You would never dream of taking your car out for a drive if you did not understand the rules of the road. But, you would be surprised at just how many boaters do just that! In fact, according to the US Coast Guard (USCG), the majority of boating collisions occur due to one or both of the drivers involved not knowing or not understanding basic navigation rules.

Of course, if you have a captain for your motor yacht, there is no need to worry. But, many yacht owners do prefer to drive their own vessels, and if so, it is incumbent on you to know the basic rules of navigation. The Navigation Rules for vessels establish uniform actions to take for boaters to avoid collisions.

The Navigation Rules for Motor Yachts

The US Navigation rules have been established and published by the USCG. All boaters should be familiar with them, however any vessel, such as a luxury motor yacht, that is larger than 39.4 feet, is required by law to have a copy on board.

Knowing a few simple rules will help you and your guests stay safe on the water. Since there are so many different types of boats, boating activities and styles of boating, it is important to know what to expect when you come upon another vessel, and what your obligations are. As per the USCG Navigation Rules, the term “vessel” includes anything that floats on the water that is used, or is capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water. Which means just about anything moving in your direction on the water is a “vessel,” and you must know what to do upon encountering it.

The Navigation Rules cover the “rules of the road,” and what to do upon crossing, approaching or overtaking another vessel, as well as sound and signaling equipment requirements, and a section on navigation lights. Familiarizing yourself with these by reading the book, are a bare minimum. If you are going to be driving your yacht yourself, over great distances, or highly trafficked waters, it is recommended that you take a boating safety and navigation course. These can be taken in person, or online.

Aids to Navigation for Motor Yachts

Unlike on the on the highway, you will not find any road signs or traffic signals out on the water. What you will find are various Aids To Navigation, or ATONs.

The U.S. ATON system is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. It consists of visual, audible, and electronic signals which are designed to assist boaters in the process of navigation. ATONs include: buoys, day beacons, lights, lightships, lighthouses, radio beacons, fog signals, marks and other devices used to provide “street” signs on the water. The aids to navigation system is not intended to identify every shoal or obstruction to navigation which exists in the navigable waters of the United States, but rather provides for reasonable marking of marine features as resources permit.

ATONS are “coded” with odd and even numbers, red and green colors, and other markings.

A complete guide to understand symbols and colors of the various ATONs and what they mean, has also been published by the USCG.

On Demand Yachting Provides Peace of Mind

When it comes to making sure you and all of your guests are as safe as possible, understanding the “rules of the road” is only part of the equation. In the unlikely event it is ever needed, you must also ensure that you have all the right safety gear on board, and it is always ready and operational. That means PFDs need to be checked and replaced, fire extinguishers maintained and recharged as necessary, first aid kits restocked, etc.

Also, tantamount to avoiding accidents and other trouble at sea, is making sure your yacht is clean, detailed, and properly maintained. Maintaining your yacht’s safety gear, and ensuring that her engines and other critical systems are always at operational readiness is just one of the services you can count on from our On Demand Yachting Solution.


Operating a motor yacht can be costly. You can reduce your expenses, and avoid costly repairs by keeping her well maintained. On Demand yachting from FYM can help. If you would like to learn more, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Yacht Management specialists, or call us at (954) 900-9968.