Summary: ROTR applies to all vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction, whether recreational or commercial, operating on the high seas or U.S. navigable water connected to them. If you are a commercial mariner, you must maintain proficiency in ROTR via NMC credentialing. If you are a recreational boater, you must be familiar and comply with ROTR.

Where Does ROTR Apply?

According to Rule 1 of ROTR, these rules apply to all vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction operating on the high seas and all navigable waters connected to high seas. In other words, ROTR applies to all vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction operating on the ocean, Great Lakes, or any waters connected to them. If you are operating on an inland lake but can somehow get to the ocean or a Great Lake via navigable waters, ROTR applies. There are a handful of exceptions to Rule 1, but these exceptions will not be covered in this blog.

ROTR Rule 1(a)

(a) These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels, inland waters of the United States, and to vessels of the United States on the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes to the extent that there is no conflict with Canadian law. These Rules have preemptive effect over State or local regulation within the same field.

What Type of Vessels Does ROTR Apply To?

The Explorer’s Guide crew is often asked if ROTR applies only to commercial vessels. The answer is “No.” ROTR applies to all vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction, public or private. “Subject to U.S. jurisdiction” is a topic for another blog, but, in general, if the vessel is registered in the U.S. or operating in U.S. waters, it is subject to U.S. jurisdiction. 

ROTR defines a vessel as “every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft, WIG craft, and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water.” This definition is intentionally broad and means that pontoons, kayaks, cargo vessels, tankers, seaplanes, jet skis, and any other craft capable of transportation is subject to ROTR. 

For more information on Navigation Rules of the Road, check out the links below:

*Pathfinder Maritime Training is professional, maritime training company and is approved by the National Maritime Center (NMC) to instruct ROTR. These blogs are meant to compliment, not substitute, any NMC approved ROTR course and should be viewed as such.