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Chapter VII. Learning the Ropes

* * * * *

There is more to driving an automobile than learning how to steer, shift gears, use the clutch, or step on the brake. The driver needs to know traffic signals, laws governing speed, parking, and passing on curves. He may find it necessary to change tires and make minor repairs. Similarly, there is more to running a landing boat than starting, stopping, and steering; more skills to master than those of making landings alongside or on the beach.

Every boat crew member must become familiar with traffic laws for boats--the rules of the Road--which govern landing craft, no matter how large or small. He must know boat etiquette, buoyage systems, hydrographic markings, storm warnings, use of the compass, and the use of lines. No book as slim as this one could begin to include all of this information. Nevertheless, an attempt has been made to single out a few useful facts.

Rules of the Road

Traffic laws governing the handling of boats and ships have been in use for many years. Great Britain established the International Rules of the Road in 1884, and they were adopted by the United States in 1885. A few years later, in 1897, the American Congress passed an act containing the Inland Rules of the Road. With a few changes they have been in use ever since, regulating traffic in harbors, rivers, and inland waters of this country.

Every capable seaman knows these Rules and controls his boat as the law directs. Some of the U.S. Rules which boat crews in training should know are discussed here.

First, when do the Rules of the Road apply? They apply when your boat is underway. That is, at any time when it is not at anchor, aground, or made fast to the shore or dock. Second, the Golden Rule for small boats is, "Safety first, keep to the right, and proceed cautiously when in doubt."

Boats on parallel course. When two boats are moving in the same direction and one wishes to pass to the opposite side of the other the following procedure is observed. The boat wishing to pass throttles down, then passes astern of the other. This makes the danger of collision less likely.

Overtaking another boat. If your boat is overtaking another, the overtaken boat has the right of way. You must keep clear. Even when you have passed the boat being overtaken, she continues to have all rights and privileges until free and clear. If your boat is being overtaken, however, you must maintain course and speed.

Boats on opposite parallel course.The rule here is that boats will keep to the right and pass port to port. However, if each boat's course is so far to starboard of the other that no change of direction is needed to keep clear, each boat holds its course and speed, passing starboard to starboard.

Meeting at an angle or crossing. If two boats are approaching at an angle so that there is danger of a collision the boat which has the other to port has the right of way. In other words, you keep clear of the boat on your right or starboard side. When one boat is crossing and overtaking another (from more than two points abaft the beam of the leading boat) the overtaking rule prevails.

Rules for sailing vessels. A vessel powered by wind alone always has the right of way over motor or steam driven craft, except when the sailing vessel is overtaking a motor vessel.

Rules for speed. A landing boat should always travel slowly enough so that she can change from headway to sternway where danger presents itself. Also, speed must be avoided when passing anchorages, docks, floats, and


Rules of The Road
Rules of The Road Text: (I had the right of way - so sorry - even if you have the right of way, use common sense to avoid collisions; don't be a speed demon, throttle down when passing small boats; and if your boat is empty during a landing operation, give the right of way to a loaded boat.)


small boats riding alongside ships. The wake of a speeding boat may cause damage if this rule is not observed.

Tow boats. A boat with a tow is regarded as one vessel and is responsible for her tow. The tow boat has no special privileges, but should be passed slowly and with care so that the wake of the passing vessel will cause no damage.

A general rule. The landing boat coxswain must remember that it is important to do everything possible to avoid a collision, even when he has the right of way. If there is immediate danger of a collision the coxswain may depart from the above rules to save his boat and crew from harm.

Rules of the Road during a landing operation. Special rules are observed by coxswains of the LCVP and LCM when hitting the beach. Heavy surf, smoke screens and similar hazards met during landing operations call for special precautions and good judgment. To avoid danger:

  1. Keep to the right when meeting another boat.
  2. If your boat is empty, give the right-of-way to a loaded boat.
  3. Whether your boat is empty or loaded, give a wide berth to a boat towing another.
  4. Keep clear of beach-bound assault waves. When you have retracted and turned about, make for the nearest flank before continuing back to the transport.

If you find yourself in a tough spot, do not lose your head. Size up any situation that looks likely to lead to a collision and keep clear.

The rules of the Road presented above are but a few of many which govern water traffic. When you know all of these you will have only a good start. The International Rules, running lights, fog signals, distress signals, and others remain to be learned. Knight's Modern Seamanship, the Bluejacket's Manual, or Seamanship (Navpers 16118) are sources of additional information.

Boat Etiquette

"Amphib" is a rugged outfit. In dungarees and foul-weather gear the small-boat boys are mighty salty looking specimens. They cannot run into the beach in dress blues and no one expects them to do it.

On the other hand, there are certain good manners observed in small boat handling that are always in order. This is true whether you are in dress blues or wearing dungarees.

Boat etiquette with which crews are to be familiar is set forth in United States Navy Regulations.

  1. Salutes shall be exchanged between boats meeting or passing each other close aboard . . .
  2. No junior shall overhaul and pass a senior without permission. The junior shall always salute first, which salute will be returned by the senior.
  3. Officers in uniform, but without flag or pennant flying, or when in civilian clothes, shall be saluted with the hand only.
  4. Coxswains in charge of boat shall always rise, unless by so doing the safety of the boat is imperiled, and salute when officers enter or leave their boats, or when extending a salute to all commissioned officers.
  5. Boatkeepers and all other men in boats not underway, and not containing an officer, petty officer or acting petty officer in charge, shall stand and salute when an officer comes alongside, leaves the side, or passes near them, and shall remain standing until the boat passes or reaches the ship's side.
  6. Men working on the ship's side shall continue their work except when called to attention.
  7. During morning or evening colors . . . power boats shall slow their engines, disengaging their clutches. In boats, only the boat officer, or in his absence the coxswain, shall stand at attention, all others remain seated.
  8. Men seated in boats in which there is no officer, petty officer, or acting petty officer in charge, lying at landings, gangways, or booms, shall rise and salute all officers passing near; when an officer, petty officer, or acting petty officer is in charge of a boat, he alone shall render the salute. . . .


Boat Etiquette
Boat Etiquette - Text: (Boat hails should be loud and clear; you needn't salaam, but remember to observe common courtesies; and juniors precede seniors into a boat and leave last.)


  1. Officers seated in boats shall not rise in rend[er]ing and returning salutes except when a senior enters or leaves the boat or when acknowledging a gun salute.
  2. At landings and gangways juniors shall give way to seniors, and at all times juniors shall show deference to their seniors by abstaining from crossing the bows of their boats, crowding them, or ignoring their presence. The same rules shall apply in relations ashore, whether in vehicles or on foot.
  3. Except when excused by proper authority, boats shall always haul clear of shore landings and ships' gangways while waiting, and crews shall not leave their boats.
  4. Except when there is a special countersign, the answering hail from a boat, in reply to a ship's hail shall be varied according to the senior officer or official who may be in the boat, as follows:
    1. President or Vice President of the United States, "United States"
    2. Secretary, Under Secretary, or Assistant Secretary of the Navy, "Navy"
    3. Commander in chief of fleet, "Fleet"
    4. Captain of a ship, Give name of ship
    5. Other commissioned officer, "Aye Aye"
    6. Other officer, "No No"
    7. Enlisted men and Marines, "Hello"
    8. Boats not intending to go alongside, regardless of rank as passengers, "Passing"
  5. (If they have) an official on board . . . power boats shall slow their engines, disengaging their clutches, on a parallel heading, during the firing of a salute in honor of that official. During the salute only the official being honored shall rise, weather permitting, and face the vessel saluting; at the end of the salute he shall acknowledge it.*

Buoyage Systems

Buoys are wooden or metal floats of various shapes and sizes moored to the bottom. They are the road markers of the sea, warning of obstacles and dangers, marking channels, and serving as navigational aids. In United States waters three types of buoys are widely used: nun, can, and spar. The illustration shows their general appearance.

There are special kinds of buoys equipped with bells, gongs, whistles, and lights. Some combine light and sound such as the lighted bell buoy.

To pilot the LCVP or LCM safely, particularly in harbors, the coxswain and crew need to recognize the appearance and meaning of buoys. All buoys are painted to indicate either the side of the channel they mark or their special purpose.

  1. Coming in from the sea, red nun buoys bearing even numbers mark the starboard or right side of the channel.¡ Can buoys on the port or left side of the channel are painted black and carry odd numbers.
  2. Black and white vertically striped buoys indicate the middle of a fairway or channel. Pass close to them, and either to port or starboard.
  3. White buoys mark anchorages and are often used for special purposes not related to navigation.
  4. Quarantine anchorage buoys are painted yellow.
  5. White buoys with green tops are placed around areas being dredged.
  6. Black and white horizontally banded buoys mark areas where fish traps and nets are permitted.


* Excerpts quoted here are from U.S. Navy Regulations, paragraphs 254, 267, 268, 269, and 312.

¡ "Red, right, returning" is a phrase to help you remember the location of channel marker buoys when coming into a harbor from the sea.


Buoys In American Waters
Buoys In American Waters - Text: Can Buoy - marking port side of channel from seaward; Nun Buoy - marking starboard side of channel from seaward; Spar Buoy; Mid-channel or Fairway Marker; Buoy Marking Obstruction - if top band is red, keep buoy to starboard, if top band is black keep buoy to port; Buoy Marking Dredging Area; Quarantine Anchorage; Fish Trap or Net Marker; Buoy Secured to Bottom of Channel; Bell; lighted; and Whistle.)


  1. Sometimes perches with balls, cages, and so forth are placed on buoys at turning points. The coloring and numbering of these buoys indicate on which side to pass them.
  2. A spar buoy properly numbered and colored may replace any of the buoys named above.

Beacons and Ranges

Beacons are markers or signals set up on or near the shore as aids to navigation. They may be stakes, tripods, towers, or similar structures. Most beacons are useful only during the days, but some are equipped with lights, whistles, or horns so that they may be seen at night or heard in fog. Beacons used to mark channels are colored and numbered in the same ways as the red and black channel buoys described above.

When two beacons are located in line on a definite compass bearing they are known as a range. These are used as a guide to fix a boat's position when entering a harbor, bay, or river. Ranges frequently are lighted so that they may be used day or night.

Hydrographic Markings

Hydrographic markings are pennants and lights, often fastened to buoys. They are used to show the location of rocks, shoals and submerged obstacles or to mark channels.

During the day a red pennant with vertical black stripes, fastened to a buoy or stake, marks rocks and shoals. At night a blue light over a red light, both flashing (blinking) are used.

Hydrographic markings for channels consist of: (1) a red pennant (day) or a flashing red light (night) to mark the right or starboard side of the channel for boats coming in from sea, (2) a black pennant (day) or a flashing white light (night) to mark the left or port side of the channel, and (3) a black and white vertically striped buoy and/or pennant (day) or a flashing green light (night) are used to show a fairway.

Each of these hydrographic markings is shown in the accompanying drawings.

Storm Warning Signals

Warnings of coming storms are sent out by the United States Weather Bureau. These are divided into three classes, depending upon the speed of the gale which is expected. (1) When strong winds are forecast the small craft warning flag, a red pennant, is flown in coastal areas. (2) Two red pennants, one above the other, are run up to indicate a coming gale. (3) The hurricane warning is made up of two square, red flags with square black centers, flown one above the other. When any storm warning signals are flying it is wise for the small boat to head for port.

Various combinations of pennants and flags are hoisted to indicate the direction from which the storm is expected. These special storm warning flags are shown in the illustration.


Station-keeping, to the crew of the LCVP or LCM(3), demands the ability to maneuver successfully with other landing boats. The coxswain must know how to keep in position in a column and in line of bearing, either at right angles or an oblique angle to the course. Also, he must be able to turn the boat smartly in response to proper maneuvering signals.

A "seaman's eye" is necessary if the coxswain is to get the hang of station-keeping. The "seaman's eye" is one which can judge distance quickly and accurately. It is especially valuable when a wave of landing boats is driving in toward the shore. When landing troops, boats must hit the beach with a certain distance between each. This insures that the entire beach is covered.

The small boat stadimeter, or distance measure, is a device which you will find helpful in judging how far another LCVP or tank lighter is standing off from your boat. This instrument consists of a small piece of wood calibrated for distances from 25 to 100 or 150 yards. (Instructions for using the stadimeter are given in Appendix F.) With it you can practice gauging distance until you develop a "seaman's eye."

Good station-keeping requires a great deal of practice. One of the best ways to become skilled is to work at the job continually. Where ever you are, keep your boat in formation. Stay in line as perfectly as you can. Make that line of bearing as true as possible.


Hydrographic Markings and Storm Warnings
Hydrographic Markings and Storm Warnings - Text: (Blinking [red], Marker for Right Side of Channel from Seaward; Blinking [blue/red], Obstruction Marker; Blinking [white], Marker for Left Side of Channel from Seaward; Blinking [green], Fairway Marker; Hurricane Warning; Small Craft Warning; N.E. Storm; Storm Warning; Night Signals - N.E. Storm, S.E. Storm, N.W. Storm, S.W. Storm); N.W. Storm; S.W. Storm,; and S.E. Storm.)


Using The Small Boat Stadimeter
Using The Small Boat Stadimeter

Using the Compass

All landing boats are equipped with an aviation type water-tight magnetic compass. Usually this compass consists of a metal housing with a small, glass window through which the coxswain can see the compass reading.

If the boat is moving in a northerly direction the letter "N" shows up behind the small window. If it is headed east the letter "E" is visible, and so forth. A vertical hair-line cuts across the middle of the glass and aids the coxswain to judge his compass course accurately. This is known as the "lubbers' line."

Between the letters N, S, E, and W, which stand for the four cardinal points of the compass, there are small lines or graduations. These represent certain of the 360° into which the compass dial is divided. If the figure 3 is in line with the hair-line, you are on a compass course of 30°. When 12 shows up the course is 120°; 24 stands for 240°, and so on. All letters and markings are luminous so that they may be seen at night.

If you, as coxswain, are told to steer a course of 150°, simply turn the wheel and change the heading of the boat until the number 15 shows up in the middle of the window. Then keep the 15 centered there.

Unfortunately, the magnetic compass does not point directly north in most places on the earth's surface. Usually there is an error of several degrees. This is due to the fact that the magnetic pole toward which the compass points and the geographical north pole are many miles apart. (The magnetic pole is actually located in the northern section of Canada.)

The difference between the geographical and magnetic poles results in the compass error called variation. This word is used because a boat's magnetic course varies from the true course it would follow if the two poles were located in exactly the same spot. The metal in a boat also influences the compass and keeps it from showing the boat's course with complete accuracy. This error is called deviation.

There are ways of correcting the reading of the compass so that the coxswain can follow a true course or one that is based on the boat's position in relation to the geographic pole. How to correct the compass for deviation and variation is explained in Appendix D.

The coxswain of the LCVP and LCM(3) will need to know how to correct his compass. Pacific islands, for example, are often mere pin points of coral and sand. If separated from other craft and "on your own" out of sight of land you must know how to follow a compass course accurately in order to reach such an island.

Many landing boats are fitted out with a magnesyn* compass as well as the usual magnetic compass. The magnesyn is a compass repeater. The compass itself is located in a part of the boat where metal is least likely to cause it to deviate. The reading of this compass is shown are repeated on a dial marked with the points and degrees usually found on a compass card. However, the magnesyn compass dial has two needles, one of which is broad and shaped like an arrow. This larger needle or pointer is controlled by a small knob with which it can be set (like a hand on a clock) to point toward any compass heading, or course, that the coxswain wishes to follow. (See illustration.)

The smaller needle swings free, and points to the direction in which the boat is headed. To follow the course for which the arrow-shaped needle or pointer is set, the coxswain simply steers the boat so that the smaller needle lines up with the larger. As long as both needles are aligned the boat is on the chosen course for which the larger needle is set.


The Watertight Magnetic and Magnesyn Compasses Used in Landing Boats
The Watertight Magnetic and Magnesyn Compasses Used in Landing Boats

Because the magnesyn is set away from the metal in the boat it is usually accurate within one or two degrees. Except under unusual circumstances the coxswain need not correct for deviation.

Knowing the Ropes

When mooring, salvaging, towing, or making emergency rigs of all kinds the entire boat crew has need for a knowledge of knotting and splicing lines. In "amphib" things are likely to happen fast and quick action and "know-how" where lines are concerned are required if damage or injury are to be avoided.

An example of the "know-how" demanded of the deckhand is found in mooring. In securing a bow or stern line to a cleat on the dock, the deckhand makes a three-quarter turn around it. Then the line is looped in a figure eight around the horns of the cleat, ending with a few turns around the base. A half-hitch is not used on the horns of the cleat. If it were, it would be difficult to free the line should the movement of the boat put it under strain. Many other examples might be used to show that each crewman should know what to do and when to do it, where splicing and knotting are concerned.

What are some of the abilities you will need in using lines aboard the tank lighter or the LCVP?

  1. Learn to tie up to a cleat as described in the second paragraph above.
  2. Know how to tie up to a bollard with a round turn and two half-hitches.
  3. Master the sheet or Becket bend, a simple means to bend together or secure two lines of different sizes
  4. Know how to tie a bowline, which serves as a temporary eye in the end of a line.
  5. Be able to splice an eye in the end of a line.
  6. Learn to apply whipping to the end of a line. This consists of a number of turns (seven or eight) of sail twine wound around the end of a rope to prevent fraying out or unlaying.
  7. Be able to make a rolling hitch. This holds one line to another without slipping. It is especially useful when you want to tie up to a sea painter on a transport (riding line).
  8. Be sure that you can make a square knot. This is useful for bending together two lines of the same size and for many other purposes.

These simple skills in working with knots and splices are a beginning only. Work on them until you can do any one of the eight with your eyes shut. Then get busy on the job of really "learning the ropes."

A Word on Cargo Loading

In the days when wooden-hulled men o'war travelled under sail one of the nightmares of the crew was the fear that a heavy cannon below decks would break loose from its mooring in a heavy sea. These cannons had no recoil mechanism, so were set on small wheels.

Once on the loose in a storm, a heavy gun rolled with each pitch of the ship and sometimes smashed a hole in the hull. It was no picnic for the crew in the warship of a century ago to risk their skins in a crowded hold to secure a runaway gun. According to old records, some men were so badly smashed that they had to be peeled off the bulkhead.


Securing the Bow Line to a Cleat
Securing the Bow Line to a Cleat


Knots - Text: (Line secured to bollard with round turn and two half hitches; beckett bend; bowline; eye splice in the end of line; rolling hitch; whipping applied to end of line; and square knot.)

A landing boat crew may run into the same sort of difficulty if cargo carried to the beach is not carefully loaded and secured. If a jeep, tank, truck, or load of any kind slips the lines that secure it (especially while in the surf) this cargo becomes deadly dangerous. Play safe! Make certain that cargo tie rings are used properly, that knots are firm, and that the lines are in no danger of parting under a strain.


[End of Chapter 7]

Published: Tue Mar 24 08:25:10 EDT 2015