The rules are very specific about maintaining a proper lookout at all times. In fact, the rules state that “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”
What this means is that we must keep eyes and ears open to observe or hear something that may endanger someone or affect their safety. You must look up for bridge clearances and power lines, down for floats, swimmers, logs and divers flags and side to side for traffic prior to turning your boat. Additionally, it is also important to look behind you to see if any traffic is going to overtake you. A proper lookout can avoid a collision.
Practicing the art of good seamanship is a talent that is developed over time by acquiring knowledge and skills. You must keep safety foremost in your mind when operating your boat. Do what you can to stay out of the way of other boats and always proceed at a safe speed.
The Rules of the Road provide consequences for any vessel owner, operator or crew who neglects to comply with the Rules. It is your responsibility to act in a reasonable and prudent manner consistent with the ordinary practices of recreational boating. Safe speed means a speed less than the maximum at which the operator can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. Don't forget to also take into consideration your own level of skill and experience.
To determine safe speed consider all of the following factors:
Visibility: is it clear, overcast, foggy?
The traffic density.
The maneuverability of your vessel. Be sure to consider stopping distance and turning ability in the prevailing conditions.
At night, does the presence of background light from shore affect your vision?
The state of wind, sea and current, and the proximity of navigational hazards.
Your draft in relation to the available depth of water.
Most specific speed regulations are local ordinances or state laws. Many states have speed and distance regulations that determine how close you can operate to other vessels, the shoreline or docking area, and swimming areas. For example, some state regulations require that you maintain a no-wake speed when within 250 feet of shore or when within 100 feet of another vessel. Be sure to check with state and local authorities to determine what regulations apply to you.
Risk of Collision
Every means available shall be used to determine if risk of collision exists. This could be information from your lookout, radar, or other means. If there is any doubt as to the risk of collision, you should act as if it does exist and take appropriate action.
In determining if risk of collision exists, the following considerations shall be among those taken into account:
Risk of collision shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appear to change.
Risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow, or when approaching a vessel at close range.
If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.
When maneuvering to prevent collision, do so early and make the maneuver large enough to be recognized by the other vessel. Small alterations of course and/or speed should be avoided.
Do whatever is necessary to avoid the collision!