What Dis-ability? The Healing Power of Boating

A day in 1969 changed the trajectory of Craig Withee’s life. A car accident left him a paraplegic, but that has not slowed down this retired Civil Engineer from Bend. In 2018, Craig Withee was appointed to the Marine Board and brought with him not only his 38-years of experience in facility engineering, operations and management for the Department of Army and the Federal Aviation Administration, but a perspective from an avid mixed-use boater and angler who happens to live with physical limitations. Withee offers his perspectives around the opportunities -and barriers for persons with disabilities to connect with the outdoors with a call to action for policy makers, planners, and the recreational boating public.

Throughout his life, Withee has maintained a love for the outdoors, especially for boating, cruising, fishing and hunting. He’s owned and operated many motorized and nonmotorized boats and has experience on every type of waterway; in lakes, rivers and the ocean, including Alaska bush country, busy ocean harbors, and large river drainages. Withee’s outdoor enthusiasm has continued into retirement with boating on the high lakes and rivers in Central Oregon and the coastal communities in Reedsport, Florence, and Newport. Most of his outdoor experiences have included his wheelchair, which has not hampered his pursuit for life and adventure.

One thing for sure, connecting in nature and being on the water helps heal the soul. “People need the opportunity -need the social acceptance, as well as the facilities and the capability to get on the water. When you’re in a wheelchair, or have other disabilities, you’re isolated. A lot of times you withdraw because you feel that you’re not accepted and you’re not capable of doing the things you want to do.” Withee, proves them wrong, but on some adventures, it takes a team of help from family and hired outfitter guides where accommodations from the land to the water aren’t available. “Getting from a boarding dock with bullrails onto a boat is nearly impossible. But having wheelchair space between railings at more sites would allow me to maneuver by myself into my boat.” Withee has found solace and liberation on the coast, where getting down the gangway needs to be carefully timed with the tide, as a different challenge.

Withee has an aluminum boat, specifically designed for his wheelchair and maneuvering once inside. Another barrier is finding a boat builder who can modify boats for people with physical limitations. This too, has not deterred him.

Withee also uses a modified Flycraft inflatable boat with electric motor, complete with a throttle extension so he has full control of his adventure. “The tough part is transitioning from the chair to the kayak seat, but it’s a good workout.” Withee adds, “When I’m out on the water, I’m completely free. I have no disability.” Invigorating, energizing, and liberating are other key words he uses to describe how being on the water helps with his healing.

As a member of the Marine Board, Withee is passionate about state agencies working together toward equity and inclusion, as well as improving/expanding ADA access and highlighting places for persons with disabilities to go.  

“If we’re able to give people opportunities and make them aware of what’s out there -what they can and what they’re welcome to do, then they’ll participate! We’d have a lot more of them engaged in society. That’s what I think needs to happen. Inclusion for all. Ways to work better together and accessible for all.”

An unfortunate reality for Withee is what happens when he’s trying to launch or retrieve his boats from the water. “People get impatient. My wife or other friends will tell people who ask why we’re hogging up the boarding dock, to “see for yourself,” and then witness Withee as he wheels himself down the ramp. “If people open their eyes, have acceptance and some patience, they’ll see the challenges persons with disabilities face. If facility providers help improve access to the water, the public will ultimately see the benefits to themselves, as well as the disabled community.”

The Marine Board and its boating facilities program helps public facility owners with permitting, design and engineering services, and grant funding for boat ramps, nonmotorized launches, boarding docks, parking areas, and restroom facilities.

Land-based improvements and new dock designs also adhere to federal ADA requirements. The challenge is in the transition from land to the water on tidally influenced waterbodies, reservoirs with large water fluctuations or where other natural barriers exist. The agency is committed to exploring options and expanding partnerships to help connect people to the water for all its healing benefits.


Learn more about the Marine Board, its boating facilities program, and use the interactive Boat Oregon Online Maps to help plan your on-water healing journey at boat.oregon.gov. Be sure check out the nonmotorized and electric motor only map layer to find waterbodies with lower gradients and shallow sloping to access the water.

Rules of the Road, Series VII

Sound Signals and Restricted Visibility

Last but not least, sound signals! Sound signals are a rudimentary form of communication and have been around since Fred Flintstone squeezed a Pterodactyl strapped to the top of his car. Since then, horns and whistles have evolved and their use for navigational sound signals falls into one of two categories: signals used when in sight of other vessels and signals when not in sight of other vessels. The majority of recreational boaters don’t understand how to apply these signals and in most cases avoid using them. I’ve heard several reasons for the lack of use by recreational boaters, such as they confuse other vessels in the area, or “Other boaters don’t use them, so why should I?” But mostly it’s just not part of the culture. Realistically, if you are paying close attention and have good situational awareness, you shouldn’t have to use sound signals in all but close-quarter situations.

All vessels, motorized or non-motorized, are required to carry a sound-producing device or as defined in the rules, a “whistle.” In Rule 33, the word whistle means “any sound signaling appliance capable of producing the prescribed blasts and which complies with specifications in Annex III to these Rules (33 CFR part 86).” So a horn or whistle, manual or mechanical, that can produce an audible sound, is required. For vessels under 12 meters, 39.4 feet, there is no specific audible range listed. Vessels over 12 meters but less than 20 meters (65.6 ft) must have a half-mile audible range. Realistically you might only hear a sound signal from another small vessel when within 100 yards so this is why you should closely adhere to Rules 5, 6, 7 and 8,  by establishing a risk of collision in plenty of time where simply maneuvering early will remove the risk. Again, if you mitigate the risk early enough, sound signals may not be necessary. Regardless, recreational boaters should know the basic signals and make every attempt to use them when the situation warrants.

I made a promise in my first article that I was going to stay away from international rules because they are so similar to inland rules that the differences would just be confusing, but sound signals are not one of those instances. First, we need to discuss where the boundaries are between international and inland rules. The boundary lines are charted and also listed in the Code of Federal Regulations. They are also listed in the back of the navigation rules book. These boundary lines are called lines of demarcation, normally a line one can infer between jetty tips or headlands on smaller estuaries where coastal waters transition to inland waters. Larger bays and sounds will normally remain under international rules, so it is always best to check which rules apply in the waterway you intend to use. The difference between the two is that under international rules your maneuvering signals are signals of action whereas under inland rules maneuvering signals are signals of intent. For inland rules, if risk of collision exists and you sound one short blast of the horn, you are intending to bring the other vessel down your port side, turning to starboard. The other vessel would repeat that signal to indicate that it understands and the maneuver is made. International rules are signals of action.  If you’re in international waters and risk of collision exists or if you’re in a waterway or channel and turning into the direction or possible path of other vessels at a bend or channel entrance, the maneuvering signals are sounded and the maneuver completed. There is no requirement for the other vessel to respond.

For recreational vessels in inland waters, the signals are pretty basic and easy to remember because there are only two: a short blast and a prolonged blast. The term short blast means a blast of about 1 second’s duration. The term prolonged blast means a blast from 4 to 6 seconds in duration.   These can be in different combinations, but if you separate those signals that are used when in sight of another vessel and those when not in sight, it becomes very easy. Let’s talk about when vessel are in sight of each other; Rule 34. No matter the situation, always think, “If I sound one short blast, it means I intend to turn to starboard and bring the other vessel down your port side.” Similarly, two short blasts turning to port and bring the other vessel down your starboard side. That’s it! You have just graduated the “signals when vessels are in sight of one another,” course.

As with any of the rules, there is a fail-safe clause known as the “Danger Signal.”  When doubt exists as to the intentions of the other vessel, you should sound 5 or more short blasts in rapid succession:  (d) When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other; and, from any cause, either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle. So if you are in a situation where the risk of collision exists and you are unsure, or the other vessel operator is unsure, of what’s taking place anyone can sound 5 short blasts of the horn.  When you hear that signal, it means that you should take immediate action, under the applicable rule for that situation, and maneuver accordingly. Assuming that the signal does not apply to you could be a deadly assumption.

If you can make contact with the other vessel on the VHF radio and agree on how to pass each other, then whistle signals are not required. (h) A vessel that reaches agreement with another vessel in a head-on, crossing, or overtaking situation, as for example, by using the radiotelephone as prescribed by the Vessel Bridge-to-Bridge Radiotelephone Act (85 Stat. 164; 33 U.S.C. 1201 et seq.), is not obliged to sound the whistle signals prescribed by this Rule, but may do so. If agreement is not reached, then whistle signals shall be exchanged in a timely manner and shall prevail.

Operating in restricted visibility has the highest factor of risk that you will encounter while recreational boating. Great care and alertness should be a priority and unless there is some greater compelling reason to be underway, it’s probably best to remain at the dock until conditions improve. The worst-case scenario as far as restricted visibility goes, would be fog. But in the case you are caught up in the fog, your awareness should be heightened.  Before we get into Rule 35, we need to go back to establish the conduct of vessels operating in restricted visibility before addressing the signals required.

In Rule 19, vessels have a specific responsibility when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility.  In a nutshell, it is a rule of detection and avoidance where the rules for a vessel in sight of one another don’t apply. Rule 19 is about reducing risk.  We know the audible range of a sound signal is approximately one-half mile. So you can surmise that if your visibility is less or close to a half-mile then it is an appropriate time to take this rule into account. What do you do? First, slow down; (b) Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility. A power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate maneuver.  You have to fall back to the basic rules for vessels operating in all conditions of visibility. That would be Rules 5 through 8. Maintain a proper lookout and use passengers to help you observe, through sight and sound, what is happening around you. Make sure that lookouts (your passengers) are properly briefed and that their attention is solely focused on detecting the presence of other vessels in the area. Never assign lookouts to other tasks. Their focus should only be toward detecting other vessels so you can determine if a risk of collision exists.  You should also operate at a safe speed for the prevailing conditions so that you can take proper and effective action to avoid a collision if necessary. Never operate at a speed where you are unable to stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing conditions.  A good rule of thumb is to be able to stop within your boat’s length. Use all available means to determine if the risk of collision exists. Most importantly, if the circumstances of the case admit, you shall take positive action in ample time with the due regard to good seamanship to avoid a collision. So navigation lights on, slow down, post lookouts determine if a risk of collision exists, even if you can’t see the other vessel, and take action to avoid a collision.

 So how do you avoid a collision if you can’t see the other vessel?  (e) Except where it has been determined that a risk of collision does not exist, every vessel which hears apparently forward of her beam the fog signal of another vessel, or which cannot avoid a close-quarters situation with another vessel forward of her beam, shall reduce her speed to the minimum at which she can be kept on course. She shall if necessary take all her way off and, in any event, navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over. 

So let’s say you have radar. (d) A vessel which detects by radar alone the presence of another vessel shall determine if a close-quarters situation is developing and/or risk of collision exists. If so, she shall take avoiding action in ample time, provided that when such action consists of an alteration of course, so far as possible the following shall be avoided:

(i) An alteration of course to port for a vessel forward of the beam, other than for a vessel being overtaken;

(ii) An alteration of course toward a vessel abeam or abaft the beam.

So in order to make this happen, we need to go back to the sound signals used when vessels are not in sight. Rule 35  As a power-driven vessel underway, you only need to concern yourself with two signals. Underway and making progress (make way), would be one prolonged blast (4 to 6 seconds in duration) of the whistle every two minutes. If you are stopped and drifting or not making way, you sound 2 prolonged blasts every 2 minutes with a one-second interval between blasts. That’s it!  If everyone is following these rules, you should be able to tell what direction another vessel is from you and how close they are. If the sound is coming from a constant direction and is getting louder you are likely at risk of collision. Slow down or stop.

If you hear any other signals such as one prolonged and two short or one prolonged and three short, all you need to realize is you need to stay clear of that vessel and follow Rule 19 above. Vessels sounding those signals are higher in the hierarchy (Rule 18) and you would be required to avoid them even in good visibility. For those with radar, if you detect any vessel ahead or forward of your beam turn to starboard. If the other vessel is abeam or aft of you, do not turn toward it and continue to monitor your radar and adjust as things change. In any situation, good or bad visibility, if you are uncomfortable or unsure of the situation STOP. Monitor the movement of the other vessel and take the best course of action necessary to avoid a collision.

Hopefully, you can see that there is nothing mystical about sound signals.  My persistent message throughout all of these articles is if you can identify the risk of collision early, make a reasonable course adjustment to remove the risk of collision, you will probably never use sound signals. When you determine that risk of collision exists, letting people know your intentions,  or in the case of restricted visibility, notifying them of your presence with sound signals is merely being a safe and responsible boater. Staying focused on the safety of everyone on the water should be your primary concern. This is also the reason why we have and should follow all the rules of navigation. The rules benefit all boaters and waterway users. It’s never wrong to ask someone to help interpret the rules if you don’t understand them. To disregard them can be a costly or fatal mistake.

As a final thought, no matter the situation, the vessel Captain has the ultimate responsibility for safe navigation. Whether it is a kayak or a superyacht, the responsibility and liability falls on their shoulders.  Having a working understanding of the navigation rules is the single most important skill a boat operator can learn. Always remember, “Superior Mariners use their Superior Knowledge to avoid situations that require their Superior Skills.”

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District

Navigation Rules of the Road -Series VI

The Importance of Lighting

Call me a nerd, but I love navigation lights.  When you look through this section of the rules there is a festival of different lighting configurations from skiffs to submarines and everything in between. If you’re following along through the previous articles you may have noticed that there is always the overreaching basic set of rules that apply to everyone regardless of vessel type or service. The same thing holds true for navigation lights. For the recreational boater, it’s pretty simple, you need a mast light, stern light and green and red running lights (Figure 1). That’s it, we’re done, short article! You know I’m not going to let you off that easy because there is a lot that needs to be explained because the devil is in the details when it comes to navigation lights.

Figure 1, the correct mast, stern, red and green running lights.

Looking through the rule book you might ask yourself, why are there so many different light configurations? To answer that question you have to look back at Rule 18 covering the hierarchy of vessels.  Simplistically, other vessels displaying more or different lights than you are higher in the hierarchy in Rule 18.   So if they have more lights than the standard lighting configuration you automatically are the give-way vessel. I’m not going to attempt to address all the different lighting configurations because it will only be confusing and I want to keep this reasonably short and to the point but if you want to get into depth on lighting for vessels not under command, fishing, trawling dredging, etc., you can reference the actual rules, NAVRULES.

There is always an exception and the general lighting configuration -Figure 1 is no different, but those differences are due to the physical size of the vessel. As vessels get smaller there is less room available to display these lights at the distance of separation required in other parts of the rules. Power-driven vessels of less than 12 meters in length (39.4 ft) do not have to display an individual stern light but may instead, display a 360 degree all around white light (Figure 2).  The majority of recreational vessels display this alternate lighting configuration.

All vessels must display the basic lighting configuration. The additional lighting required for vessels higher in the hierarchy is only displayed when they are actively engaged in whatever activity places them in a special status. Once their status changes, they revert back to being a power-driven vessel underway. Bottom line, a recreational boat will only display basic lights required by all vessels.  That said, there is still much more that the average recreational boater needs to know about navigation lights.

Figure 2, bow and all-round white light configuration for small recreational boats.

When are navigation lights required?  As always, consult the rule of applicability for that section of the rules. Rule 20, (a) Rules in this subpart (Rules 20-31) (§83.20 through §83.31) shall be complied with in all weathers.

(b) The Rules concerning lights (§83.20 through §83.31) shall be complied with from sunset to sunrise, and during such times no other lights shall be exhibited, except such lights as cannot be mistaken for the lights specified in these Rules or do not impair their visibility or distinctive character, or interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout.

Translation: when you are running at night or in restricted visibility you should not be showing any lights other than the navigation lights required. The exception noted is that if you have other lighting on board it cannot have the characteristics of the lights required by the rules; red, green, white or amber. Non-navigation lights cannot be positioned or be so bright that they obscure the required navigation lights or they create so much glare that they impair the ability of anyone on board from being able to see in the course of standing a proper lookout.

I know what everyone is thinking, “What about the big honking floodlights almost everyone has on their boats?” In Rule 36, Signals to Attract Attention, a vessel “may direct a searchlight in the direction of danger in such a way as to not embarrass any vessel”. This rule would allow such lighting but, if you have floodlighting installed you should not use them like headlights on a car. Turn them off when approaching other vessels so that you do not compromise their night vision or obscure your navigation lights. The bright light basically blinds and disorients others just like someone shining a flashlight in your face. Normal night vision only returns after the light has been extinguished and the eyes have had adequate time to readjust. I have had a personal experience with just that type of situation and in fog or reduced visibility and it is dangerous. It’s all about respect for the other guy. Give them a break and turn the lights off until you’re well clear.

Back to why they are required, (c) The lights prescribed by these Rules shall, if carried, also be exhibited from sunrise to sunset in restricted visibility and may be exhibited in all other circumstances when it is deemed necessary.

So it’s not just after the sunsets. When you encounter rain, sleet, snow, hail, fog and dark of night your navigation lights should be used. Even smoke if there is enough to restrict visibility. So navigation lights are one of the most important pieces of equipment you have on your boat when it’s dark or visibility is compromised. They alert others of your presence and provide a snapshot of your activity.

Let’s review the light characteristics themselves. In Rule 21, definitions, all vessels under 39.4 feet in length are required to have an all-around white mast light (360 degrees) and port and starboard running lights, 112.5 degrees each. The all-around white mast light incorporates the stern light so that it can be seen in a 360-degree arch (Figure 2). Vessel over 39.4 feet must have a separate mast and stern light that must cover that same 360 degree arch with the mast light being seen in a 225-degree arch forward. The masthead lights arc of visibility is exactly the same as the combined arc of visibility of the port and starboard running lights. In this configuration, the stern light covers the remaining 135 degrees aft (Figure 2). Regardless, if you are over or under 39.4 feet in length other vessels will see the white light approaching from any direction (Figure 3). Pretty standard display with some minor exceptions when it comes to vessels under sail, Rule 25, where the mast light is not required.

Figure 3, correct placement of bow lighting and angles of visibility.

Federal recreational vessel manufacturer requirements make the proper placement pretty standard but we continually find new boats where the lighting is not correctly placed. Hopefully, I will be able to explain what to look for and your responsibilities in making sure the proper lights are displayed in the proper configuration. There are some very specific standards that navigation lights must comply with in order to meet visible distance requirements and prevent bleed over so that each lights sector is precisely defined from the others. In Rule 22, Visibility of Lights, For recreational boats under 39.4 feet in length the lights prescribed in these Rules shall have an intensity as specified in these Rules (33 CFR part 84), so as to be visible at the following minimum ranges: A masthead light, 2 miles; A sidelight, 1 mile; A stern light, 2 miles.

So now we have entered the mystery section in the rules, buried back in the dusty pages, where no one ever looks. These are known as the annexes! This is where the technical details of navigation lights; whistle signals and other information pertaining to them hide. Most of the rules we deal with are concerned with the operation and display of the signals.  Here is where you find the technical details of how they are constructed and function. There are specific chromaticity (color) standards. Minimum luminous intensity and most importantly the horizontal and vertical sectoring.

This is important because if you could put any old light any place you want, the uniformity in clarity, color, and sectoring to distinguish what the lights represent, would be lost. Vertical and horizontal sectoring of lights is the most important part of these standards. Horizontal sectoring ensures that the moment you can see the color change from one light to the next, you realize your relative bearing has changed. So if you were standing out in directly in front of your boat you should see both red and green lights. Step from one side to the other you should see either the red and green lights, depending on which side you choose to move, quickly disappear. You should only have to move one to three degrees of arc for that to happen. Three degrees is a very small zone. (a)(i) In the forward direction, sidelights, as fitted on the vessel, shall show the minimum required intensities. The intensities shall decrease to reach practical cut-off between 1 and 3 degrees outside the prescribed sectors. The intensity of the light has a significant part in the correct sectoring of lights. If the light is too bright or intense it can bleed over and or virtually eliminate the sectored separation between other lights.

How and where you mount navigation lights can also affect the horizontal zone.  If the lights are not mounted parallel to each other and pointed directly ahead the zones will cross making them visible further outside the lights intended sector. This gives a false representation of your exact heading and can greatly increase your risk of collision.  This not only affects your perspective but if your display is incorrect, it affects other boater’s ability to correctly assess what direction you are going and increase the risk. This not only affects you when meeting in a head-on situation but also when overtaking another vessel from astern. You should normally see the navigation light appear when your relative bearing is from the vessel being overtaken is 112.5 degrees relative, aft, of the vessel.  If the lights are mounted improperly, you may not see that light until you are well forward of the vessel’s beam. This increases your risk of collision in that what appears to be an overtaking situation may, in fact, be a crossing situation and you could actually be on a collision course. You can see the difference in the visual area looking at figure 3 and 4.  If the lights are improperly mounted the purple zone is where the two running light cross falsely making the vessel look like it is coming at you head-on. Note that the visual portion of the zone aft is also severely distorted.  This can pose serious problems with other boaters being able to understand your direction of movement.

Figure 4, incorrect lighting installation creating a crossover effect, increasing the risk of collision.

When you buy a new boat, the manufacture should properly place the navigation lights in accordance with Annex I and you should never have a problem.  Regardless, when buying a boat, pay attention to the navigation light placement because there could still be a possibility they could have been installed incorrectly.  The Coast Guard has contracted factory inspectors that travel around to visit boat manufacturers to make sure lights and other manufacturer regulations and standards are maintained, but sometimes boats can make it out of the shop before the inspector has a chance to inspect the facility. This is the exception and not the rule by any means. This is only an issue when lights have been mounted into the hull at the peak of the bow. These lights should be mounted parallel to each other or be in a single combination red/ green light at the peak of the bow. If not mounted correctly and the visible light sectors cross, you can have up to 30 or 40 degrees of bleed over into the other lights sector.

Mast lights are pretty simple.  Most problems with mast lighting tend to be with respect to them not being placed high enough above the vessel to be visible or blocked from providing 360-degree visibility. The other situation is when towers or radar arches are installed either by the manufacturer or aftermarket. Boaters like to place a lot of accessories on them like spotlights, speakers, radars, antenna, etc. In this application, the light should be positioned so that it is high enough above those accessories that it is visible 360 degrees when the vessel is on a plane. That height would be approximately 8 inches above the highest point on the vessel. Another problem with the aftermarket installation is that the tower is not equipped with a light mast, so if you are going to put on an aftermarket tower, insist that it is designed for a mast light and that the light is high enough that it will not be blocked by other equipment. In addition, all vessels under 20 feet in length have a removable mast head light post, just over 3 feet in length that plug into a socket somewhere on the stern. Because it gets in the way or provides some glare, boaters tend to remove them and not display the light.

The latest boating fad is putting accent LED lights just about anywhere that someone thinks looks cool. They have their place and you can really customize your boat to fit your personality but, these should not be used underway. Remember, you cannot use lighting that impairs the visibility or distinctive character of required navigation lights, or uses any lights that interfere with the keeping of a proper lookout, or be mistaken for navigation lights prescribed by the rules. Blue lights, other than those on law enforcement vessels should not be used because they can be misidentified as lights on law enforcement vessels. They look cool but they are best used at the dock or when anchored.

As of November 2012, all navigation lights manufactured and sold in the United States must be Coast Guard approved.  This means they have to be constructed and perform to meet the requirements for intensity, color, and vertical and horizontal sectoring. If you are planning on replacing or upgrading your navigation light fixtures to LED it is important that you check for the Coast Guard Approval because some LED lights, especially strip lighting, do not meet those requirements.

How do you tell if the light you are purchasing is Coast Guard approved?  On the box, you should see a label that says “USCG approval 33 CFR 183.810”.  Each light has a specific visibility rating for different sizes of vessels. Recreational vessels less than 12 meters in length, 39.4 feet in length, lights should be rated at sidelights 1 nautical mile and white mast light 2 nautical miles. On the exterior of the light fixture, each light should be marked with “USCG” followed by the certified range of visibility in nautical miles (nm), for example, “USCG 2nm”. Once installed, this mark must be visible without removing the light.

This is a lot of information on navigation lights to digest.  Hopefully, you can walk away with a better appreciation of why they exist, how they function, and when they are required to be used. Navigation lights are very important to safe vessel operation and are probably one of the most neglected pieces of equipment on recreational vessels. I always like comparing boats to cars and in the case of navigation lights that serve the same purpose as tail lights, brake lights, turn signals and flashing amber lights on a motor vehicle. They are indicators of vessel presence, the direction of travel and signal the nature of the operation. For these reasons, it is important that your navigation lights are displayed properly and that you understand them in order to make safe risk assessment decisions.

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District

Henry Hagg Lake -The Perfect Oasis

Nestled away between rolling hills in Washington County lies Scoggins Valley Park and Henry Hagg Lake; a man-made impoundment of Scoggins and Sain Creeks near Forest Grove, resting at the base of Northern Oregon’s Coast Range and just 25 miles from Portland.  This Bureau of Reclamation project is maintained and managed by Washington County Parks, which sees nearly 750,000 visitors per year and offers a wide variety of outdoor opportunities: cycling, hiking, swimming, and of course -boating.  The lake has two developed boat ramp facilities: Eagle Point (formerly known as A-Ramp) and C-Ramp, in addition to other access and lots of shoreline for swimmers, anglers, paddlecraft.  Hagg Lake when at full pool is 1100 surface acres, with roughly 12 miles of shoreline (1.8-mile area) and has boating rules in place that carve out space for a variety of users.

Longer, wider trailered parking spaces, new striping, and traffic flow make for easy maneuvering and less stress.

The Eagle Point boat ramp is a two-lane ramp, with 140 feet of boarding docks, 53-boat trailer stalls, 23 single car stalls, flush restroom, and a dump station.  The C-ramp has two lanes, 280 feet of boarding docks, a flush restroom, 169 boat trailer stalls, 74 single car parking stalls, and a dump station.  These two facilities receive the most use at the park.

In 2018, Washington County applied for a Boating Facilities Grant to seal coat and stripe the parking area at Eagle Point and overlay, stripe, install curbing, wheel stops, etc., at C-Ramp.  These ramps account for nearly 468,000 square feet of drive aisles and parking area.  Both ramps were identified as a high priority for boating facility grant dollars based on the agency’s 2011-2017 Six-Year Boating Facility Plan.  The county had a pavement management plan completed in 2017 and found that by seal coating, striping and curbing the C-Ramp, it would extend the useful life of the parking area by another 20 years.  Sealcoating and striping Eagle Point would extend the life by 5-10 years.  The estimated cost of repaving both parking areas ranged between $2.5-$4 million, so all parties agreed that the pavement treatments were a better approach.  The Board approved $300,959 in state boater funds to match $181,205 of county match.  The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program awarded a $10,000 grant for overlaying a previously unpaved parking area closest to the fishing pier.  The total project cost was $499,438.  Carl Switzer, Parks Superintendent, and project manager said, “This project may not have happened without this wonderful collaboration and this investment will considerably enhance the public’s recreational boating and fishing opportunities in Washington County.”

And the improvements are dramatic.  Crosswalks, travel direction arrows and other stenciling were also completed to clearly designate parking areas.    Marty Granum, Facilities and Parks Services Manager for Washington County Parks said, “The Marine Board hit a grand slam with this project.  It’s a great example of perfect planning to improve traffic flow.  We’re proud that we’ve done something to improve things for the next generation.”  Trailered parking spaces are longer.  Curbing helps improve parking safety for vehicles given the downward slope to the water.  There’s plenty of space for larger boats and trailers to maneuver.  With the gentle slope of both boat ramps, Hagg Lake is not only a perfect place to fish but a perfect place for people who are new to wake sports to come and play.

Scoggins Valley Park is open year-round, from sunrise to sunset.  The park features numerous recreation areas to picnic, fish, hike, bike, and boat.  Parking fees are $7 for the full day and go to Washington County to operate and maintain the facilities around the lake. The Marine Board does not receive any parking fee revenue and Washington County does not receive any fee revenues that are charged by the county.

For more information about Henry Hagg Lake, visit https://www.co.washington.or.us/Support_Services/Facilities/Parks/Hagglake/facilities.cfm.

The Marine Board is funded by registration, title fees and marine fuel taxes paid by motorized boaters.  No lottery, general fund tax dollars or local facility parking fees are used to support the agency or its programs.  Boater-paid fees go back to boaters in the form of boating safety services (on-the-water enforcement, training, and equipment), education/outreach materials, and boating access facility grants (boat ramps, docks, parking, construction, and maintenance).  The Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit program is dedicated funding to pay for border inspection stations, decontamination equipment, inspectors, and signage/outreach materials.  The Mandatory Education Program is self-supporting, and revenue helps pay for education materials and boater education cards.  For more information about the Marine Board and its programs, visit www.boatoregon.com.

Rules of the Road -Series V

Conduct of Vessels in sight of one another and restricted visibility

In Series 3, the responsibility of vessels in all conditions of visibility was addressed. These rules are the foundation for everything to come when we start looking at how to specifically avoid a collision. When we started this blog series, I’ve continued to stress the importance of always thinking about the rules of the road and situations with respect to whether you have vessels in sight and not in sight, better known as restricted visibility.  If you separate the two, you will eliminate confusion.  Again, as with any rule or regulation, always look at the application.  The applicability rule for this section, Rule 11, simply states that Rules 12 thru 18 apply when vessels are in sight of one another. Note: Rule 19 is separate subpart.

So before we jump right into the rules in this section, it would be appropriate to go right to Rule 18, “Responsibility between Vessels.”  This rule identifies the hierarchy between different types of vessels engaged in different operations or work.  In my previous blogs, I explained how larger vessels are less maneuverable and take great distances to stop.  These physical factors affect their maneuverability.   In addition, there are vessels that strictly by the nature of their work or by some extenuating or extraordinary circumstance, are limited or unable to maneuver.  In order to account for these vast differences, the Rule of Responsibility was developed.

Taking all things into account, this hierarchy gives precedence or priority of right of way.  The list moves upward from small and maneuverable to large and un-maneuverable.  So, with the exception of Rules 9, 10 and 12, the following list establishes that hierarchy in ascending order.  A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel under sail, a vessel engaged in fishing, and the two classes of vessels with the highest priority, those not under command and restricted in their ability to maneuver.  Each class of vessel on the list must yield to those on the list ahead of it.  More detailed definitions of these vessels can be found in Rule 3. Always having this hierarchy in mind will help in the decision process when we look at the actions of the give-way vessel, stand-on vessel and the responsibility between vessels when meeting, overtaking and crossing.  Bottom line, as far as recreational vessels are concerned, the hierarchy is easy.  A recreational vessel, under all but the rarest of circumstances, will never be anything more than a power-driven vessel.  Confused?  Keep reading…

There are also situations where vessels listed higher in the hierarchy can change status to just a power-driven vessel.  For example, a sailing vessel operating on mechanical propulsion or mechanical propulsion and under sail at the same time is a power-driven vessel.  Only when the machinery is shut off and the vessel is only under sail does it step up in the hierarchy.  Now, an issue rising from that rule is what do you do when you have two sailing vessels under sail approaching each other?  In this case, a specific rule was written for that situation.  Rule 12 addresses the conduct of two sailing vessels under sail when they are approaching when the risk of collision exists.  Fishing vessels, by definition in Rule 3, only fall under higher hierarchy when they are actually engaged in the act of fishing. The same can be said for a vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver.  Once the operation or activity/job is discontinued they are considered a power-driven vessel.

Although there may be some exceptions, the majority of recreational vessels will never fall under the higher levels of the hierarchy so that makes application of the rules by recreational vessels pretty simple.  If it’s anything other than another power-driven vessel, you can pretty much bet that they have the right of way and your responsibility is to let it pass safely. The number of sound signals you will have to use and navigation lights you will need to understand are minimal, especially if you are following Rules 5, 6, 7 and 8.  Now before we jump into Rules 13, 14 and 15, we need to jump ahead once again to Rule 16 and 17, “Action By Give-way Vessel and Action by Stand on Vessel.”  Action by Give-way Vessel (Rule 16).

Image of a Chesapeake Bay collision between a power boat and sail boat in August 2018.

Chesapeake Bay collision in August 2018. Full story: https://wapo.st/2PVriqv

Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.  This relates back to Rules 7 and 8, “Risk of Collision” and “Actions to Avoid Collision.”  The common theme is to take “early and substantial action”. If you react in plenty of time, you can avoid collision simply by altering course as directed by the rules or slowing down.  It’s all pretty basic.  If you’re the stand-on vessel (Rule 17). (a)(i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way, the other shall keep her course and speed.

So, if it is safe and you can maintain your course and speed you shall do so until the other vessel is clear.  But, if the stand-on vessel is not following Rule 16, the give way vessel has the responsibility to take necessary action to avoid collision in accordance with rules to (ii) the latter vessel may, however, take action to avoid collision by her maneuver alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules, (c) A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with paragraph (a)(ii) of this Rule to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side (passing port to port).

For example, say you have a boat approaching you and its bearing and range are constant.  For some reason, you’re distracted and lose track of the other boat and then notice you’re about to collide.  Regardless that the other boat is required to maneuver under the rules, you are still required, if they fail to take action, to take whatever action necessary to best avoid the collision, (b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.  If a collision is inevitable and you have time to react, maneuvering to reduce the damage of impact may be your only course of action.  A glancing blow is much better than a “T” bone but always referring back to Rules 5, 7 and 8, if you maintain a proper lookout and identify the risk of collision early, when you realize the other vessel is not going to give way taking action to avoid the collision will keep you from ever getting into this sort of circumstance, (d) This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way.

When meeting another vessel there are three basic scenarios that the rules address, overtaking, crossing and head-on, where the stand-on and give-way vessel rules in Rules 16 and 17 apply.  If you sit back and look at it, all three are similar to driving a car when meeting another car on a narrow street, intersection or passing.  In the inland rules, there should be an agreement between both vessels involved in order to establish which direction the give-way vessel will maneuver.  This can be established by communicating via marine VHF FM radio or sound signals with the vessel’s whistle.

Powerboat rules of the road infographic from BoatUS Foundation.

Powerboat rules of the road infographic from BoatUS Foundation.

“Overtaking,” Rule 13, is when you are passing another vessel. (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in Rules 4 through 18, any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken. If you are passing another vessel you are considered the “give-way” vessel.   When overtaking another vessel, pass them on their starboard side. Going to the port may put you in the path of other vessel traffic traveling in the opposite direction.  There are some circumstances where you can pass on the port side, but that is only if it is unsafe to pass on the starboard side, due to some obstruction or hazard.  Passing another vessel on the port side should be taken using extreme caution.  Sound signals should be exchanged between you and the “stand-on” vessel prior to passing (being discussed in the next blog series).

So let’s say you are not exactly approaching another vessel from dead astern but off to the side?  (b) A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when approaching another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam; that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she would be able to see only the stern light of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.   All this nautical lingo can make your head spin but if you look at your boat as the needle on a compass you have 360 degrees of radius around the vessel. Zero degrees is always dead ahead, 90 degrees directly to your right, 180 degrees astern, 270 on the left side and returning to dead ahead, zero or 360.  When this rule says 22.5 degrees abaft the beam means 22.5 degrees past 90 or 112.5 degrees from dead ahead. This means that when you approach another vessel and you are aft of that 112.5-degree point in reference from the other vessel, to their direction of travel, you are overtaking.

Figure 1, Relative Bearing

One thing you will notice is that with all these rules they are written to err on the side of safety.  If there is any doubt as to whether you are overtaking another vessel you must assume you are and act accordingly.  Once you have traveled beyond the point that is 22.5 degrees abaft the beam of the other vessel or there is any alteration of bearing between vessels it does not relieve you of your responsibility as the give way vessel.  You must keep clear of the overtaken vessel until you are safely past and clear. (d) Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear. In figure 2, where there is yellow, indicates the zone where an approaching vessel would be considered overtaking.  Again, once you pass the other vessel you are still obligated to remain at a safe distance and course until you are safely well clear, forward if the vessel being overtaken. The important thing to remember is that even if the vessel looks to be heading away from you as long as you have a constant bearing and decreasing range you’re at risk of collision.

Before we get into the details of Rule 18, responsibilities between vessels, there is an overarching point I want to drive home again. “When determining the conduct of vessel in sight of one another the rules are set up so the burden is on the more maneuverable vessel to give way to the less maneuverable vessel”.  “It is reasonable that the more maneuverable vessel gives way to the less maneuverable vessel but, ultimately each vessel has the responsibility to avoid collision regardless of its status”.  It is also very important that there is a universal understanding of what defines each class of vessel in the hierarchy.  Always reference Rule 3, definitions, on how to accurately apply hierarchy.  Rule 18 (Inland) is as follows:

Except where Rules 9, 10, and 13 (§§83.09, 83.10, and 83.13) otherwise require:

  • A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:

(i) A vessel not under command;

(ii) A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver;

(iii) A vessel engaged in fishing;

(iv) A sailing vessel.

(b) A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way of:

(i) A vessel not under command;
(ii) A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver; and
(iii) A vessel engaged in fishing.

(c) A vessel engaged in fishing when underway shall, so far as possible, keep out of the way of:

(i) A vessel not under command; and,
(ii) A vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver

The take away for recreational boaters from Rule 18 is that unless you are under sail, you will never be more than a power-driven vessel.

The same rules apply for head-on and crossing situations. Rule 14 (a) Unless otherwise agreed, when two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses so as to involve risk of collision each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other. One stark difference between overtaking and meeting situations is that because you and the other vessel are moving forward the rate of closure between both vessels significantly increases. This is why it is very important to establish when a risk of collision exists very early: (b) Such a situation shall be deemed to exist when a vessel sees the other ahead or nearly ahead and by night she could see the masthead lights of the other in a line or nearly in a line and/or both sidelights and by day she observes the corresponding aspect of the other vessel. The key to this is standing a proper and vigilant lookout for other vessels and acting in ample time to safely pass.  As a rule of thumb, the yellow area or zone in Figure 2 is a good reference when a vessel should be deemed to be approaching head-on.  The only difference between a head-on and a crossing situation is that both vessels are burdened and required to turn to starboard. This maneuver opens the distance between both vessels to allow safe passage.  As always, if there is any doubt you should assume the risk of collision exists and take appropriate action.

Figure 2, Head On or Meeting

Rule 15, Crossing; (a) When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.   You may have noticed the common theme in all of these situations – constant bearing and decreasing range rules.  If there is another vessel off your starboard side and in the zone indicated in yellow in figure 3, you’re in a crossing situation. I can’t emphasize enough that if you can recognize that the risk of collision exists early enough, a simple maneuver to starboard, slowing down or even coming to a complete stop immediately fixes the situation. When you observe the other vessel’s bearing moving to the left, risk of collision no longer exists and you’ve done your job! Never wait until the last minute and always pass astern of the other vessel.

Figure 3, Crossing

The last hurdle to jump in this section of the rules is Rule 19, “Conduct of vessels in restricted visibility.”  When we think of restricted visibility fog normally is the first thing that comes to mind.  You also can have restricted visibility during periods of heavy rain, snow, and glare from the sun or even smoke. When restricted visibility exists vessels are considered to be not in sight of one another.  As far as this section of the rules applies the rules are simple, (a) This Rule applies to vessels not in sight of one another when navigating in or near an area of restricted visibility. (b) Every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility. A power-driven vessel shall have her engines ready for immediate maneuver.  (c) Every vessel shall have due regard to the prevailing circumstances and conditions of restricted visibility when complying with Rules 4 through 10 (§83.04 through §83.10).  Rule 4 through 10 were covered in the previous articles in this series but in short, they cover safe speed, proper lookout, risk of collision, actions to avoid a collision, narrowed channels and traffic separation schemes.

When dealing with restricted visibility the key is to make yourself as visible as possible and give yourself enough time to be able to react to the developing situation. This means energizing your navigation lights, sounding the signal for a power-driven vessel underway on your horn (one prolonged blast every two minutes) and adding extra lookouts for an extra set of eyes. The most important action to take when navigating in restricted visibility is to slow your speed so that you have ample time to stop within the limits of your visibility and to navigate with extreme caution.

Common sense and respect for others go a long way when applying these rules. If you are uncertain always act as if the risk of collision exists. Keep a sharp lookout and strive to pass others at a safe distance to avoid close quarter situations. If at all possible avoid making course alterations to port and if things just don’t feel like they are going well, slow down or stop until you can regain your situational awareness. Never assume what the other mariner will do, instead of reacting to events as they present themselves. Although this may seem complicated it is very simple. When everyone follows the overarching rules boating becomes more enjoyable and most importantly, safe.

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District

Rules of the Road, Series IV – Rule 9 Explained

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy: Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District

Rule 9, Narrow Channels

NOTE: Hyperlinks are provided that will direct you to content that can better explain specific items or topics.

First, some definitions….


  1. The bed of a stream, river, or other waterway.
  2. A navigable route between two bodies of water.
  3. The deeper part of a waterway.
  4. A wide strait, as between a continent and an island.


The navigable portion of a river, harbor, or other partly enclosed bodies of water.

  1. The channel customarily navigated by vessels in such a body of water.

How and when Rule 9 is applied is the least understood among recreational boaters. Most people think that a narrow channel is something that by the visible lack of distance, from bank to bank, defines what is narrow. Although this can be true on some bodies of water what actually makes a channel narrow under this rule are the physical characteristics of the vessel involved, the confines of the safe navigational depth of water, and the density of vessel traffic.

Unlike a car, a vessel’s turning apparatus is at the back end (stern).  In order for it to complete a turn, the stern of the vessel has to be moved from one side to the other, from the center, pushing the bow in the desired direction. In a vehicle, the front tires turn to pull the front around. This this is why cars have a much sharper turning radius than a vessel.  What is common is that both a vessel and a car need forward momentum to turn, but when you replace tires on a roadway with a rudder or outdrive in the water, the physics are completely different.

Since a waterway is rarely a straight line for very long, you need to account for how a vessel moves through the water.  The larger the vessel, the less maneuverable it is and the more time and distance it needs to turn or stop -especially in shallower water.  “Head reach,” or the stopping distance and “advance and transfer”, the distance and radius it takes to turn, are present in all types of vessels to some extent. But as the available area to navigate decreases and vessel size increases, more maneuvering room is required. Smaller recreational vessels have an obligation to operate in a manner that does not impede the movement of these larger, less maneuverable vessels from safe passage.

As an example, you have a waterway that is a mile and a half across; the charted “navigable channel” is only 300 yards across and the depth is only 35 feet. You have a large 400-foot vessel that draws 30 feet of draft (the keel is 30 feet below the water line). That vessel can only safely navigate within the channel where there is enough water depth to prevent it from running aground (when keel meets bottom). On the surface, it may look like there’s plenty of water for it to maneuver but in reality, it’s trapped. Large deep draft vessels take a significant amount of area to turn and take up to, or over, a mile to come to a full stop. Take this same waterway and a 30-foot cabin cruiser that draws 3 feet.  This vessel can easily maneuver freely or stop, in any portion of the waterway to avoid a collision. Rule 9 does not apply to the cabin cruiser.  But take the same 30-foot cabin cruiser and add a large group of smaller vessels or paddle craft, the situation may change.

Traffic density can also apply to Rule 9 in this scenario (b) a vessel of less than 20 meters in length (65.6ft) or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel that can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway. In application, this same theory applies as the vessel goes down in length.  Simply put, if the navigable channel width and depth only allow a vessel to safely navigate within its boundaries and/or the amount of vessel traffic impede other vessels from safely navigating in the narrow confines of a channel or fairway, Rule 9 applies.

Some basic uniform rules help tremendously in reducing user conflicts in these situations which, in turn, significantly reduces or prevents the risk of collision.  We know that if you are operating a vessel under 65 feet you can’t impede larger vessels. The best way to alleviate any risk of collision or conflict is when traveling in a channel or fairway; you should keep to the right side of the channel to allow other, larger or faster vessels, room to safely navigate.  If you intend to cross the channel, wait for larger traffic to pass and cross at an angle as close to 90 degrees from the prevailing direction of travel as safely as possible.  This should be the standard for all paddle craft operation.

 (a)(i) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable.

(d) A vessel must not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within such channel or fairway. The latter vessel must use the signal prescribed in Rule 34(d) (§83.34(d)) if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel.

So on a warm sunny weekend, different size and types of boats doing different activities may jockey for the same piece of water.  Looking at Rule 2 and Rule 9, what can we take away?  The first step is to be keenly aware of how you operate your own vessel and how your actions affect vessels you encounter that have limited maneuverability. Courtesy and patience go a long way in maintaining a safe boating environment. Stick to these basic rules and discipline yourself to follow them.

Finally, let’s talk about anchoring in the channel.

 (g) Any vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid anchoring in a narrow channel.

There seems to be a lot of individual interpretation with this part of Rule 9 that mostly centers on what exactly is meant by “the channel”. Having to anchor in the channel for an emergency is pretty much covered under the “circumstances of the case admits” clause. Any other time, anchoring in the channel is discouraged and in some cases, where state law is stricter than federal law, it can be prohibited. Taking into account what we previously discussed, anchoring in the channel would become problematic when other vessels are trying to safely navigate. This is especially the case when a vessel’s draft and maneuverability restrict it to specific limits within the channel.  There is no expectation that every recreational boater knows the design characteristics of each and every vessel because they’re all different. What they do need to know is that no vessel should anchor in a narrow channel unless it is an emergency.

Recreational boaters near the main navigation channel on the Columbia River.

In any situation where a vessel feels that a risk of collision exists and is in doubt that the necessary actions are being taken to avoid a collision, that vessel shall sound at least five short and rapid blast of the horn, Rule 34. (d) When vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other and, from any cause, either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle. Such signal may be supplemented by a light signal of at least five short and rapid flashes. Once five short blasts have been sounded, all vessels shall proceed as if the risk of collision exists and act in accordance with these rules. This is especially important if you are operating in a narrow channel or anchored in the channel.  You are at risk of collision because your action or inactions have left the other vessel in doubt as to your intentions and also as a warning that under the current situation you are at risk of collision. If you are anchored in the channel you need to move in ample time for the other vessel to safely pass.

Now, let’s talk about paddle craft.

An Oregon paddler…

Everyone has the right to enjoy the water and to be able to safely recreate. As Boaters, we also have the obligation to comply with these rules, and there’s a reason.  As I mentioned earlier, paddle craft or non-motorized vessels are not specifically mentioned. However they meet the definition of a vessel in Rule 3, so there are two schools of thought:  1) because they are not specifically mentioned, non-motorized vessels have no position of hierarchy in Rule 18, and therefore must stay clear of all other vessels; and, 2) if paddle craft or non-motorized vessels were mentioned in the rules, where would they fit in that hierarchy? Compared to other small vessels, paddle craft are relatively maneuverable -yet slow. They are low to the water and very hard to spot visibly at a distance. The Coast Guard’s position is that the second school thought is most applicable. The rules do apply to these users and therefore, we need to figure out how they exactly fit in.

As I look at the rules, Rule 9 fits best when it comes to the operation of non-motorized vessels.  Where most of the problems occur with user conflict between motorized and non- motorized vessels is in areas where there is restricted space and a heavy concentration of boaters. We know everyone has to comply with the ‘Big 4” rules; proper lookout (5) safe seed (6) risk of collision (7) and actions to avoid collision (8). So rule 9 is the most appropriate to apply:

 a)(i) A vessel proceeding along the course of a narrow channel or fairway shall keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway which lies on her starboard side as is safe and practicable. Avoid impeding other vessels by transiting on the right-hand side of the channel; this also meets the spirit of Rule 2, ordinary practice of good seamanship.

(b) A vessel of less than 20 meters in length (65.6 feet) or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel that can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway. And,

(d) a vessel must not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within such channel or fairway. The latter vessel must use the signal prescribed in Rule 34(d) (§83.34(d)) if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel.

ACA’s Rules of the Road Graphic

These are basic rules to follow. Stay to the right of the channel. Cross the channel at right angles with due regard to the other traffic transiting the channel. If you are unsure of the other vessel’s intentions, sound five short blasts of a horn or whistle.  The only exceptions to these rule would be if the vessels were operating in a marine event permitted by the Coast Guard but, realize that even in that situation if a risk of collision exists, always revert to the rules.

If for any reason there is a need to impose a regulatory restriction on boat operations for navigation on a waterway, it is not accomplished under this rule.  Restrictions relating to safety and security, such as safety zones, and security zones can be placed on a waterway by the local Coast Guard Captain of the Port (COPT). For short-term issues such as marine events, the Coast Guard may issue a safety zone. In areas requiring security enforcement, a security zone can be put into place. For long-term restrictions to a waterway, a Regulated Navigation Area, (RNA) can be implemented.  When these types of restrictions or regulations are implemented, the public is notified by the Local Notice to Mariners (LNM) or annually re-occurring events listed in 33 Code of Federal Regulations (33 CFR). The LNM is published daily by the regional Coast Guard District. It contains any aids to navigation discrepancies, special notices on waterway issues, chart corrections, advanced notice of changes, bridge discrepancies, marine events, waterway closures, basically everything that is going on that affects navigation and commerce.

What this all comes down to is having an agreed upon, orderly set of rules that are simple to understand and follow. On a nice summer day, you want to go to the water and relax, just like everyone else. The last thing anyone needs is the stress, frustration, and aggravation that come with encountering others who operate their boats with reckless abandon or no regard for the rules and rights of others. Everyone has the right to recreate on our waterways, but with that right comes a responsibility to do so with civility and operate in an orderly manner with due regard to the rights of others. If everyone follows the rules, you can avoid those tense, frustrating and aggravating situations.  Bad days can be totally avoided. Safe boaters are happy boaters!


Rules of the Road, Series III

Conduct of Vessels in Any Condition of Visibility

Now you’re aware of why we have rules and who they apply to recreational vessels. We have a better understanding of how different vessels are defined and how those definitions help in understanding and applying the rules. Next, we venture off into what I consider the most important rules which identify conduct or behavior.  I am hyperlinking the rules to save space but also to allow you to open up the actual rule for reference.  No matter what you take away from this series these are the rules that truly prevent collisions.  Having a proper lookout, operating at safe speeds, being able to identify the risk of collision and what actions to take to avoid a collision.  It all comes down to identifying risk and knowing what you do to mitigate or alleviate that risk.  Checking the applicability before diving in, Rule 4, Applicability, states that all the rules “applicable in any condition of visibility.”  So in the rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog, bluebird day or dark of night -every vessel on the water, from supertanker to Stand Up Paddle Boards have the responsibility to comply with this section of the rules.

Let’s start with Rule 5, Lookout:  Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.  So what’s proper?  In its basic form, proper would be the person behind the helm has their total attention focused on safely navigating/operating the vessel by continual observation of all traffic and hazards, without distraction.

Recreational boating accident data shows that operator inattention is one of the leading causes of collision between vessels, striking fixed or floating objects or groundings.  As risk factors increase, such as weather, sea conditions, visibility, vessel traffic density or unfamiliarity with the waterway, you need to put into place measures to mitigate or reduce that risk.  For example, if you’re in poor visibility you might recruit someone on the vessel to assist in keeping an eye out.  Another set of eyes in fog or heavy rain should be mandatory.  It’s using all means available to reduce your risk factors.  Even if you have radar you can’t rely on that or any one thing by itself to reduce your risk factors.  Additional lookouts help you keep your attention focused toward your situational awareness and getting others on board involved will reduce any anxiety your passengers may experience. The more the better.

If you’re sailing solo, another way to reduce your risk is to slow down.  Slowing down gives you more time to react and recognize potential risk when a collision situation might develop.  Rule 6, Safe Speed: “Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid a collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.”  Visibility and traffic density are an obvious reason to slow down but you need to also take into account the maneuverability of the vessel; how long it would take you to stop or safely turn at any given speed.  Sea state, wind, current, the proximity to navigational hazards or, simply how much time and distance traveled it actually takes you to come to a complete stop. These are the considerations you need to evaluate to determine what a safe speed actually is.

In restricted visibility, the most important thing you can do is to make yourself visible and give yourself ample time to be able to react. The standards for navigation lighting provide a means to quickly identify a vessel, its direction of travel and depending on the display/array of lights, their service, and their size.  All too often you see vessels operating without their navigating lights turned on or they’re not functional. Something else to consider is your surroundings.  Think about being out at night and how background lighting from buildings and light onshore affect your ability to recognize the navigation lights or presence of other vessels.  What happens when the fog sets in and you lose sight of the other vessels in the abyss?  These things increase the risk factors which should, in turn, increase your actions to migrate that risk.  More lookouts, slower speeds, navigation lights on -it’s all very important.

To determining when the risk of collision exists we look at Rule 7.  When operating a vessel, you are responsible for everything.  All too often operators get overly involved in the activity at hand and become distracted.  This is how accidents happen.  Failure to maintain situational awareness leaves you vulnerable and that’s why your behavior as the operator is crucial in the safety of everyone involved.  The foundation rules, Rule 5, 6, 7 and 8 are all intertwined but clearly set the standard for operator responsibility.  It’s all about operator attention or inattention to the existence of the risk of collision. (a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if the risk of collision exists.  If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist.  In my experience, the last sentence is the most overlooked part of this rule. If you have any doubt at all about the actions of another vessel and feel that they need to be watched, the risk of collision exists.

For the recreational boater, this is simply giving your undivided attention to where you’re going and paying close attention to the environment around you.  What is rarely considered is that if there is any doubt in your mind that a risk of collision exists -it does. I cannot emphasize it strongly enough that when the risk of collision exists you assume nothing and give it your undivided attention until such risk no longer exists. (c) Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially scanty radar information.

When does the risk of collision exist? (i) Such risk shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appreciably change.  We addressed relative motion in the introduction and it’s worth repeating, “Relative motion is the motion of an object with regard to some other moving object.” You notice that their position relative to yours is not changing, and they are getting closer. You automatically know that if something does not change, you’re going to collide.  If you’re in this situation the risk of collision exists.  In the boating world, this is called “constant bearing decreasing range. You can either slow down, speed up, turn, turn and slow down, slow down or stop.  The choices are dependent on the situation but if you’re required to give way you should let them pass.

Part of the reason for paying close attention to your surroundings is that when you operate at high speeds or there are other vessel operating at high speeds, the speed of closure between vessels can be very fast.  Being alerted to the other vessel’s presence and relative motion must be realized in plenty of time to maneuver.  Recognize, (ii) such risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow or when approaching a vessel at close range. Great care has to be taken when larger vessels are encountered and an unwritten but widely accepted rule is the “rule of gross tonnage.” It’s best to keep well clear of a large vessel which also complies with the rules of hierarchy in Rule 18 and narrow channels in Rule 9.

You’ve established that a risk of collision exists between you and another vessel. Rule 8, discusses the actions you should consider in order to deal with that risk, (a) Any action taken to avoid collision shall be taken in accordance with the Rules and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.  When maneuvering, you have to make it blatantly obvious you changed course.  You must take action after carefully observing the situation and deciding on the best course of action to take.  If you identify the risk in plenty of time, the action taken can simply be adjusting your speed in order for the other vessel to immediately recognize your change in course.  It also must be done giving each vessel involved plenty of time to make that maneuver in order to pass at a safe distance.  It is sometimes hard to recognize when another vessel has changed course or speed, especially if there is some distance between you and the other vessel.  Waiting until the last minute should be avoided and realizing that if you take “early and positive action” you can continue with little variation in your direction of travel.  Once you observe the vessels relative position from you is changing, right or left, constant bearing decreasing range no longer exists and you are no longer at risk of collision!

This is pretty simplistic but when you add in numerous vessels you have to be able to asses which one is your most immediate threat and if you make a maneuver, will that put you in a collision situation with another vessel, etc.  This is where you have to start to look at which vessel is the stand on or give way vessel.  The actions of the stand on vessel can be found in Rule 16, and the actions of the give way vessel in Rule 17.  We will discuss how these apply to each rule later but hopefully, the other vessels are looking at this situation as well and acting in accordance with the rules in a way that benefits all vessels involved.  But when you have doubt and aren’t sure how to proceed, the best option is simply to stop, let the situation develop and see how the other vessels end up moving relative to you.  Once there is a safe option, continue underway.  We have learned previously that rigid adherence to the rules may not work if the circumstances of the situation warrant another option. This is where we go back to Rule 2 and the practice of good seamanship.

There are two more rules to this section, Rule 9, Narrow Channels and Rule 10, Traffic Separation Schemes.  I’m going to leave Rule 9 for a separate discussion because it is one that really needs additional explanation in its application and when it comes to congested waterways, dealing with encountering vessels where there is limited room to maneuver considering geographical and bathymetric consideration.  Vessel Traffic Schemes (VTS) are not commonplace. There are 12 nationwide, to guide, provide active monitoring and navigation advice for vessels in confined and busy waterways.  If you are in a region where there is a VTS, you should consult Rule 10 and any other special requirements for that location.  The only Pacific Northwest VTS is Puget Sound.

What we can take out of all of this is that each and every person boating has an obligation to follow the rules and to avoid collisions.  This also means that we cannot impede the safe passage of other vessels.  This not only applies to motorized vessels but non-motorized vessels as well. A vessel, which by any of these rules, is required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel shall, when required by the circumstances of the case, take early action to allow sufficient sea room for the safe passage of the other vessel.  Simply, give everybody some room.  When approaching and risk of collision exists, whether you are required not to impede or not to be impeded, you must still have full regard to the action which may be required and obliged to comply with the rules.  This becomes even more evident when we discuss Rule 9, but I’ll leave you in suspense for that until next time.

US Coast Guard District 13 LogoBy Dan Shipman,
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
13th Coast Guard District


Project Improves Boater and Angler Access at Rainbow Plaza in Reedsport

Joint press release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State Marine Board, October 26, 2018.

boat launch, reedsport, jon boat launching

Jon boat launching from the new boat ramp at Rainbow Plaza in Reedsport.

Reedsport, OR. – Boaters and anglers now have improved access to the lower Umpqua River in Reedsport, now that the Rainbow Plaza boat ramp is complete.  Rainbow Plaza is a popular and heavily used boat launch facility with an estimated 10,000 boat launches per year.

This project was needed as the facility had not had major improvements since the early 90’s.  As part of this project, a new piece of land was purchased and an old building removed, along with expanding the parking lot at the site.  Old derelict pilings were removed and the boat launch was widened to improve navigability and congestion.  Additionally, a new ADA flush restroom was installed, debris deflectors and boarding docks were installed, and parking lot was reconfigured with new curbs, islands, sidewalks and a storm water treatment system.  A new fish cleaning station with grinder was also added across the street from the facility on City-owned property adjacent to the overflow gravel parking along with boat wash-down station.

fish cleaning station

New fish cleaning station located away from the boat ramp to reduce congestion.

According to ODFW STEP Biologist Evan Leonetti, this site provides improved boating access to a great angling opportunity for fall Chinook, coho, surf perch and sturgeon, all within a mile or two from the ramp.  This project added a new fish cleaning station right at Rainbow Plaza, when previously anglers had to drive down to Salmon Harbor to the nearest fish cleaning station.  The facility is attractive to boat anglers because it offers a two-lane boat ramp with lots of boarding docks and 36 vehicles with boat trailer and 11 single car parking spots; all factors that reduce launch delays and long lines.

Other recreational uses include sea kayaking and canoeing.  According to Jonathan Wright, City Manager of Reedsport, “Each boat, each trailer that you see here – many of them have purchased gas here, purchased materials and have gone to a restaurant or two during their stay here. All those things serve to benefit the local economy.”

Cost of the project was approximately $2M, which was paid by several partners, including the Oregon State Marine Board, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) thru a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration grant, ODFW R&E board, Port of Umpqua, Reedsport Winchester Bay Chamber of Commerce, Oregon State Parks, USDA, Reedsport Urban Renewal District and City of Reedsport.

For more information about boating access and boating regulations, visit www.boatoregon.com.

Photos provided by the City of Reedsport

Winterizing -An Important Step to Your Boat’s Longevity

Image of a row boat with a snowman inside on a frozen waterbody

Winterize your boat before costly damage occurs.

The forecast for this winter appears to be mild, but it only takes one good freeze to do expensive damage to a boat’s engine.  The Marine Board offers the following steps to the do-it-yourselfers who boat seasonally to help prevent costly repairs, later.  For those less mechanically inclined, many marine stores will winterize your boat with a varying cost depending on the type and class of boat.

Your Boat

  • If possible, store your boat ashore for the winter.  The bulkhead, keel, and motor are the critical areas needing support.  Cradles work best, but don’t store your boat on a cradle that wasn’t designed for the boat you have.
  • If you store your boat in the water, make sure to close all through-hull fittings, gate valves, and seacocks to keep the water out.  As water freezes, it expands and can break these important features.  Also, plug any exhaust ports. Do not, however, close cockpit drains.  Check on your boat occasionally to make sure lines are secure and the bilge remains dry.
  • Make sure to cover your boat.  Use a frame under the cover to prevent water from pooling or tearing the cover.  Canvas is best because it breathes.  If you use plastic, make sure you leave vents in it to allow any moisture to escape.  Allow for drainage if you’re storing outside.
  • Add non-toxic antifreeze to water tanks, toilets, and septic holding tanks.  Never use engine antifreeze in a freshwater system.
  • Make sure to remove any electronic equipment, important documents or other valuables.  Marinas are more like ghost yards in the winter, and tempting to thieves.

Your Engine

    • Drain the cooling system and add anti-freeze.  On outboards, this means filling a large bucket or drum with enough antifreeze fluid to reach the water intake, then running the motor until it is warm.  Use non-toxic antifreeze only.
    • Disconnect the battery and store in a warm, dry place. If you have to leave it on board to operate an alarm or bilge pump, fill battery cells with distilled water and fully charge it so it doesn’t freeze.  Apply petroleum jelly to clean terminals to prevent corrosion.
    • Oil: Drain and replace the engine, transmission and outdrive oil. Replace gear oil in outdrives.  Use internal oil fogger when the engine is warm to prevent corrosion.
    • Top off fuel tanks, leaving a little room for expansion.  Add a fuel stabilizer.
    • To keep water from collecting in outdrives; leave them in the down position.

Image of a winterized boat kept at Key Storage in Portland, OR.

Winterized boat kept at Key Storage in Portland, OR.

For more tips on winterizing your boat and trailer, visit https://www.boatus.com/seaworthy/winter/winterizing.pdf


The Marine Board is funded by registration, title fees and marine fuel taxes paid by motorized boaters.  No lottery, general fund tax dollars or local facility parking fees are used to support the agency or its programs.  Boater-paid fees go back to boaters in the form of boating safety services (on-the-water enforcement, training, and equipment), education/outreach materials and boating access facility grants (boat ramps, docks, parking, construction, and maintenance).  The Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Permit program is dedicated funding to pay for border inspection stations, decontamination equipment, inspectors, and signage/outreach materials.  The Mandatory Education Program is self-supporting and revenue helps pay for education materials and boater education cards.  For more information about the Marine Board and its programs, visit www.boatoregon.com.

Rules of the Road -Series II

By: Dan Shipman,US Coast Guard District 13 Logo
Recreational Boating Safety Specialist, 13th Coast Guard District


General Rules

In Series 1, Introduction, we went through the basic history and what navigation rules are all about. Moving forward in the future, I will be taking the rules one-by-one and explaining their intent and application.  Since there are a huge variety of vessels and ships plying the waters of the world, knowing the relevance and context of each rule will help in figuring out how it applies to you. Keep in mind with any federal regulation, or any regulation for that matter, always check the applicability.  Checking applicability will save you a lot of work and in some cases, embarrassment when you start quoting rules that may not apply.

When you look in the navigation rules book, you’ll find they are separated into international and inland sections.  The international and inland rules are very similar and, for the recreational boater, understanding the inland rules first will make recognizing the subtle differences in the international rules much easier.  With rare exception, International rules are only in effect in coastal waters and on the high seas and are governed by international committee. Inland rules, on the other hand, are governed by the U.S. Coast Guard.  When the rules refer to “inland waters of the United States,” it means inland waters where there is federal jurisdiction.  These inland waters are also under state jurisdiction, so there are some joint-jurisdictional responsibilities.  With regard to navigation, however, the federal rules take precedence.  Therefore, all states have adopted federal navigation rules into state law, in order that the application of the navigation rules remains consistent across all state and federal waters.  This means as the vessel operator, you and your crew are responsible to comply with the navigational rules of the road no matter where you are boating.

Let’s start with Rule 1, Application.  The only relevant portion of this rule for the recreational boaters is paragraph (a), which states: “These rules apply to all vessels upon the inland waters of the United States.” SO we know where these rules apply but we need to better define what “all vessels” means.  To figure that out, we need to jump to Rule 3, definitions, and define “vessel” for part of the answer,

In Rule 3 the Definition of a Vessel is: (a) the word “vessel” includes every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft, WIG craft, Seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water.” As I explained in Series 1, Introduction, the only thing not considered a vessel under the navigation rules are swim or pool toys, inner tubes, air mattresses, inflatable swans, flamingos, etc.  This does not mean it’s a rubber stamp interpretation. We will dive deeper in future articles, but certain vessels have priority over others, depending on a specific situation or the operation in which the vessel is engaged.  The take away from this is that if you’re paddling, rowing, sailing or motoring on the water, these rules apply.

Next, Rule 2, Responsibility:  “(a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

 b) In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.” 

2017 boat collision with a bridge abutment on the Columbia River

Paragraph (a) is quite ominous, but the real point here is that everyone on board is responsible for the safe navigation of the vessel and to attempt to use a strict adherence to the rules is not an excuse not to act to avoid a collision.  What most people don’t know or understand is that you are also responsible to take necessary precautions to avoid a collision -even if the other vessel fails to comply with these rules.  That’s why it is so important to recognize when the risk of collision exists and take early and positive action to avoid a collision.

In Paragraph (b) of this rule, it’s all about the application depending on the circumstances.  Not every vessel has the same maneuvering characteristics.  Also, the presence or proximity to shallow or shoal water, obstructions or vessel traffic density may pose an additional risk that if the rule was strictly adhered to, would put you or the other vessel in jeopardy.  All available information must be factored into your decision regarding your course of action to avoid a collision.  As an example, you may not be able to change course to starboard because it will take you into dangerously shallow water.  What other options do you have in that case? Maybe slowing your speed is sufficient to alleviate the risk. It’s about looking for alternatives, especially if your intended action does not resolve the situation or inadvertently increases the risk.  No matter, always have a way out.

Not under power lighting at night

So I know the question pops up, how exactly do non-motorized vessels fit into the application of the navigation rules?  Vessels under sail are addressed in the rules but what about paddlecraft?  As explained earlier, paddlecraft meet the definition of a vessel but nowhere in the rules are paddlecraft specifically identified other than in Rule 25 for Navigation Lighting.  When the rules are not specific or there is uncertainty, Rule 2 applies. This rule emphasizes that the ordinary practice of good seamanship requires precaution under all conditions and circumstances and not strict adherence to the rules.

When determining the conduct of vessel in sight of one another the rules are set up so the burden is on the more maneuverable vessel to give way to the less maneuverable vessel.  This is derived from the basic intent of Rule 18, Responsibility between Vessels. So it is reasonable that the more maneuverable vessel gives way to the less maneuverable vessel but, ultimately each vessel has the responsibility to avoid a collision regardless of its status. Translated: When the risk of collision exists the power-driven vessel should take early action to avoid the paddle craft but this does not exonerate the paddle craft from ignoring their responsibility under the rules to avoid a collision.  Just because paddle craft may have some privilege, this does not mean that strict adherence to the rules negates their responsibility.  Paddlecraft cannot impede other vessels attempting to safely navigate in congested or restricted waters so it is important that paddlers understand these rules. I will better define that relationship in the future when discussing specific rules that apply.

The definitions section in Rule 3, is one of the most overlooked rules when it comes to understanding application. Most of the misunderstanding stems from individual confirmation bias.  Given a situation, people try to make a type of vessel fit their narrative to justify their bias.  Rule 3, General Definitions states:

  • The word vessel includes every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft, WIG craft, and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.
  • The term power-driven vessel means any vessel propelled by machinery.
  • The term sailing vessel means any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being used.
  • The term vessel engaged in fishing means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing apparatus which restricts maneuverability but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus which do not restrict maneuverability.
  • The word seaplane includes any aircraft designed to maneuver on the water.
  • The term vessel not under command means a vessel which, through some exceptional circumstance, is unable to maneuver as required by these Rules and is, therefore, unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.
  • The term vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver means a vessel which, from the nature of her work, is restricted in her ability to maneuver as required by these Rules and is, therefore, unable to keep out of the way of another vessel. The term, “vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver” include, but are not limited to:
  • a vessel engaged in laying, servicing, or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable, or pipeline;

(ii)  a vessel engaged in dredging, surveying, or underwater operations;

(iii) a vessel engaged in replenishment or transferring persons, provisions, or cargo while underway;

(iv) a vessel engaged in the launching or recovery of aircraft;

(v)  a vessel engaged in mine clearance operations;

(vi) a vessel engaged in a towing operation such as severely restricts the towing vessel and her tow in their ability to deviate from their course.

  • [Reserved]
  • The word underway means that a vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.
  • The words length and breadth of a vessel mean her length overall and greatest breadth.
  • Vessels shall be deemed to be in sight of one another only when one can be observed visually from the other.
  • The term restricted visibility means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms, or any other similar causes.
  • The term Wing-In-Ground (WIG) craft means a multimodal craft which, in its main operational mode, flies in close proximity to the surface by utilizing surface-effect action.

One of the most misinterpreted definitions is that of a vessel engaged in fishing.  Sometimes people feel that because they are trolling that the definition of fishing vessel applies to them and they have some prominence of the right of away over other vessels.  This simply, by definition, is not the case.  In the same vein, some might think that when they are drifting, or pulling a skier or engaged in some other activity that they not under command or restricted in their ability to maneuver.  This also is not correct.  Other than a sailing vessel under sail and in some cases a non–motorized vessel, a recreational vessel will never be classified as anything other than a power-driven vessel.  So if you’re trolling or fishing with hook and line, skiing, wakeboarding, or tubing you are a power-driven vessel under the rules.

Hopefully, you can see exactly where a recreational vessel fits into the rules and see how misinterpreting or misunderstanding these rules can create confusion or easily create a high-risk situation.  As we move onto the 3rd article, we will explore the steering and sailing rules where the pieces should fall together and you will begin to understand that when it comes to the recreational vessel the rules are simple to understand -and apply.  Knowing when the risk of collision exists and what actions need to be taken to avoid a collision is the bedrock for all the navigation rules that follow which we will explore in more detail.