Navigation on waterways is regulated by international as well as national rules. Principally, the "International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea" (COLREGS) apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all connected waters, navigated by seagoing vessels. For the respective coastal waters supplementary, even deviating regulations may exist. In that case, the latter prevail.
As to inland waters, national rules of navigation, taking into account the inland navigation's particularities, are applicable most of the time.
Knowledge and respect of the navigation rules are absolutely indispensable to a proper and conflict-free navigation. Therefore, correct information about the prevailing regulations and eventually existing navigation bans and restrictions is essential.
Basic rule of navigation
All rules of navigation are preceded by the following: every navigation participant has to behave in such a way that no other will be harmed, endangered or (more than is unavoidable under the circumstances) impeded or inconvenienced. Precautions required by seamanship or the case's particular circumstances are to be taken.
General rules of navigation
Within the rules scope, every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing. Any vessel must proceed at a safe speed (depending on navigation density, sight and its own manoeuvrability); to make sure it will be able to take adequate action to avoid collision. Vessels must use all available means to determine the risk of a collision. In case of doubt, risk of collision shall be deemed to exist. All actions taken to avoid collision should be positive, obvious and made in good time. A safe distance has to be kept.
Requirements of giving way and standing on
If two vessels approach each other and the risk of collision becomes evident, both have to act according to the pertinent rules. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea establish a difference between the requirement of giving way and the requirement of standing on. The give-way vessel must take early and substantial action to keep well clear. It should not pass the stand-on vessel's bow but its stern, keeping adequate distance.
The stand-on vessel has to keep course and speed. It may however take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes clear that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these rules. In any case, the stand-on vessel should wait until the give-away vessel gets closed so the collision can not be avoided by its sole manoeuvre. When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.
Vessels' rules of way
The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea do only make a difference as to the vessel's mode of driving. There are no specific rules for pleasure crafts, having the same rights and obligations as professional navigation. Given the considerable stopping distances and turning properties of large professional vessels, it is advisable to change one's course in time, so that no risk of collision will arise. According to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, a power-driven vessel underway (outside the navigation channel) shall keep out of the way of a sailing vessel. However, any vessel overtaking any other being obliged to keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken, so, an overtaking sailing vessel has to keep out of the way of a slow machine-driven vessel. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea do not establish any difference between wind-driven vessels, thus, a broad interpretation of the regulation will lead to the conclusion that a windsurfer as well as a kitesurfer has to be classed as sailing vessels. Consequently, the rules of way for sailing vessels apply:
- When each sailing vessel has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind to port must give way
- When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward
- If a vessel with the wind on the port side sees a vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the port or on the starboard side, she shall keep out of the way of the other
- Overtaking sailing vessels have to keep out of the way of the overtaken vessel.
Wind-and kitesurfers are subject to a temporary navigation ban at night and restricted visibility. Additionally, national regulations of some littoral states contain general bans for navigation channels. Apart from that and according to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, sailing vessels may not hamper a vessel's transit within navigation channels. According to the national regulations of some littoral states, wind- and kitesurfers are standard prohibited in bathing zones. For the rest, outermost precaution is required while transiting indicated bathing zones. Indicated swathes have to be used. Outside clearly delimited bathing-zones, too, special attention has to be paid to bathing and swimming people.
The use of restricted area is prohibited. Warning areas are also forbidden if they have to be available for the purposes of field exercises and field trials. Restricted and warning areas and their respective boarders are indicated in the nautical charts. On most canals, sailing is prohibited. As to wind- and kitesurfers, restrictions may exist on domestic rivers.
Nature reserves and national parks
The rules applicable in nature reserves and national parks contain navigation bans, temporary restrictions and speed limits. Mostly, wind- and kitesurfers are subject to a general navigation ban in the indicated protection areas. Independently, wind- and kitesurfers should try to avoid all perturbations of fauna and flora and contribute to the waters purity. This means:
- Avoid reed zones
- Keep an adequate distance to birds' and seals' colonies
- Dispose correctly of waste and other rubbish (pure water is a prerequisite for watersports!)
Safety on navigable waters is the prime principle. An exaggerated opinion of oneself or an erroneous evaluation of the situation leads to the endangerment of oneself and of third parties. Therefore, a meticulous check of one's equipment, consistent information concerning weather and location as well as a correct evaluation of ones own physical condition and experience before getting going should go without saying.