Avoiding accidents on the water becomes harder and harder as more people take to the water each year. On lakes like Sidney Lanier, Burton, Hartwell and Rabun there are thousands of boats on the lakes every weekend. Everyone that operates a boat owes it to themselves and their loved ones to know how to avoid common situations on the water.

These rules apply to two boats of power meeting each other on the water. The rules differ for other boats not under power like sailboats. The boat under power must yield to the boat without power and make maneuvers to avoid the boat without power.

(I) Boat on Boat Situations

There are three common situations where boats will have to make navigational decisions when approaching each other such as: (1) head-on; (2) crossing; and (3) overtaking.

The Head-On Rules

When in doubt, yield right. That will avoid most problems with boat on boat encounters. When approaching a boat coming at you head-on, both boats are to yield to their right. If navigational issues such as shallow water or another boat prevent you from yielding to the right then shut down and allow the other boat to navigate around you in safe water. In tight situations, slow down and judge the safe area to the right. And use your horn signals.

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Crossing Rules

When two boats are crossing in front of each other, the boat to the right is considered the Stand-On Vessel and the other boat is considered the Give-Way Vessel. The Stand-On Vessel (boat on the right) is to continue on a straight course. While the Give-Way Vessel yields and navigates around the right of the other vessel. Again use horn blows as necessary.

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Overtaking Rules

When passing another boat, sound a short horn blast to signal your presence and then give a wide clearance and pass the boat on the right (starboard) if possible. If navigation won’t allow passing on the right, then again sound the horn with two short bursts and pass with a wide margin on the left (port). Use caution as boats coming head on may be masked by the forward boat. Don’t put yourself in a situation of passing and having to yield to oncoming vessels.

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How to Use your Horn

Turn Starboard (Right) – Short blast

Turn Port (Left) – Two Short blasts

Going Astern (backing up) – Three short blasts

Danger (to warn other boats of hazard ahead) – Five short blasts

Backing up from Dock – One long blast

Navigation Markers

Red Buoys – Mark right side of channel when going upstream or returning from open seas.

Green Buoys – Mark left side of channel when going upstream or returning from open seas.

Non Lateral Markers (usually on white buoy with orange lines)

square means information (things like fuel, or docks).

diamond means danger and avoid that area (shallow or rocks).

circle means controlled area, use caution (like a no-wake zone).

diamond with a cross means exclusion area (no boats allowed).