Basic Nautical Navigation

Nautical Navigation

Knowing where you are and where you want to go is a must on any waterway, but especially large waterways. Although technology can help, there’s no substitute for knowing basic navigation and the proper signals to use.

Today, many boats are equipped with GPS, or global positioning systems, that make navigation easy. To ensure your safety, take a course on how to operate your GPS unit.

Who stops and who goes when boats cross paths? If it’s at night, the running lights on your boat provide the answer. A boater on your right is showing you his left bow light. A left bow light is always red. Red means you stop. Meanwhile, he’s seeing your right bow light, which is always green. He sees your green light and that mean he has the go.

When two boaters meet head on, safety dictates that each boater should veer to their right. Veer far enough that your course change is obvious to the oncoming boater. On confined channels or rivers, passing a slower craft is similar to passing on a highway. Usually, you pass on the left, though it’s not required. Blow your horn twice and wait for an acknowledgement. The return signal from the boat you are passing is the same – two short blasts on the horn. Remember, just as in a vehicle, your safety and the safety of your passengers and those of the boat being passed are your responsibility. Proceed with caution.

When entering or returning to a marina, a port or an inland channel, keep red triangular signs or red buoys on your right. You’ll see green squares marking the right side if you’re leaving the marina. An easy way to remember it is red right returning, green going out. An exception is the intercoastal waterway (ICW) along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Anywhere in the intercoastal waterway, the green sign is placed in the direction closest to the ocean and red marks are closest to the main land. When navigating the ICW, the use of charts is highly recommended. For more information on Nautical Navigation, visit your local boat dealer or go to

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