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Photo by Lawrence Saupe ©2006
Boating Rules on the Great Sacandaga Lake
From New York State Boater’s Guide

Rules of the Nautical Road
The rules of the road are an internationally accepted standard by which all mariners are to comply when operating a vessel upon the water. Basically the rules require that every operator conduct his/her vessel in a prudent manner, at a safe speed, while constantly maintaining a proper lookout by all means available.

The Sound Signals
All vessels are required to exchange sound signals when their paths will lead them into any close quarters situation. The following four signals are the only ones prescribed for use by vessels when within sight of each other, to signal their intentions with respect to maneuvering:

  1. One short blast - “I intend to leave you on my port side.” Generally this means an alteration of course to your starboard.
  2. Two short blasts - “I intend to leave you on my star- board side.” In this case an alteration of course to port generally occurs.
  3. Three short blasts - “I am operating astern propulsion.”
    Usually means that you are backing down.
  4. Five or more short blasts - commonly known as the danger signal and is used when either vessel doubts whether sufficient action is being taken by the other vessel to avoid collision.
(A short blast is that of a one second duration)

The Situations
In the following situations we use the terms “Stand-on” or “Give-way”. The Stand On vessel is generally required by the rules to maintain both course and speed. The Give-way vessel is required to take early and substantial action to keep clear and avoid colliding with the other vessel.


In this situation both vessels will pass within close proximity to one another on nearly reciprocal headings. The rules require that in this situation both vessels should exchange one short blast and pass with sufficient room on each other’s port side. In this case both vessels are required to give way.


Here both vessels are approaching each otherat perpendicular or oblique angles and expect to pass close to one another. The rules specify that the vessel which has the other on its starboard side must keep out of the way. In this case the give way vessel should sound one short blast and alter course to starboard thus leaving the stand on vessel to port.


This situation exists when one vessel is coming up from any direction two or more points abaft(behind) the other vessel’s beam. The overtaking vessel is considered the give way vessel and must keep clear of the vessel it is overtaking. The overtaking vessel should sound its intentions with respect to the desired side of passing, and the overtaken vessel must stand-on until the other vessel is past and clear.
Keep these things in mind:
  1. Most practical on water situations may involve more than two vessels operating under less than ideal conditions. In any multiple vessel encounter, all mariners should exercise good seamanship, operate at a safe speed, and if ever in doubt as to the intentions of another vessel, immediately sound the danger signal, slacken speed, stop, or reverse the engines until the danger of collision passes.

  2. As the stand on vessel in any situation you must hold course and speed until such time as it becomes apparent to you that the action of the give way vessel alone can not avoid a collision. Don’t be stubborn, even if you are entitled to the right of way expect the unexpected and be prepared to yield or you may be only dead right. Always exercise prudent seamanship in all close quarter and restricted navigation situations. Remember that a good number of your fellow boaters don’t know a lot about boating, not to mention what the rules of the road prescribe.

Rules for Restricted Visibility

When operating under conditions of reduced visibility such as fog, heavy rain, snow, etc., all vessels must travel at a “Safe Speed” for the prevailing conditions and in addition sound a prolonged blast (4-6 sec duration) on the horn or whistle once every two minutes. Vessels less than 12 meters in length that can’t give this signal must make some other efficient sound signal once every two minutes. Also turn on your navigation lights. Under any reduced visibility situation always navigate with extreme caution while keeping a sharp lookout for lights and signals of other vessels.

When at anchor in reduced visibility every vessel must ring the ship’s bell or other similar device for a period of five seconds, once every two minutes. This generally does not apply to vessels either moored in approved anchorage areas or in close in areas where vessels don’t normally navigate. Should you be anchored near a channel or other frequently navigated area, you must sound the bell to alert others to your position.

Responsibilities between vessels -
Who has the right of way?

  1. A power-driven vessel underway must keep out of the way of:
    • A vessel not under command (unable to maneuver).
    • A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver.
    • A vessel engaged in fishing.*
    • A sailing vessel.
  2. A sailing vessel underway must keep out of the way:
    • A vessel not under command.
    • A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver.
    • A vessel engaged in fishing.*
  3. A vessel engaged in fishing* when underway must, so far as possible, keep out of the way of:
    • A vessel not under command.
    • A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver.

*A vessel engaged in fishing does not include fishing with trolling lines or other apparatus which does not restrict maneuverability. (ie. Sport Fishing)

As a recreational boat operator plying the waters of New York’s harbors and rivers, you should be aware of the maneuvering characteristics and limitations of large commercial vessels, particularly in congested areasof any large vessel even if you believe you have the right of way. Keep in mind that large vessels are restricted to the deeper navigable channels whereas your boat may safely operate in relatively little water. If you feel that you must stay within the marked channel due to you draft, always observe good seamanship and keep as far to the right side of the channel as is safe and practical for your vessel.

Also remember that large vessels generally throw large wakes as they displace water. Larger deeply laden vessels can also take up to a half mile or more to come to a complete stop. Never put yourself in a position where a pilot needs to execute an emergency maneuver in order to avoid running you down. When meeting any large vessel on the water, a little common sense and courtesy go a long way.

Speaking of large vessels and the water they displace, never haul or launch your boat at a ramp when these larger vessels are transiting. The large amounts of water they displace may cause a surge in the water level which may not only damage your property but may also endanger your life as well. The same rule holds for swimming. If you see a large vessel approaching, get out of the water. The suction effect caused by these large boats may pull you way out into the river.

Absolutely never attempt to pass between a tug and its tow. The tow line may not be visible however it may just be below the surface ready to take up and become taut at any time. The force of a cable is easily capable of flipping or splitting your boat. Learn the signals displayed by these vessels and stay well clear of tugs, their tows and any cables.

Aids to Navigation


Depending upon where you operate your vessel you will see one of two different navigational aid marking systems. Upon the tidal and ocean waters of the state the federal government uses the federal waterway marking system to delineate the left and right sides of the navigable channels. Upon the inland waters the uniform state waterway marking system is employed by NYS. Both systems are principally the same in that the red and green markers indicate the right and left sides of the channel. Boaters should always remember the old adage, red right returning. This means that the red buoys mark the right side of the channel whenever we are returning
from sea or proceeding toward the head of navigation The reverse would be true when heading back to the sea. Always remember to pass safely between the red and green buoys in order to ensure safe water, deep enough to permit navigation. In addition, the state system has several regulatory markers which designate direction, speed, danger, etc. These aids are always white with bright orange stripes and legends emblazoned upon the buoy

Divers’ Flag indicates that scuba divers or snorkelers are operating in the area. Stay well clear of this flag. Many states have specific distance-away requirements from 100 to 300 feet.

Rigid Alpha Flag is flown by a vessel engaged in diving operations. This flag does not substitute for the diver-down flag above in states that require the diver-down flag. You will usually see both flags in use. The alpha flag indicates that the vessel is restricted in ability to maneuver, in this case due to the nature of its work.



Note: Boaters and Anglers, please remember that you can help prevent the spread of unwanted aquatic plant and animal species by following these guidelines:

  • Remove all mud and aquatic plants from all gear, boats, motors and trailers before departing from your fishing location

  • Drain all water including bilges, live wells, and bait tanks before departing from your fishing location

  • Do not transport fish from one body of water to another

  • Do not release unused bait into a body of water

  • Do not dispose of fish carcasses or by-products in any body of water

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