Administrative Code

Virginia Administrative Code
Title 4. Conservation and Natural Resources
Agency 15. Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
1/23/2020

Chapter 390. Watercraft: Safe and Reasonable Operation of Vessels

4VAC15-390-10. Applicability.

The following sections in this chapter apply to the operation of "vessels" as defined in § 29.1-700 of the Code of Virginia on all waters within the Commonwealth, both public and private. Vessels complying with the international rules of navigation as established by the U.S. Coast Guard are considered to be in compliance with the requirements of this chapter.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 1, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-11. Definitions.

For the purpose of this chapter, except where the context otherwise requires, the following words and terms mean:

"Inland waters" means the navigable waters of the United States shoreward of the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas from harbors, rivers, and other inland waters of the United States on the United States side of the International Boundary.

"Left" means port, or the left side of the vessel when facing the bow (the forward part of the vessel) from within the vessel.

"Length" and "breadth" of a vessel mean her length overall and greatest breadth.

"Power-driven vessel" means any vessel propelled by machinery.

"Restricted visibility" means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms, or any other similar causes.

"Right" means starboard, or the right side of the vessel when facing the bow (the forward part of the vessel) from within the vessel.

"Sailing vessel" means any vessel under sail provided that propelling machinery, if fitted, is not being used.

"Seaplane" includes any aircraft designed to maneuver on the water.

"Secretary" means the secretary of the department in which the U.S. Coast Guard is operating.

"Underway" means that a vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.

"Vessel" means every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, but does not include surfboards, tubes, swimming rafts, inflatable toys and similar devices routinely used as water toys or swimming aids.

"Vessel engaged in fishing" means any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability, but does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing apparatus that does not restrict maneuverability.

"Vessel not under command" means a vessel that through some exceptional circumstance is unable to maneuver as required and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.

"Vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver" means a vessel that from the nature of its work is restricted in its ability to maneuver as required and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel; vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver include, but are not limited to:

1. A vessel engaged in laying, servicing, or picking up a navigation mark, submarine cable, or pipeline;

2. A vessel engaged in dredging, surveying, or underwater operations;

3. A vessel engaged in replenishment or transferring persons, provisions, or cargo while underway;

4. A vessel engaged in the launching or recovery of aircraft;

5. A vessel engaged in mineclearance operations; and

6. A vessel engaged in a towing operation such as severely restricts the towing vessel and her tow in their ability to deviate from their course.

"Vessels in sight of one another" shall be deemed so only when one can be observed visually from the other.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-20. Motorboats approaching head and head.

When motorboats are approaching each other head and head, that is, end on, or nearly so, it shall be the duty of each operator to maneuver to the right and pass on the left side of the other motorboat. This does not apply if the courses of such motorboats are so far on the right side of each other that they may pass right side to right side without risk of collision. When the operator of any motorboat is in any doubt as to whether a head-on situation exists, the assumption shall be made that it does exist and the operator shall take all actions necessary to avoid a collision with the approaching motorboat.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 2, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-30. Motorboats crossing.

When two motorboats are crossing, so as to involve risk of collision, the operator of the motorboat which has the other on the right side shall keep out of the way of the other, and shall if the circumstances of the situation admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel. When the operator of any motorboat is in any doubt as to whether a crossing situation exists, the assumption shall be made that it does exist and the operator shall act accordingly.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 3, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-40. Overtaking another vessel.

A. Duty to keep clear; overtaken vessel not to cross bow or crowd. Every vessel overtaking any other vessel shall keep out of the way of the overtaken vessel, and shall not attempt to pass the vessel ahead until they have reached a point at which it can be safely done. The overtaken vessel shall not attempt to cross the bow or crowd in upon the course of the overtaking vessel.

B. When vessel deemed to be an overtaking vessel. Every vessel coming up with another vessel from any direction abaft the beam of the other vessel shall be deemed to be an overtaking vessel, and no subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of this section or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear. When a vessel coming up with another vessel is unable to determine with certainty whether she is forward or abaft the beam of the other vessel she shall, if in doubt, assume that she is an overtaking vessel and keep out of the way of the other vessel.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-701 and 29.1-802 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 4, eff. July 1, 1973.

4VAC15-390-50. Responsibility between vessels.

A. The operator of a motorboat underway shall keep his vessel out of the way of:

1. A vessel not under command;

2. A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver;

3. A vessel engaged in fishing with nets or other commercial fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability; and

4. A sailing vessel.

B. The operator of a sailing vessel underway shall keep his vessel out of the way of:

1. A vessel not under command;

2. A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver; and

3. A vessel engaged in fishing with nets or other commercial fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability.

C. The operator of a vessel engaged in fishing with nets or other commercial fishing apparatus that restricts maneuverability when underway shall, so far as possible, keep his vessel out of the way of:

1. A vessel not under command; and

2. A vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver.

D. The pilot of a seaplane on the water shall, in general, keep his seaplane well clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation. In circumstances, however, where risk of collision exists, he shall comply with the responsibility between vessels provisions above.

E. When two sailing vessels are approaching one another, so as to involve risk of collision, the operator of one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:

1. When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel that has the wind on the left side shall keep out of the way of the other;

2. When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel that is to windward (upwind) shall keep out of the way of the vessel that is to leeward (downwind); and

3. If a vessel with the wind on the left side sees a vessel to windward (upwind) and cannot determine with certainty whether the other vessel has the wind on the left or on the right side, it shall keep out of the way of the other.

For the purpose of this section, the windward (upwind) side shall be deemed to be the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square-rigged vessel, the side opposite to that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-103, 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 5, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003; Volume 29, Issue 9, eff. January 1, 2013.

4VAC15-390-60. Sailing vessels approaching one another.

When two sailing vessels are approaching one another, so as to involve risk of collision, one of them shall keep out of the way of the other as follows:

1. When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other.

2. 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.

3. For the purpose of this section the windward side shall be deemed to be the side opposite that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square-rigged vessel, the side opposite that on which the largest fore-and-aft sail is carried.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-701 and 29.1-802 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 6, eff. July 1, 1973.

4VAC15-390-70. Duty of vessel required to keep out of way; duty of other vessel.

A. The operator of every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and sound 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. If there is any doubt, such risk shall be deemed to exist.

B. Any action taken to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship. Any alteration of course or speed to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel observing visually or by radar. A succession of small alterations of course or speed should be avoided. If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, the operator shall slacken speed or stop. The effectiveness of all actions taken to avoid a collision shall be carefully checked until the other vessel is finally past and clear.

C. The operator of a vessel that is required not to impede the passage or safe passage of another vessel shall, when required by the circumstances of the case, take early action to allow sufficient room for the safe passage of the other vessel.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 7, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-80. Duty to slacken speed to avoid damage by motorboat's wake.

Every motorboat, when approaching or passing vessels under way or lying to or at anchor or made fast to the shore; or when approaching or passing piers, docks, or boathouses; or when approaching or passing persons in the water or using water skis or surfboards; shall slacken speed to the extent necessary to avoid endangering persons or property by the effect of the motorboat's wake.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-701 and 29.1-802 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 8, eff. July 1, 1973.

4VAC15-390-90. Duty where operator's vision obscured.

A. Where an operator's vision is obscured by bridges or other obstructions ahead, or by sharp bends in a narrow waterway, or by fog or other weather conditions, the vessel shall be operated at reduced speed such that the vessel can be stopped, if necessary, within the distance the operator or a lookout is able to see ahead.

B. When the operator detects by radar alone the presence of another vessel, he shall determine if a close-quarters situation is developing or risk of collision exists. If so, he shall take avoiding action in ample time, provided that when such action consists of an alteration of course, so far as possible the following shall be avoided:

1. An alteration of course to the left for a vessel forward of the other vessel, other than for a vessel being overtaken; and

2. An alteration of course directly or nearly so toward the other vessel.

C. Except where it has been determined that a risk of collision does not exist, the operator of every vessel who hears apparently forward of his position the fog signal of another vessel, or who cannot avoid a close-quarters situation with another vessel forward of its position, shall reduce his speed to the minimum at which the vessel can be kept on course. He shall if necessary stop and, in any event, navigate with extreme caution until danger of collision is over.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 9, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-100. Operation in narrow channel.

In narrow channels the operator of every vessel shall, when it is safe and practicable, keep to that side of the fairway or mid-channel which lies on the right side of such vessel. Notwithstanding the provisions of any other section of this chapter, the operator of a vessel under 65.6 feet in length underway, fishing or at anchor in narrow channels shall not interfere with the passage of large, deep-draft vessels that can safely navigate only inside such channels.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 10, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-110. Departure from regulations to avoid immediate danger.

In obeying and construing this chapter due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision, and to any special circumstances which may render a departure from this chapter necessary in order to avoid immediate danger. When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep its course and speed finds itself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, the operator shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision. This action does not relieve the give-way vessel of its obligation to keep out of the way. The "give-way" vessel is that vessel required to take early and substantial action to keep well away from other vessels by stopping, slowing or changing course.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 11, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-120. Regulations not to exonerate operator from neglect.

Nothing in this chapter shall exonerate the operator of any vessel from the consequences of any neglect to carry and display lights as required by law; or of any neglect to keep a proper lookout, or of neglect of any reasonable precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of good seamanship or by the special circumstances of the case.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-701 and 29.1-802 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 12, eff. July 1, 1973.

4VAC15-390-130. Standard whistle and horn signals.

A. Whenever vessels are approaching in a meeting, crossing, or overtaking situation, and it appears desirable to the operator of one of the vessels to communicate his intentions to the operator of the other, the following standard whistle or horn signals will be used, and none other:

1. One short blast; meaning: "I am altering my course to the right"; except that in a crossing situation when this signal is initiated by the vessel to the right of the other it means, "I am holding my course and speed."

2. Two short blasts; meaning: "I am altering my course to the left."

3. Three short blasts; meaning: "I am stopping, or backing, by applying power astern."

4. Five or more short blasts in rapid succession; meaning: "DANGER"; or "I do not understand your intentions"; or "I do not concur in the maneuver indicated by your signal."

B. Whenever a motorboat less than 65.6 feet long receives one of the above signals from an approaching vessel, and if the operator understands the signal and concurs in the maneuver, he will answer with a similar signal. Whenever the intention of the approaching vessel is unclear, or if the proposed maneuver appears to involve risk of collision or other danger, the operator of the motorboat receiving the signal will answer with five or more short blasts in rapid succession, whereupon the operators of both vessels will slow, stop, or change course as necessary to avoid collision.

C. Signals in or near an area of restricted visibility or when the operator's vision is obscured by fog or other weather conditions shall be one prolonged blast of intervals of not more than two minutes for motorboats, and one prolonged plus two short blasts of intervals of not more than two minutes by sailboats under sail alone.

D. A vessel of 39.4 feet (12 meters) or more in length shall be provided with a whistle that meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements. A motorboat of less than 39.4 feet (12 meters) shall not be obligated to carry a whistle or bell as required above, but the operator shall have a whistle or other device intended to make audible signals capable of being heard 0.5 mile.

E. The operators of vessels not required to have sound-producing devices on board are not required to give or answer horn to whistle signals, but if they have sound-producing devices on board and elect to give or answer signals, the standard signals prescribed above shall be used, and none other.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-103, 29.1-501, 29.1-502, and 29.1-701 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from VR325-04-3 § 13, eff. July 1, 1973; amended, Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003; Volume 27, Issue 10, eff. January 1, 2011.

4VAC15-390-140. Riding on decks and gunwales.

It shall be unlawful for the operator of a motorboat to allow any person to ride or sit on the bow, gunwales, transom, or on the decking over the bow of the vessel while under power unless such motorboat is provided with adequate guards or railing to prevent passengers from falls overboard. Nothing in this section shall be construed to mean that passengers or other persons aboard a watercraft cannot occupy these areas of the vessel to moor or anchor the watercraft, to cast off, or for any other necessary purpose. Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor as provided by § 29.1-738 of the Code of Virginia.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-150. Safe speed.

It shall be unlawful to operate a watercraft in excess of a safe speed. A safe speed is 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. In establishing a safe operating speed, operators shall take into account the state of visibility, traffic density, maneuverability of the vessel with special reference to stopping distance and turning ability, the presence of background light at night, the proximity of navigational hazards, the draft of the vessel, the limitations of radar equipment, and the state of wind, sea, and current. Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor as provided by §§ 29.1-738 and 29.1-738.03 of the Code of Virginia.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.

4VAC15-390-160. Penalties.

Except as otherwise provided by statute, any person who violates any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor for each such violation as provided by § 29.1-746 of the Code of Virginia.

Statutory Authority

§§ 29.1-501, 29.1-502, 29.1-701, and 29.1-735 of the Code of Virginia.

Historical Notes

Derived from Virginia Register Volume 19, Issue 5, eff. January 1, 2003.



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