How To Measure Length

A motor boat is measured along its centerline from the outside of the hull aft to the outside of the hull forward. This measurement does not include any attachments such as swim platforms, outboard motors, bow sprits, etc. This measurement is called the length overall (LOA). You may also hear the term length of waterline or load waterline (LWL). This is the length of the boat, parallel to its centerline, at the line where it meets the water.

Measuring Length

Engine Systems

Cooling – Boat motors are not equipped with radiators as cars are, but still must somehow dissipate the heat generated by the friction of the moving parts. The two most popular cooling systems are the raw water system and the enclosed or fresh water cooling system.

The raw water system simply takes water from the body surrounding the boat, pumps it through the engine to draw out the generated heat and discharges the heated water through the exhaust system. This discharge has two benefits. It cools the exhaust and also muffles the sound of the exhaust.

An enclosed system has the same general configuration as the raw water system. However, in the enclosed system a small tank containing anti-freeze is added to the engine and this “fresh” water cools the engine parts. This liquid is then passed through a heat exchanger where its heat is dissipated through a series of tubes which are surrounded by the cooler raw water. This same raw water absorbs the heat of the fresh water and then is pumped out the exhaust as in the raw water system. The advantage of the fresh water or enclosed system is that the engine parts are not exposed to the surrounding potentially contaminated water. This is especially useful when operating in salt water.

Make sure when you initially start your vessel that water is being discharged from the exhaust system. This indicates that the cooling system is operational. DO NOT START THE ENGINE WITHOUT WATER BEING SUPPLIED TO THE COOLING SYSTEM. The impeller will burn out very rapidly without water to cool and lubricate it and you risk the possibility of the engine seizing because of overheating.

Electrical – The most common cause of boat breakdowns is electrical. By the nature of what a boat does and how it does it, it is a floating corrosion pit. This is especially true when operating in salt water. You should keep all electrical systems clean and corrosion free by frequent inspection. Clean battery terminals, electrical connectors, etc. and spray them with a corrosion retarding agent such as CRC or WD 40.

Fuel – Fuel systems are comprised of one or more tanks, valves, lines, pumps and filters. Each of these elements, if left unserviced, can be potentially hazardous. Check your tank often for potential corrosion which could cause leakage. Inspect the shutoff valves, lines, and pumps periodically for corrosion or wear. Check and change filters frequently in order to be assured of clean fuel entering your engine.

The most important tool you have to diagnose problems in the fuel system is your nose. Do the “sniff test” each time you board your vessel. If you smell fuel – find the problem.

Oil and Filters – Just as it is important in your car to keep the oil and oil filters clean, the same holds true in your boat’s engine. Every three hundred hours, or a least once each season, change the oil and filter on your marine engine.

Other tips – Prepare a safety checklist as a reminder of items which may require service, maintenance or simply a periodic check. On the following pages you will find a generic checklist which can be modified for your particular vessel.

Boat Types

Choosing the right boat for the right purpose is the first step in operating a vessel safely. Just as you would not expect a small runabout to be able to cross the Atlantic, a large motor yacht would not be suitable to pull water skiers. Boats come in many sizes and configurations and each is designed with a particular use in mind. All boats which are propelled by propulsion machinery are considered motor boats.

A personal watercraft, such as a jetski, is considered a motor boat and is subject to the same rules and regulations as any boat of its size. In many states, additional regulations are in effect regarding personal watercraft.

The safety equipment you are required to carry is determined by the length of your boat and the type of engine it has.

How to Get Your Certification


To receive your Boating Safety I.D. Card and Certificate you must pass the final exam with a score of at least 80%. When you have completed the course material and successfully completed all review quizzes (including your state quiz, if available), take the final exam online or print out the final exam and mail it in with the $15 postage/handling fee. Your paperwork will be processed and, assuming you achieve a score of 80% or better, your Boating Safety I.D. Card and Certificate will be mailed to you.

There are three ways to take the Boating Safety Course.

Your I.D. card and certificate are proof of successful completion of this NASBLA approved course. Many insurance companies, in all states, give marine insurance discounts to boat owners who have completed such a course. Some states, however, do not accept a home-study course and/or a non-proctored test as meeting the requirements of mandatory boater education laws. Check your state regulations.

Meeting Situations

n the following situations, the give-way vessel must take action to keep well clear. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, you should take action to avoid collision.

Meeting Head-On

When two power driven vessels are approaching head-on or nearly so, either vessel shall indicate its intent which the other vessel shall answer promptly. In a meeting situation neither vessel is the stand-on vessel.

It is generally accepted that you should alter course to starboard and pass port-to-port. The accompanying sound signal is one short blast. If you cannot pass port-to-port due to an obstruction or other vessels, you should sound two short blasts to indicate your intention to pass starboard-to-starboard. Make sure the other vessel understands your intent before proceeding. The other vessel should return your two-short-blast signal.

* Not sounded on International Waters
Click here to 
View animation.


When two vessels are moving in the same direction, and the astern vessel wishes to pass, it must initiate the signal to pass as shown in the diagram. The vessel passing is the give-way vessel and should keep out of the way of the vessel being passed. The vessel being passed is the stand-on vessel and must maintain its course and speed. If the stand-on vessel realizes that the course intended by the give-way vessel is not safe, it should sound the danger or doubt signal.

If you are the overtaking vessel, remember that you are the give-way vessel until well past, and safely clear of, the passed vessel. Do not cut in front, impede or endanger another vessel.

Inland Rules

“I intend to pass you on your port side”
2 short blasts (1 sec.)

2 short blasts (1 sec.)

International Rules:

“I intend to pass you on your port side”
2 prolonged blasts/2 short

1 prolonged/1 short/1 prolonged/1 short

View animation

Inland Rules

“I intend to pass you on your starboard side”
1 short blast (1 sec.)

1 short blast (1 sec.)

International Rules:

“I intend to pass you on your starboard side”
2 prolonged blasts/1 short

1 prolonged/1 short/1 prolonged/1 short


When two power driven vessels are approaching at right angles or nearly so, and risk of collision exists, the vessel on the right is the stand-on vessel and must hold its course and speed. The other vessel, the give-way vessel, shall maneuver to keep clear of the stand-on vessel and shall pass it by its stern. If necessary, slow or stop or reverse until the stand-on vessel is clear.

Danger Zone Animated GIF
View animation

In the example above, the red vessel is the give-way vessel and should alter course and speed to pass behind the green vessel. If the skipper of the green vessel does not observe the red vessel taking action to avoid collision, then he/she must take the required action to avoid a collision.

Sailing Craft and vessels propelled by oars or paddles

Sailing craft and boats propelled by oars or paddles have the right-of-way over power driven vessels. An exception to this is if the sailing craft or self-propelled vessel is passing a power driven vessel. In an overtaking situation, the overtaking vessel is the give-way vessel, even if it is not propelled by an engine.

View animation

Sailing vessels have special situations when meeting and crossing each other. These are described in Chapter 9, Section 5, Sailing.

Navigating Narrow Channels

The rules tell you to stay to the starboard side of narrow channels. Make sure that you do not impede a vessel that is constrained by draft, i.e. a large vessel that must operate within the channel in order to make way safely. When crossing a channel, do so at a right angle and in such a way as to avoid causing the traffic in the channel to make course or speed changes. Do not anchor in a channel unless you cannot make way (broken down, etc.).

When operating on the Great Lakes, Western Rivers and other designated rivers, the downbound vessel (going with the current) has the right of way over a vessel going upstream. This is because a vessel going upstream can maneuver better than a vessel going downstream.

If you approach a bend in a river around which you cannot see, sound one prolonged blast to alert vessels approaching from the other side of the bend that you are there. If another vessel is around the bend, it should answer with one prolonged blast. Conversely, if you hear a prolonged blast as you approach the bend, answer with a prolonged blast.

Commercial Vessel Situations

If at all possible stay out of areas where there is commercial vessel traffic such as shipping lanes or traffic separation zones. Large ships and barges have special problems in maneuvering and can not and will not get out of your way.

If you must operate around commercial vessels take heed of the following:

  • Avoid ship channels. If you must cross do so at right angles and as quickly as possible.
  • Be alert. Watch for traffic.
  • Be seen, especially at night.
  • Know the sound signals, especially the danger or doubt signal.
  • Keep your VHF radio tuned to channel 16 and listen carefully.
  • Order all aboard to wear PFDs.
  • Be familiar with the area and have current navigation charts.
  • Don’t be a non-survivor of a collision with a large ship.

State Boating Regulations

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State Boating Regulations

State Boater Education Requirements

You need to know the boating laws and regulations in the states where you boat. This link will direct you to your State’s own State specific information and quiz, if available.


North Carolina
West Virginia

Other state information can be found below. To find out how to contact the appropriate state boating offices for information about age requirements, registration, boating safety, education, regulations, launch ramp sites, law enforcement, and local restrictions on boating areas in your state, simply click on the state abbreviation.


Marine Police Division
Folsom Administrative Bldg.
64 N. Union St., Room 438
Montgomery AL 36104
State of Alaska
Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
Office of Boating Safety
550 W. 7th Avenue #1370
Anchorage, AK 99501-3561
Phone: 907-269-8705
Fax: 907-269-8907
Game & Fish Dept.
2222 W. Greenway Rd.
Phoenix AZ 85023

Game & Fish Commission
Boating Safety Section
2 Natural Resources Dr.
Little Rock AR 72205
Boat registration:
Dept. of Boating & Waterways
1629 S St.
Sacramento CA 95814
Boat registration:
To view California Specific Laws click
Division of Parks &
Outdoor Recreation
13787 S. Highway 85
Littleton CO 80125
Dept. of Environmental Protection
Boating Division
P.O. Box 280
Old Lyme CT 06371
Boat registration:

Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.
P.O. Box 1401
Dover DE 19903
Boat Registration
Metropolitan Police Dept.
Harbor Patrol
550 Water St. S.W.
Washington DC 20024
FLORIDA (freshwater) 
Game & Freshwater Fish Commission
620 S. Meridian Street
Tallahassee FL 32399-1600
To view Florida’s state specific information click
FLORIDA (saltwater)
Marine Patrol
MS 630
3900 Commonwealth Blvd.
Tallahassee FL 32399
904-488-5600, Ext. 28
To view Florida’s state specific information click
Dept. of Natural Resources
Wildlife Resources Div.
2070 U.S. Highway 278, SE
Social Circle GA 30279
Boat registration:
Dept. of Land & Natural Resources
Div. of Boating & Ocean Rec.
333 Queen Street, Suite 300
Honolulu HI 96813
Dept. of Parks & Recreation
P.O. Box 83720
Boise ID 83720-0065
208-334-4180, ext. 224
Dept. of Natural Resources
Office of Law Enforcement
524 S. Second St.-3rd floor
Springfield IL 62701-1787
Boat Registration:
To review Illinois’ Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Natural Resources
Law Enforcement Division
402 W. Washington St.
Indianapolis IN 46204
Boat registration:
To review Indiana’s Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Natural Resources
Recreational Safety Div.
Wallace State Office Bldg.
Des Moines IA 50319
Boat Registration:
To review Iowa’s Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Wildlife & Parks
512 SE 25th Avenue
Pratt KS 67124
316-672-5911 Ext. 156
Boat registration:
316-672-5911, Ext.127
Take the Kansas Online Boating Safety Course:
Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
Water Patrol
#1 Game Farm Road
Frankfort KY 40601
Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries
P.O. Box 98000
Baton Rouge LA 70898-9000
Boat registration
MAINE (freshwater) 
Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Dept. Maine Warden Service
284 State St., Sta. 41
Augusta ME 04330
Boat registration:
To view Maine Boating Regulations:
MAINE (saltwater) 
Maine Marine Patrol
Special Services
State House Station #21
Augusta ME 04330
To view Maine Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave.
Annapolis MD 21401
To review Maryland’s State specific Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Fisheries, Wildlife & Environmental Law
175 Portland St.
Boston MA 02114
Boat registration:
Dept. of Natural Resources
Steven T. Mason Bldg.
P.O.Box 30031
Lansing MI 48909
Boat registration:
Dept. of Natural Resources
Boat & Water Safety Section
500 Lafayette Rd.
St. Paul MN 55155-4046
Boat registration:
Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks
P.O. Box 451
Jackson MS 39205
Boat registration:
To review Mississippi’s State specific information:
Dept. of Public Safety
State Water Patrol
P.O. Box 1368
Jefferson City MO 65102
Boat registration:
Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Boating Safety Division
1420 E. 6th St.
Helena MT 59620
Boat registration:
Game & Parks Commission
2200 N. 33rd St.
Lincoln NE 68503-0370
To review Nebraska’s State Specific Laws:
Div. of Wildlife
Law Enforcement Bureau
P.O. Box 10678
Reno NV 89520-0022
To review Nevada’s State specific information:
Dept. of Safety Marine Patrol
31 Dock Road
Gilford NH 03246
State Police
Marine Law Enforcement Bureau
P.O. Box 7068
West Trenton NJ 08628-0068
Boat registration:
888-486-3339 (in State)
(609) 292-6500 (Out of State)
New Mexico State Parks
Boating Safety Section
P.O. Box 1147
Santa Fe NM 87504-1147
Boat registration:
Office of Parks, Recreation &
Historic Preservation
Marine & Recreational Vehicles
Empire State Plaza
Agency Bldg. 1
Albany NY 12238
Wildlife Resources Comm.
Archdale Bldg.
Raleigh NC 27604-1188
Boat registration:
To view North Carolina’s State Specific Information:
Game & Fish Dept.
100 N. Bismarck Expressway
Bismarck ND 59501-5095
Dept. of Natural Resources
Division of Watercraft
4435 Fountain Square Drive
Fountain Square, Building. A
Columbus OH 43224-1300
To view Ohio’s State Specific Information click here
Dept. of Public Safety
3600 N. Martin Luther King
Oklahoma City OK 73136-0415
Boat registration:
State Marine Board
435 Commercial St. N.E. #800
Salem OR 97310
503-378-8587 Ext. 241

Fish & Boat Commission Bureau of Boating
P.O. Box 67000
Harrisburg PA 17106-7000
Boat registration:
To review Pennsylvania’s State specific information:
Dept. of Natural Revenue
Commissioner of Navigation
P.O. Box 588, Pta. de Tierra
San Juan PR 00906
Dept. of Environmental Management
83 Park St.
Providence RI 02903
Boat registration:
To review Rhode Island Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Natural Resources
Division of Boating
P.O. Box 12559
Charleston SC 29412
To review South Carolina Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Game Fish & Parks
523 E. Capitol Ave.
Pierre SD 57501-3182
To view South Dakota Boating Regulations:
Wildlife Resources Agency
P.O. Box 40747
Nashville TN 37204
Parks & Wildlife Dept.
4200 Smith School Rd.
Austin TX 78744
Boat registration:
To review Texas Boating Regulations:
Dept. of Planning &Natural Resources
396-1 Annas Retreat, Foster Plaza
St. Thomas VI 00802
Division of Parks & Recreation
1636 W. North Temple St.
Salt Lake City UT 84116
Boat registration:
State Police-Marine Division
565 St. George Rd.
Williston VT 05495
Boat registration:
Take Vermont’s Online Boating Safety Course:
Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries
Boat Section
4010 W. Broad Street
Richmond VA 23230-1104
To review Virginia’s State specific information:
State Parks & Recreation Commission
P.O. Box 42654
Olympia WA 98504-2654
Boat registration:
Div. of Natural Resources
Law Enforcement Section
Capitol Complex, Bldg. 3
Charleston WV 25305
304-558-2784  To review West Virginia’s State Specific Information: Virginia
Dept. of Natural Resources
Division of Law Enforcement
P.O. Box 7921
Madison WI 53707
Boat registration:
Dept. of Game & Fish
5400 Bishop Blvd.
Cheyenne WY 82006
Canadian Coast Guard
AMEC-9th floor
344 Slater Street
Ottawa, ONT K1A 0N7
800-267-6687 (in Canada)
Boat registration: 613-991-3150
Secretaria Turismo
Presidente Masaryk 172
Bosque Chapultepec
11587 Mexico City, Mexico
525-250-2501, 525-250-1954
and 525-250-8617
(Inquiries should be made in Spanish)

Vessel emergency repairs

Special Items

Vessel emergency repairs

Proper care and preventive maintenance on your boat will eliminate many emergency repairs. It is the nature of boats, however, to break down when you least want them to. Being innovative in your approach to repairs is essential.

A few, well suited hand tools such as wrenches, screwdrivers, a hammer, vise-grips and pliers should be in your tool kit. Many marine stores sell tool kits in water-proof, floating boxes which are small, compact and convenient. You should also have a selection of basic spare parts. These should include belts, spark plugs, points, assorted hoses, fuel filters, impellers, etc.

Remember, when making repairs do not stand up in your boat. The wake of a passing boat while you are disabled and not paying attention could cause you to go overboard.

The following are some examples of emergency repairs.

  • If your engine stalls, start from the obvious and work toward the more complicated solution.
    • Do you have fuel?
    • Have you run aground?
    • Has the propeller fouled with line?
    • Is the engine overheated due to no water flow?
  • Should you have a broken drive belt and not have a spare you can fashion one temporarily from some small line, the draw string from a bathing suit or a pair of ladies hose. Tie the ends together tightly with a square knot.
  • If you are losing engine oil, find the leak, catch the oil in a container and continue to pour back into the engine until you can fix the leak.
  • You can repair a broken hose or pipe with rags or a tee shirt tied tightly with a line or a belt. Or duct tape may work.
  • If you find you are taking on water, first find the source. You should carry on board assorted sizes of tapered wooden plugs or bungs. If the water is coming from a through hull opening or small hole use the appropriate plug to jam into the opening. If the hole is large, use pillows, clothing, or blankets to stuff the damaged area.


Protect your boat against theft by securing it properly. The following suggestions should be followed:

  • Never leave the keys in the boat when unattended.
  • If you must leave your boat unattended in the water for an extended time period, you might consider taking the fuel line from the portable tank with you.
  • You might also consider removing the battery.
  • If your boat is on a trailer, install a trailer hitch lock so the trailer can’t be towed or take one wheel off the trailer and store it in your towing vehicle.
  • Keep all equipment stored out of sight or take it with you.
  • Paint the name on the transom of your boat.
  • Make sure you record your HIN number and keep it in a safe place


Propelling boats with sails has been going on for thousands of years. In the old days the sailors had very little control and most sailing was done downwind or with the wind pushing on the sails in order to move the boat. More recent technologies have made sailing, especially racing, much more controlled and allows boats to sail closer and closer to the wind. As a rule of thumb, a recreational vessel probably will only be able to sail in areas that are at least 45 degrees off the wind on either side of the direction from which the wind is blowing. This is called the “no go zone” and to get to a location upwind you have to do a maneuver called a tack. This back and forth maneuver with the bow going through the wind and the sails being transferred from one side to the other eventually gets you to your upwind mark.

How do boats sail?

A sailboat has four basic components which allow it to sail. They are the hull, the sail(s), the keel or centerboard, and the rudder.

The hull is obviously designed to carry crew, equipment, rigging (mast, spars, etc.) and move through the water with ease.

The sails actually provide the force to make the boat move through the water. To imagine a sailboat going away from the wind or having the wind push on the sails is fairly straight forward. It is more difficult, however, to understand how a boat sails toward the wind. In actuality sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind. As mentioned above there is a “no go zone” in which the sails provide no power to move the boat; they simply flap in the wind.

Bernoulli effectThe force that the wind transfers to the sails actually makes a boat move forward for much the same reason a plane flies. If you were to look down on a sailboat from a helicopter you would see what looks like an airplane’s wing except standing on end. The air moving across the sails, like air moving across an airplane wing, creates lift.
The keel or centerboard keeps the boat from being pushed sideways by the wind. The resistance from the hull and the keel translate the lift to forward motion. You do also get some sideways motion or leeway.

new4sail.gif (4827 bytes)

The rudder is used to steer the boat. You may have an extension attached to the rudder called a tiller. When the tiller is moved to one side the rudder moves and the force of water flowing over the rudder causes the boat to turn. You should remember that on boats with tillers you must push the tiller in the opposite direction that you want to turn. On larger sailboats with wheel steering the boat turns the same way that the wheel is turned.

Each direction that a sailboat sails has a name that describes it. All sailing terminology has been developed in order to quickly and succinctly communicate with the crew what procedures should be performed in order to sail the boat effectively. The closer to the wind the boat comes the tighter the sails. Conversely, the further off the wind, the looser the sails.

Rules of the Road

In order to understand the rules of the road as they pertain to sailboats you must know a little more sailing terminology.

newsail.gif (7582 bytes)

  • Port tack – when the wind is coming over the port side of the boat
  • Starboard tack – when the wind is coming over the starboard side of the boat
  • Windward – in the direction from which the wind is coming (upwind)
  • Leeward – in a direction away from which the wind is coming (downwind)

When sailboats approach one another under sail, the “give-way” vessel must stay clear of the “stand-on” vessel. The following rules determine which boat is the “give-way” and must yield the right-of-way in any situation where the danger of collision exists.

If both boats are on opposite tacks, the boat on the port tack gives-way to the boat on the starboard tack.





If both boats are on the same tack, the boat to windward must keep out of the way of the boat to leeward. In other words the boat farthest from the direction from which the wind is blowing has the right-of-way.

Generally, sailboats have the right-of-way over power boats unless the sailboat is overtaking another vessel. In that case the sailboat becomes the “give-way” boat. Additionally, if a sail boat has mechanical propulsion and it is being used the sail boat, even while still under sail, is suddenly a power boat and must obey the same rules as other power boats.

Even though a sailboat may have the right of way over a power boat some common sense must be used. For instance, you should not impede the passage of large power boats and you should not change course when approaching power boats. Changing course only makes it harder for the power boat to pass safely.


Sailboat terminology


Chapter IX – Special ItemsSection 2 – Locks


boating safety course lock photoWhen traversing connected navigational areas with considerable difference in water levels you may encounter locks. These are used to move boats up or down from one level to another.

Locks operate on a simple premise. You drive your boat into a chamber with gates at each end. To raise the boat, water is let into the chamber until it is the level of the water to be entered. When the water reaches that level the gates on the new elevation side are opened and you drive out.

To go to a lower level, you enter the chamber and the gates are closed and water is let out until you are even with the lower level. The gates on that side are opened and again you drive away.

The lockmasters are responsible for the safety of vessels going through the locks. Their instructions should be followed precisely. You normally will call the locks on your VHF radio and make arrangements to enter the lock. (The VHF channel changes in different parts of the country but 13 is a good place to start if you do not already know the channel or it is not indicated on a sign at the entrance to the lock.)

boating safety course lock photo

You may, however, give two long and two short blasts from your horn and follow the light signals which are displayed at each entrance to the lock. Generally, they work similarly to a traffic light. A red light means stop, you cannot enter the lock and you must stay clear of any traffic about to exit the lock. A yellow light sometimes displayed means the lock is preparing for your entrance but still stay cautiously clear. A green light means the boat may enter the lock with caution and follow the instructions of the lockmaster. (Sound and light signals may be different in different parts of the country. Investigate beforehand.)

boating safety course lock photoPrior to entering the lock you should have fenders rigged on both sides of the vessel. You should have crew in PFDs ready to handle lines and loop, not tie, them to the posts, bollards or lock wall ladder rungs on the side of the lock the lockmaster has indicated. Keep hands and feet clear of the boat and wall. Use a boat hook or paddle to fend off if necessary. Your crew handling the lines will have to adjust them as the water level rises or falls. Your lines should be at least twice the depth of the lock. Once secure in the lock shut off your engine.

As soon as the water in the lock reaches the proper level, the gates are open and the lockmaster has indicated that you should do so, you should cast off lines and exit with caution.