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Boating & Watercraft Glossary

Get familiar with many of the common boating and watercraft terms used on the water.


It is important to be familiar with the many terms used on the waterways, as well as with the different parts and features of your boat or watercraft. Study the illustrations below for some of key terms and take a Safe Boating Course.

Front, back, left, right on the road are bow, stern, port and starboard on the water.


Skiing and wakeboarding are immensely popular boating activities. Even if you don't ski, you may eventually take up this fun and challenging water sport so you should learn the “skier's hand signals” now.

Speed OK

Speed Up

Turn Right

Skier OK

Skier Down Watch


Speed Down

Turn Left

Back to Dock


The blue Alpha Flag is required by federal law to be displayed by vessels engaged in diving operations. Watercraft operators and boaters must exercise caution.

The red Divers Flag is not an official flag but is used widely by recreational divers. Watercraft operators and boaters must exercise caution.

Nature of danger may be placed outside crossed diamond (e.g. waterfalls, swim areas, rapids).

Controlled Area as indicated in circle (e.g. speed limit, no fishing, no anchoring, ski only, slow, no wake, no ski, no prop boats).

Lateral System. Keep buoy on left facing upstream.

Tells direction and distance to locations, food, repairs, supplies and other non-regulatory messages.

Lateral System. Keep buoy on right facing upstream.

White with reflectorized blue band. May have white light or reflector.

Nature of danger may be indicated inside the diamond shape (e.g. rocks, reefs, dams, construction, snags).

Visual Distress Daytime Signal

Cardinal Buoyage Marking System. Do not pass between shore and buoy.