Missouri Outdoors

Rules of the Water

Rules of the Water - Helpful Information for Safe Boating


Staying away from accidents on the water becomes more significant as more people take to the lake every year. On lakes like Mark Twain and Pomme de Terre, there are a huge number of boats on the lakes each and every weekend. Every person that is the owner of a boat owes it to themselves and their loved ones to know how to avoid typical situations on the lake.

boating rules missouri lakes rivers water navigation fishing techniques moBoat on Boat Situations

Three prevalent situations where boats will come to navigation decisions when approaching each other are head-on, crossing, and overtaking boats.

The Head-On Rules

When uncertain, yield right. That will avoid most common troubles with boat on boat encounters. If you're approaching a boat coming at you head-on, both boats are to yield to their right. If because of navigation issues (shallow water), pulling over to the right as far as possible and shutting down will permit the other boat to navigate around you in safe water. In tight situations, slow down and judge the safe area to the right. And utilize your horn signals (identified in the Horn Blows section).

Crossing Rules

When two boats are crossing in front of each other, the boat to the right is considered the Stand-On Vessel and the other boat is regarded as the Give-Way Vessel. The Stand-On Vessel (vessel on the right) is to keep on a straight course. While the Give-Way Vessel yields and navigates around the right of the other vessel. Again utilize horn blows when needed.

Overtaking Rules

missouri great outdoors boating rules fishing mo bowfishing huntingWhen passing another boat, sound a short horn blast to indicate your presence and then give a wide clearance and pass the boat on the right (starboard) whenever possible. If navigation will not permit passing on the right, then again sound the horn with a couple of short bursts and pass with a wide margin on the left (port). Use caution as boats coming head on may be masked by the forward vessel. Don't place yourself in a situation of passing and having to yield to oncoming vessels.

Note: These rules pertain to a pair of boats of power meeting each other on the lake. The rules differ for other boats not under power like sailboats. The boat under power needs to yield to the boat without power and make maneuvers to avoid the boat with no power.

Horn Blows

Turn Starboard (Right) - Short blast

Turn Port (Left) - Two short blasts

Going Astern (backing up) - Three short blasts

Danger (to alert other vessels of hazard ahead) - Five short blasts

Backing up from Dock - One long blast

Navigation Markers

Red Buoys - Mark right side of channel when going upstream or returning from open seas.

Green Buoys - Mark left side of channel when traveling upstream or coming back from open seas.

Non Lateral Markers (generally on white buoy with orange lines)

A square means information (such things as fuel, or docks).

A diamond means danger and avoid that area (shallow or rocks).

A circle indicates controlled area, use extreme caution (like a no-wake zone).

A diamond with a cross indicates exclusion area (no boats allowed).

Understanding the rules of the water are important for a safe boating encounter for you and the ones that you love. Use these rules to keep safe on Mark Twain Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme de Terre Lake, and throughout Missouri.

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Camping is nature's way of promoting the motel business.

- Dave Barry