Boating Basics Online - Basic Boating Safety Course
Chapter 6 - Operations

Navigation Rules

Cover of the USCG Navigation Rules book.The "Navigation Rules" or Collision Avoidance Regulations (COLREGS) were designed to give direction to vessels in order to set a standard that everyone could follow in order to prevent collisions of two or more vessels. They are many in number and cover almost every imaginable sequence of events that may lead to collision.

The rules are laid out to describe International Rules and Inland Rules. Although many are the same for both International and Inland, there are some differences that should be noted. You do not have to memorize them all, but be aware of the basic rules that apply in order to operate safely on the water.

You will be using terms when dealing with the rules of the road that may be unfamiliar to you. Because the rules are federal laws, the definitions of these terms are important. The following terms are found throughout the rules of the road. You should have a thorough understanding of their meaning.

Disclaimer: The navigation rules of the road contained in this course summarize basic navigation rules for which a boat operator is responsible. Additional and more in-depth rules apply regarding various types of waterways and operation in relation to commercial vessels and other watercraft. It is the responsibility of a boat operator to know and follow all the navigation rules.

For a complete listing of the navigation rules, refer to the document "Navigation Rules of the Road" published by the U.S. Coast Guard (COMDTINST 16672.2 Series) and available through the U.S. Government printing office or on the web at For state-specific navigation requirements, refer to the state laws where you intend to boat.

Except where noted, the following definitions apply to both International and Inland Rules:

The following two definitions apply to Inland Rules Only:

The following rule about responsibility is somewhat confusing if you are not a student of the rules. Just read them and I’ll explain what they mean after each one. This rule applies to both International and Inland rules.

Responsibility: Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

Means: If something happens, such as a collision, everyone is at fault.

In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.

Means: If you are in danger of collision, you are obligated to do everything possible to prevent the collision even if doing so requires you to deviate from the Rules.

Additional definitions included in the Rules of the Road:

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