules of the Road:

  • Less maneuverable boats such as sailboats, rowboats, and canoes usually have right-of-way over powerboats, except in an overtaking situation.
  • Small boats must yield to deep draft vessels in narrow channels. Deep draft vessels are limited in maneuverability and to navigating within the channel.
  • Anchoring a boat in a position that obstructs a passageway ordinarily used by other boats is against the law. Common sense permits operators to deviate from right-of-way rules in order to avoid immediate collision.

Proper Lookout

Boat operators should be experienced enough to recognize lights, waterway markers and boats as well as other hazards, and maintain a proper lookout for danger at all times.

Safe Speed

Boat operators must maintain a safe speed at all times to avoid collision. Safe speed takes into consideration such factors as visibility, traffic, weather conditions, and vessel maneuverability.


To anchor, bring the bow into the wind or current and put the engine in neutral. When the vessel comes to a stop, lower, do not throw, the anchor over the bow. The anchor line should be 5 to 7 times the depth of water. Anchoring a small boat at the stern has caused many to capsize and sink. Do not anchor at the stern.

Emergency Procedures

(Caution: These procedures may not apply in all situations.)

Capsizing If your boat swamps, DON'T PANIC:

    1. Grab your PFD (life jacket) or any object that floats.

    2. Stay with the boat (on narrow, swift moving rivers, remain upriver of the boat). You will be more easily located by a search plane or boat. Do not swim for shore unless there is absolutely no chance of rescue and you are certain you can make it.

    3. In cold water, following these procedures will help prevent hypothermia:

      a. Keep your head out of the water and don't remove clothes or shoes.
      b. If possible, get in the boat to get as far out of the water as possible.
      c. If there are others in the water, huddle close, side to side in a circle, to help preserve body heat.
      d. Wear a PFD and, if alone, assume a fetal posture.

Recognized Distress Signals

Signals illustrated below are recognized as indicating a boat is in distress and requires assistance. However, other methods may be used.

Person Overboard

If someone falls overboard:

    1. Swing the stern of the boat away from the person to reduce propeller danger.
    2. Throw a lifesaving device immediately, even if the person is a swimmer. Be careful not to hit the person. A life ring is best because it can be thrown more easily and farther. Don't wait to get a life ring if another item is closer at hand. Speed is most important.
    3. Keep the person in view. Have a passenger act as lookout. A night, direct the best possible light on the victim.
    4. Approach the person from downwind or into the (waves). The maneuver to use in approaching a person depends upon the existing conditions (water temperature, sea conditions, victim's physical capabilities, whether you are alone, availability of other ready assistance, boat maneuvering room, etc.)
    5. If necessary, have your assistant put a PFD with a line attached to the boat and get into the water to help the person who fell overboard.
    6. Assist the person in boarding the boat. It is often difficult to climb into a boat from the water, and an individual who is hurt or cold may not be capable of getting on board without help. In small boats the weight of person suspended from the side can be enough to tip the boat and cause it to take on water. The best procedure for getting back in a small boat is over the stern or bow, depending upon the boat's construction. Common sense dictates that the propeller must be stopped when pulling a victim in over the stern.
    7. Make the victim as warm and dry as possible. A person who was in the water for over 15 minutes is probably suffering from some degree of hypothermia. Do not give the victim alcohol. Seek medical help at once.

Riding On Decks Or Gunwales

The following rules apply to riding on the bow, gunwale, or transom of a motorboat.

    1. Do not ride on the starboard or port gunwales, or on the transom of a motorboat moving a speed in excess of five miles per hour unless the boat has adequate guards or railing.
    2. Do not sit on the deck of the bow unless the motorboat has adequate guards or railing.
    3. Do not ride or sit on the bow, gunwale, or transom railing while the motorboat is underway.

Alcohol And Boating

Drinking and operating a boat is a dangerous as drinking and operating a car. According to a recent study, 60% of all fatal motor boat accidents involved alcohol.

Operating a boat under the influence of intoxicant is against the law.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Trouble Shooting
    • High Water Temperature
    • Low Oil Pressure
    • Engine Will Not Turn Over
    • Engine Turns Off But Won't Start
    • Shifter Control Will Not Move
    • Steering Frozen
    • Fuel Gauge Not Working
    • Buzz Light Low Oil High Water Temperature
    • Engine Starts But Runs Rich
    • Engine Starts But Runs Rough
    • Engine Starts and Runs WIth Hesitation In Midrange
    • Engine Will Not Reach Top RPM
    • Volt Meter Reads Low Scale
    • Tachometer Reads Low Scale - Engine O.K.
    • Tachometer Sluggish or Inconsistent
    • Navigation Lights Don't Work
    • Bilge Blower Does Not Operate
  • Preparation
    • Education
    • U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
    • U.S. Power Squadron
    • Weather
    • Fueling
    • Boat Capacity
    • Boat Ramp Etiquette
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