Just as there are rules and regulations for
automobiles, there are marine traffic laws that boats
have to follow. These are referred to as the "rules
of the road", or right-of-way (ROW) rules.
- The US Coast Guard maintains these
regulations for four geographic areas: International,
Inland, Great Lakes, and Western Rivers. These rules
have been developed for every situation where vessels
meet or cross, to avoid the possibility of a collision.
There are also local regulations such as speed limits
that a sailor should also be familiar with and obey.
- For more information on the US Coast Guard Navigation
Rules for International and Inland water, you can download
a complete copy using Adobe Acrobat. See the
US Coast Guard Publications, Reports, Studies and Forms.
Under Technical Publications, select Navigation Rules.
(You must have a copy of Adobe Acrobat on your computer.)
Here you will find the latest Navigational Rules as of
October 1995. (See page 27 for information on two sailboats
approaching one another.)
- There are separate rules for sailboats and powerboats.
If your sailboat is being propelled by a motor, you are
no longer considered a sailboat, and must obey the
- Some people mistakenly think that a sailboat always
has the right-of-way over powerboats. A sailboat
does have the ROW over a powerboat unless
the sailboat is overtaking the powerboat. A sailboat
must also keep out of the way of large vessels in
narrow channels, and ferryboats. This is just common sense since
these large vessels have difficulty stopping and
- There are a few basic right-of-way (ROW)
rules that every sailor should be familiar with.
These four rules deal with two sailboats in sight of
one another and what to do to avoid a collision.
It is good sailing etiquette to yield the ROW to
- The four rules listed below give a basic
overview of who has the right-of-way. If all else
fails, when two boats are at risk of
colliding, the boat that has the other on its
must keep out of the way.