Rules of the Road
Anyone who skippers a boat should know the Rules of the Road, since they apply to all craft under way. Enacted by the U.S. Congress to prevent collisions on water, they must be followed whenever there is a chance of collision.
A boat pulling away from a pier has no rights-of-way until it is completely free and clear of the pier. However, passing craft may not block the entrance to or exit from any pier or slip.
Under the Rules of the Road, one boat, called the privileged vessels, is considered to have the right-of-way. The other boat, called the burdened vessel, must give way. The privileged vessel is expected to maintain her course and speed, while the burdened vessel maneuvers to keep out of the way. Any boat overtaking another boat has no rights-of-way until she is free and clear of the overtaken vessel. Any boat approaching another from dead ahead to 2 points aft of the starboard beam, or right side, is the privileged vessel and has the right-of-way. Boats approaching from any other angle are considered burdened vessels and must yield the right-of-way. When two boats approach head on, each skipper should steer to starboard so that the boats pass each other on their port, or left, sides. Boats navigating a channel should stay on the starboard side. In the event of a collision, it is the duty of both boats to stand by and not to leave the scene until assistance is no longer needed.
A sailboat has the right-of-way over a motorboat at all times except when overtaking the motorboat. At such times it must keep clear. If a sailboat is under power, it must follow the rules for a motorboat.
Boating Safety Precautions
Federal boating laws define the types and quantity of safety equipment to be carried aboard the various classes of pleasure boats. In general, they must carry approved fire-fighting equipment and a whistle or horn and must display navigation lights from sunset to sunrise while under way. All motorboats are required to carry one Coast Guard-approved lifesaving device for each person aboard.
No boatman should venture into unfamiliar water without nautical charts showing depth of water, location of obstructions, dangerous areas, outline of land, navigational aids, and other pertinent information. Nautical charts are published by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Skill in using these charts requires training and practice. Free classes in small-boat piloting and navigation are offered by the U.S. Power Squadrons and the Coast Guard Auxiliary in most major cities throughout the United States.
Although not required by law, it is good safety practice to have aboard at all times a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a supply of tools to make emergency engine repairs, and a suitable anchor with sufficient line. A good skipper should also familiarize himself with signs of changing weather.