Boating Rules & Regulations


Boating requires rules and regulations for a safe environment. The Navigation Rules are endorsed worldwide, and the U.S. divides these rules into Inland rules applicable to coastal waters within certain Demarcation Lines, and International Rules which apply beyond those lines. Along with the Rules of the Road, there are State and Federal boating regulations and equipment requirements.

Each State has Rules, Regulations, and Statutes which apply within their jurisdiction. Not discussed here are regulations and bylaws that some cities and towns may impose in addition to Federal and State Regulations. You should check with your local Harbormaster or city/town officials to see if there are any additional regulations that apply to your home port. Every boater should know the rules that apply to their area of operation.

These rules and regulations are enforced by the Coast Guard, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and the Harbormasters and/or Police in your area. Be safe for yourself and others on the water!

Here you'll find valuable resources to help you find relevant information for safe and prudent boating.

  • Massachusetts Boating Regulations
  • Massachusetts Saltwater Recreational Fishing Guide
  • Federal Boating Requirements
  • Federal Waterway Regulations
  • Navigation Rules (COLREGS)
  • Vessel Safety Check Program
  • Charts

Additional Resources

  • Notice to Mariners - Updated weekly, the USCG Notice to Mariners provides timely marine safety information for the correction of all U.S. Government navigation charts and publications. The Notices can be downloaded for free.
  • Light Lists - These publications contain a list of lights, sound signals, buoys, day beacons, and other aids to navigation. They can be downloaded for free.
  • Demarcation Lines - U.S. Inland Rules apply to vessels operating inside the line of demarcation while International Rules apply outside the lines. Demarcation lines are printed on most navigational charts and are published in the Navigation Rules.
  • Aids to Navigation can provide a boater with the same type of information drivers get from street signs, stop signals, road barriers, detours and traffic lights. These aids may be anything from lighted structures, beacons, day markers, range lights, fog signals, and landmarks to floating buoys. Each has a purpose and helps in determining location, getting from one place to another, or staying out of danger. The goal of the U.S. Aids to Navigation System is to promote safe navigation on the waterway.
  • The U.S. Aids to Navigation System is intended for use with Nautical Charts. Charts are one of the most important tools used by boaters for planning trips and safely navigating waterways. Charts show the nature and shape of the coast, buoys and beacons, depths of water, land features, directional information, marine hazards, and other pertinent information. This valuable information cannot be obtained from other sources, such as a road map or atlas.
  • The primary components of the U.S. Aids to Navigation System are beacons and buoys.
  • Beacons are aids to navigation structures that are permanently fixed to the earth's surface. They range from lighthouses to small, single-pile structures and may be located on land or in the water. Lighted beacons are called lights; unlighted beacons are called day beacons. Beacons exhibit a daymark to make them readily visible and easily identifiable against background conditions. Generally, the daymark conveys to the boater, during daylight hours, the same significance as the aid's light or reflector at night.
  • Buoys are floating aids that come in many shapes and sizes. They are moored to the seabed by concrete sinkers with chain or synthetic rope moorings of various lengths connected to the buoy body. They are intended to convey information to the boater by their shape or color, by the characteristics of a visible or audible signal, or a combination of two or more such features.