The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) were designed to ensure the safety of every one afloat. The 1972 Convention was designed to update and replace the Collision Regulations of 1960 which were adopted at the same time as the 1960 SOLAS Convention.
They apply to all vessels using the seas and in all waters connected to the sea and which are navigable by seagoing vessels. COLREGS are published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and set out the “rules of the road” to be followed by ships and other vessels at sea.
COLREGS also stipulate the various navigation lights, shapes and sound signals to be displayed or made by a vessel, in order to indicate its status to other vessels e.g. standard light configurations to indicate whether a ship is at anchor, fishing, dredging, etc.
Although rules for navigating vessels inland, or in national waters may differ, COLREGS specify that they should be as closely in line with the international rules as possible. In continental Europe, the Code Européen des Voies de la Navigation Intérieure (European Code for Vessels Navigating Inland, or CEVNI) applies. In the United States, the rules for vessels navigating inland are published alongside the international rules.
The Racing Rules of Sailing, which govern the conduct of yacht and dinghy racing, are based on the COLREGS, but differ in some important matters such as overtaking and right of way close to turning marks.
Captains and Deck Watchkeeping Officers must know the rules and be aware of the correct action to take in the event of a close encounter.