Learning Basic Boating Rules Means Safer & Better Boating

How many times have we heard that statement when we were in school? Rules. Always rules.


Being a bit of a rebel, I sometimes questioned the need for rules. But as I grew older (and wiser) I began to see the need for rules.


Classrooms and schools seemed to be better places for learning if there were rules. Businesses could make better predictions knowing that employees followed the rule about showing up on time.


Even on my boat, life is better if I know the rules that the “Admiral” has established. Rules; sometimes a pain, but they seem to give order to life.


As a Vessel Safety Examiner, the rule said I had to ask the boat owner if he/she knew “The Rules?” About 96% of the time, I would get a blank stare and the question; “There are rules for boats?”


This was even more compounded when the vessel was greater than 12 meters (39.4 ft) and the rules stated that the Rule Book had to be carried on board at all times. Now a new question: “There’s a Rule Book?”


Just as those of us with a vehicle driver’s license know, there is a rule book on how to drive your car designed to prevent collisions. Most boat drivers are not aware there is a book on how to drive a boat.


It’s official title is The International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea (COLREGS), and The United States Inland Rules. That’s a mouthful! Fortunately it is published under one title: Navigation Rules: International—Inland. It is available from most boat supply stores and from your favorite internet book seller. It easily explains the International Rules (going outside the International Line of Demarcation) and the Inland Rules (where most of do our boating).


Similar to driving a car/truck, it doesn’t matter what size vehicle you have, you have to follow the rules. Same in boating. They don’t care if you are paddling a canoe or piloting the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, you have to follow the same rules.


Picking up a copy is a good idea. Actually reading the book is even better.


If you are paddling a canoe at night, what equipment do you have to carry to display at an appropriate time to avoid collision? Not sure? It is in Rule 25. How large of vessel do you have to have that is required to carry a sound signaling device? That’s Rule 33. When two power-driven vessels are in a crossing situation, which one must get out of the way of the other? You will find the answer in Rule 15.


What is a Give-way Vessel? Rule 16. Then who is the Stand-on Vessel and what is his responsibility? Rule 17. What are all these lights on my boat for? Check out Rule 20.


Rules. Sometimes a pain, but they give order and safety to boating.


Two unofficial rules I always offer my boating students: 1) Never hit anything hard with your boat, and 2) Always return to the dock with the same number of people you left with.


Seriously, the best way to learn the rules is to take a boating course. If not one on board your boat from Captain Joe's On Board Academy, then select one from your local United States Power Squadron or the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.


Either class will introduce you to the rules and enlighten you on how to safely operate your boat on open waters or in tight quarter situations. See you on the water!

Captain Joe

On Board Academy
Captain Joe McGinnis
1276 Bayport Terrace
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54313