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Boating Tips

It may seem as if you can do anything you want while you are on the water (You might also think that it looks as if everyone else is going crazy on the water). Boating on a crowded waterway can be scary! The good news is that there are rules to govern the action of each vessel. The bad news is that many vessel operators do not know the rules. Not complying with the Rules – even if you don’t know them, can get you in trouble on the water. Even if you think you are following the Rules, if there is something that you can do to avoid a collision – you must do it, even if you deviate from a different Navigation Rule. It is your responsibility as the ship’s captain to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and to operate your
vessel in a safe manner. Caution may not be fun, but having an accident sure stinks.

The Rules state that every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing conditions to determine if a risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt, such risk shall be deemed to exist. If you are a boat Captain there are certain “rules of the road” that you MUST follow to ensure the safety of your passengers and other boaters. Below are a few of the most important boating tips that everyone should follow.

Right of Way

Whenever you meet another boat, it’s like approaching an unmarked intersection in your car. Knowing a few, simple right of way rules will help you avoid a collision.

Just as motorists must know what to do when approaching a four way stop, every crossing situation at sea is like approaching an unmarked intersection. Because there are so many different types of boats and styles of boating, it is important to know what to expect when you come upon another vessel.

The lower most vessel on the list is the give way vessel, and must stay out of the way of vessels that are higher on the list:

Overtaken vessel (top priority)

  • Vessels not under command
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
  • Vessels constrained by draft
  • Fishing vessels engaged in fishing, with gear deployed
  • Vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver
  • Sailing vessels
  • Power driven vessels

Whether under inland or international rules, power vessels must keep clear of sailing vessels in open waters. A sailboat with motor running is defined as a motor boat. The “pecking order” between sailing vessels is more complex. When two sailing are approaching one another so as to involve risk of collision, one of then shall keep
out of the way of each other as follows:

  • When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other.
  • When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward.
  • If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other.
  • For the purposes of these rules the windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried. On square-rigged vessels, it shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried.


With so much investment literally riding on your anchor, your boat’s anchoring system is no place to cut corners. Your choice of anchor depends on the size and type of your boat, and the weather and anchoring conditions you generally encounter.

Boats with heavy displacements or superstructures that present a great deal of wind resistance need heavier gear. The same is true of cruising yachts that brave a wide variety of conditions and may sometimes have to anchor in open waters.

Although not required by Federal Law, it is recommended you carry one anchor of sufficient size and strength to hold your boat for an extended period, like overnight–or in an emergency situation, such as if you run out of gas.  When you are thinking or buying an anchor – BIGGER IS BETTER.

Also, there is safety in numbers. No anchor will work for you in every situation, so if you have space carry two anchors–preferably of different types.Many people choose to carry a small anchor, or “lunch hook”, and a larger working or storm anchor. The lunch hook is for use in calm weather and when the crew is monitoring the anchor. Working and storm anchors are useful at times when the crew is asleep or ashore, and during heavy weather, when winds are 30 miles an hour and over.

The general name for all of the equipment you need to anchor your boat is “ground tackle”.  This includes an anchor, chain, line and connecting elements. The anchor line, including chain, is called the rode.

Just as boats come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so do anchors. Choosing an anchor is easy, choosing the right one for your boat can be very difficult. Your first task in choosing an anchor is to have an understanding of three things:

Your Boat – Your boats’ size, weight and design characteristics affect what kind of anchor you will need to use. For instance, a 30 foot 10,000 pound houseboat needs a larger anchor than a 30 foot 6000 pound speedboat.

Where You’re Going – Where you plan to anchor often dictates what type of anchor you should use. Is the bottom
rock, or is it soft mud? If you are not familiar with the area, ask around or look at a local chart.

Local Conditions – Anchoring in a calm protected cove can be quite different than anchoring offshore or on a large open bay. And don’t forget the weather–high winds, tides and waves can all make anchoring difficult, if not impossible.

The table below will give you an idea of what your boat needs.


Scope = Length of the anchor line/ height of the deck cleat to the sea bed

Before leaving the dock, you will need to determine how much anchor line, or “rode”, you will need.
It is recommended that you use a scope of 7:1, meaning that for every foot of water depth, you should use 7 feet of rode.

For example, to anchor in 10 feet of water, you would pay out 70 feet of line. Measure the scope as the ratio
of the length of the anchor rode to the height of the bow above the bottom.  If you’re using a lightweight anchor on a small boat in good weather conditions, a shorter scope of 5:1 is sufficient and safe. A prudent boater always has extra line and chain on hand, just in case!

The table below suggests minimum working rode sizes:

Suggested holding sizes assume fair holding ground, scope of at least 5:1 to 10:1, and moderate shelter from high seas.

Boats that operate generally in shallow waters, as on the East Coast of the United States, may get by with shorter rode lengths. As the wind picks up, deploying additional line will help maintain position, as will tossing out an extra anchor.

Distance between other boats
When anchoring around other boats you must remember that they also have a scope of line out. When the wind changes direction they will swing around the center of their anchor and must have the proper spacing between other boats to avoid a collision.



Navigation Lights

Vessels are required to show the proper navigation lights from sunset to sunrise in all weather conditions, good and bad. During these times, no other lights that could be mistaken for lights specified in the Rules of the Road can be displayed, nor any lights that impair the visibility or distinctive character of navigation lights, or interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout. The Rules also state that navigation lights must be shown in conditions of reduced visibility, and may be shown at other times considered necessary.

Lights must adhere to the standards listed in the following chart:

Navigation Sounds

Just as lights play a significant role in understanding what other boats are doing, so do sounds.  Understanding what you hear is another step towards being a “complete mariner”.  Virtually every boat is required to have some sound producing device.  There is a great deal of latitude in what type of sound making device you choose, but loud is good!

Legal Requirements:

Equipment for Sound Signals is based on the length of your boat as follows:

  • Boats less than 39.4 feet in length – must carry an efficient sound producing device. In general, this may be a bell, whistle, or air horn.  Though guns–even pots and pans–can make a suitable sound signal useful in getting attention in an emergency, you should always carry the appropriate equipment.
  • Boats at least 39.4 feet to less than 65.6 feet in length – Must carry a whistle and a bell. The whistle must be audible for 1/2 nautical mile. The mouth of the bell must be at least 7.87 inches in diameter.

When and how to sound off

Sound signals are to be used only when vessels are in sight of each other and are meeting or crossing at a distance within half a mile of each other. These signals must never be used in fog or other conditions of reduced visibility, where the vessels are not visible to each other by eye. Only the fog signals listed under the Inland Rules, Rule 35 may be sounded at such time.


Sound signals are called “blasts”.  There are two different blasts used for warning and steering signals.

  • Short Blast – Lasts about one second.
  • Prolonged Blast – Lasts from four to six seconds.




When you are boating remember that there are lots of other boaters around you trying to enjoy themselves just as you are. Many boaters are on vacation and some are even live-aboards. No one wants to hear another boaters load music or generator during the evening. Imagine someone running their lawn mover outside the window of your home at 4am. The first thing you would do is call the police to report them. It is no different when you are on a boat. Running a loud generator all night in an anchorage of other boats is just plain disrespectfull.

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