Introduction to Navigation Rules of the Road and Local Applicability to Narragansett Bay


  • Learn the purpose of “Rules”
  • Learn the “Pecking Order” for vessels
  • Learn Navigational terms
  • Learn to interpret navigation lights
  • Learn the basic Inland Navigation Rules for crossing, meeting & overtaking situations

Navigation Rules:
“The Rules of the Road”

Who wrote the rules?

Navigation Rules” Are published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the United States Coast Guard

Updated copies can be downloaded online at

Rules of the Road

What do the Rules do?

If followed, they protect against loss of life, injury, and property damage as a result of collision.

Prevent Accidents!

Most Collisions Could Be Avoided By…

  • Practicing the “Rules of the Road”
    Rule 1
  • Use of a “proper lookout”
    Rule 5
  • Maintaining safe speed
    Rule 6
  • Displaying proper lights
    Rule 20
  • Knowing the “Aids to Navigation”

Ground Rules for Navigation:
Responsibility & Definitions

General Definitions
Underway Not at anchor or made fast to the shore or aground
Right-of-way The right and duty to maintain course and speed
Stand-On Vessel Vessel that has the right of way
Give Way Vessel Must keep clear of the stand-on vessel
Short Blast A blast of approximately 1 second
Prolonged Blast A blast of 4 to 6 seconds

“Safe Speed” Definition

Speed that allows proper and effective action to avoid collision based on the following factors:

  • Visibility
  • Traffic density and characteristics
  • Maneuverability, draft
  • Background clutter
  • Weather, wind, current, navigational hazards

Rule 13 – Overtaking

Vessel that is passed by another from a position more than 22.5 degrees abaft of it’s beam is the stand-on vessel. The give-way vessel should not see the green or red navigation sidelights. If in doubt whether overtaking or crossing, always assume overtaking.

Give-way vessel will keep clear of stand-on vessel until finally well past and clear.

But be careful! White light only could also indicate a vessel sailing or a vessel at anchor or under oars.

Rules of the Road

Rule 14 – Head On

When two power-driven vessels are on reciprocal courses, vessels will steer to starboard so each shall pass port to port of each other. At night, vessels in a head-on situation should observe masthead light(s) in a line and one or both sidelights.

Rules of the Road

Rule 15 – Crossing

A vessel which has another vessel on her starboard side shall keep out of the way of the other and if necessary, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel. Easy way to remember this is vessel to the right “has rights”! Once you learn this, you’ll also recognize it’s consistent with the red/green light scheme.

Rules of the Road

Rule 18- Responsibilities Between Vessels (Inland)

Pecking Order

From priviledged to burdened:

  1. Not under command (NUC)
  2. Restricted in ability to maneuver (RAM) (dredging, mine sweeping)
  3. Fishing/trawling (not trolling)
  4. Sail or manually powered boat
    (must confirm this is where kayaks and SUPs land, and discuss here how Rule 2 is most important and applicable to kayaks and SUPs)
  5. Power-driven
  6. Seaplane

Navigation Lights and Shapes
(Rules 20 – 31)

White Light

360 degree light
required when anchored

Red and Green Lights
112.5 degree arc = 90+22.5
Required when underway between sunset and sunrise or in restricted visibility

Rules 20 Thru 31 – Lights and Shapes

Rules of the Road

Rules 34 Maneuvering and Warning

Inland – Signals of intent with appropriate reply required.
Inland Rules require the other vessel to answer with the same signal if in agreement.
One short
I intend to pass you on my port side
Two short
I intend to pass you on my starboard side
Three short
I am operating astern (reverse) propulsion
Five short
Danger, I do not understand, I disagree

Navigation Lights

Navigation lights should be checked prior to departing the dock

Lights should be used between sunset and sunrise and during restricted visibility

Always carry spare bulbs

Configurations: Class A-I Under Power