Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Safe Boating Rules

The Situations

In the following situations we use the terms Stand-on or Give-way. The Stand-on vessel is generally required by the Rules to maintain both course and speed. The Give-way vessel is required to take early and substantial action to keep clear and avoid colliding with the other vessel. In general, the best action is a turn to starboard. If the conditions are such that a turn to starboard is impractical, then a turn to port or reversing your engines may be used. As the stand on vessel in any situation you must hold course and speed until such time as it becomes apparent to you that the action of the give way vessel alone can not avoid a collision. Don't be stubborn: even if you are entitled to the right of way you should expect the unexpected and be prepared to yield.

Meeting vessels should each turn to starboard, passing port to port


In this situation both vessels will pass within close proximity to one another on nearly reciprocal headings. The rules require that in this situation both vessels should exchange one short blast and pass with sufficient room on each other's port side. In this case both vessels are required to give way. At night, you will know you are in a meeting situation if you see both the red and green sidelights of another vessel.

Crossing - the give way vessel should turn to starboard to avoid the stand on vessel


Here both vessels are approaching each other at perpendicular or oblique angles and expect to pass close to one another. The rules specify that the vessel which has the other on its starboard side must keep out of the way. In this case the give way vessel should sound one short blast and alter course to starboard thus leaving the stand on vessel to port.

At night, if you see the red light of another vessel off your starboard bow, you'll know that vessel is crossing from your starboard to port, and that you must give way. Think of that red side light as a Stop Sign, signaling you to turn or stop. If you see a green sidelight off your port bow, you are crossing ahead of another vessel, and you have the right of way. Think of the green light as a Go signal.

Any vessel overtaking another must steer clear of that vessel


This situation exists when one vessel is coming up from any direction two or more points abaft(behind) the other vessel's beam. The overtaking vessel is considered the give way vessel and must keep clear of the vessel it is overtaking. The overtaking vessel should sound its intentions with respect to the desired side of passing, and the overtaken vessel must stand-on until the other vessel is past and clear.

At night, if you will know you are in an overtaking situation if you see just a white light on another vessel underway ahead of you. If you look behind you and see both the red and green lights of another vessel, you will know that you are being overtaken.

Sound Signals

All vessels are required to exchange sound signals when their paths will lead them into any close quarters situation. The first four signals are the only ones prescribed for use by vessels when within sight of each other, to signal their intentions with respect to maneuvering:

  • One short blast - "I intend to leave you on my port side." This means an alteration of course to your starboard.
  • Two short blasts - "I intend to leave you on my starboard side." In this case an alteration of course to port occurs.
  • Three short blasts - "I am operating astern propulsion." This indicates that you are backing down.
  • Five or more short blasts - commonly known as the danger signal and is used when either vessel doubts whether sufficient action is being taken by the other vessel to avoid collision.