The following pages contain a summary of the Navigation Rules and the basic information you, as a personal watercraft operator, must know. They are not the complete rules. As a recreational boater, you should obtain a complete copy of the rules, study them, and keep them available for future reference.
Signs, Symbols and Markers
There are many signs, symbols, and markers on the waters where you will be boating. They are as important to you as a boater as highway signs are to the driver of a car. The red and green buoys provide you with information about where the "safe" water or "channel" is. By staying between the buoys, you will be assured of adequate depth to use your PWC. These buoys may also display a matching red or green flashing light at night for navigation. Although a PWC requires very little depth to operate, it is still not advisable to operate outside of marked channels due to underwater hazards, such as submerged pilings, rocks, and other unseen objects.
If you would like to learn more about these navigational aids, contact your local Power Squadron for information about the USPS Boating Course.
Know the following information devices:
Visual Distress Signal (VDS): Extend your arms straight out to both sides of your body. Then bring your hands together as high over your head as you can reach. Continue moving your hands and arms between these two positions as long as you must to attract the attention of others who can come to your rescue. The above is the only way that you should use your arms as a distress signal. Other arm motions, or waves, may be understood by other boaters as merely a greeting.
Aside from the arm signals, there are both pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic distress signals. Orange Smoke (Day Signal), Red Meteor (Day and Night Signal) and Red Flares (Day and Night Signal) are examples of pyrotechnic distress signals. An electric light (Night Signal) or orange flag (Day Signal) are two non-pyrotechnic distress signals.
If pyrotechnic Visual Distress Signals are used, a minimum of three must be on the vessel, in serviceable condition and in an accessible location. The Coast Guard requires three hand held flares (Day and Night) or three orange smoke signals (Day Only) and an electrical light (Night Only). Only use Visual Distress Signals when assistance is required to prevent harm to people onboard the boat. Use of Visual Distress Signals in non-emergency situations is prohibited.
To assist rescuers in finding and aiding boaters in distress, the U.S. Coast Guard requires all boats operating in U.S. coastal waters to carry visual distress signals. Coastal waters include the Great Lakes, the oceans and any bay or sound that empties into the ocean. In addition, a river that has a mouth over two miles across is considered to be coastal waters from the mouth to a point where it narrows to two miles. Rivers, streams and inland lakes, except the Great Lakes, are not considered coastal waters. All visual distress signals carried in accordance with these regulations must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Signals must be in good condition (the service date must not have expired) and kept where they are readily accessible.
Some boaters do not like to carry flares aboard. Accordingly, one orange distress flag may be substituted for three daytime signals and one SOS distress light may be substituted for three nighttime signals. Any light (including a search light) or sound may be used to attract another vessel's attention or to get help so long as it is not mistaken for another type of light. Revolving lights or strobe lights, often used by marine patrols, should not be used.
There are exceptions for certain boats during the daytime. The following only need to carry night signal devices when operated at night.
When a vessel is in distress and requires assistance there are a number of signals that can be used or are exhibited;
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