Boating “Rules of the Road”: 2017 Basic Guide to Navigating on the Water

Boating “Rules of the Road”: 2017 Basic Guide to Navigating on the Water

Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and we always like to take a moment to refresh everyone on some boating safety. While taking a boater education course is the best way to make sure you understand boating’s “rules of the road,” the following are a few key tips to keep in mind:

Basic Navigation Tips

  1. Leaving the dock or launch ramp, look for the green and red channel markers. The rule of thumb is “red, right, returning”; that means as you head out, the green marker will be on your right (to starboard), and the red marker on your left (to port). When you return to your dock or launch ramp, the red marker will be on your right. (If you plan on boating in Europe, bear in mind that it will be the opposite — a distinction that makes a big difference!)
  2. If boat traffic is moving in both directions within the channel, keep to the outer right-hand side. It’s like driving a car down the road.
    Keep a close eye on channel markers. Even though pontoons and deck boats draw very little water and can access some of the skinniest coves and gunkholes, there are still places where straying from the channel will land you in the muck or on a sandbar. Not fun.
  3. Be aware of regulatory and informational markers that advise of shoals, swim areas, speed zones and underwater hazards. They feature orange bands on the top and bottom.
    While many people are familiar with GPS units these days, it’s advisable to learn how to navigate the old-fashioned way. Technology can fail, in which case you’ll be glad you learned how to read a paper chart.
  4. If you’re going to be on the water during the twilight hours or after dark, make sure your boat has a proper set of running lights. The green light on the right (starboard) side and the red light on the left (port) side let other boaters know if you’re moving toward them, away from them or across their path.

A boater education course will teach you everything you need to know about proper and safe navigation on the water, and you will learn how to identify the many specific aids to navigation that appear in U.S. waterways. If you’d like to do a little reading on the subject in advance of any coursework, a good resource is

Also see:
Official Boater Education Safety Courses