Safe Boating

The right of way


Boating is ever increasing in popularity in our beautiful bay, with over 12 million people visiting each year, but this causes more and more close encounters. How do we keep these from becoming collisions? What are the rules that keep us safe in these situations?

You have plotted a course and are steering straight. You notice a boat on your left and slightly ahead of you on a course that will collide with you if nothing changes. Who should alter course and who should continue? The term "stand on vessel" refers to the boat on course who has the right of way. The "give way vessel" is the one who must stay clear of the other one.

You just have to figure out if you are the stand on boat or the give way.

There is a hierarchy for stand on vessels. Sailboats – under sail only – normally have the top right of way, unless they are overtaking another boat. If a sailboat turns on his motor, he immediately is under powerboat rules and goes down in the pecking order. Of course there are much more detailed rules of the road, such as even a sailboat can't expect a tanker to get out of its way. Use common sense.

The position of the vessel also determines who has the right of way. You may be meeting head on, crossing, or overtaking. If two powerboats are meeting head on, neither is the stand on boat and both must turn a bit to avoid a collision. Generally, each turns to the right. If you want to communicate which way you are turning to the other boat you could give two blasts for turning to your left or one for turning to your right. Of course if you are close, slow down, and if it is the sailboat, he has the right of way, so watch out for him.

How about a crossing situation? What if a boat is approaching you off your right bow and slightly ahead? Your danger zone is from dead ahead to about

112 degrees on your right. If another boat is in that area, you are the give way boat and you need to make the course adjustment. Again, sailboats would have the right of way.

If one boat is overtaking another, he is the give way vessel and the one in front is the stand on vessel, even if the overtaking vessel is a sailboat.

You know how your boat is lit, and you can use this to determine the right of way at night. In a crossing situation, if you see a white light and a lower red light, the boat is approaching you from your right and has the right of way. If you see a white light and a lower green light, it is coming from your left (you are seeing his starboard side) and you have the right of way. If you see a white light and both red and green lights, he is coming straight at you and you both need to turn. If you see only a white light, either he is anchored or you are overtaking him. You need to look out for him.

Above all, there is the General Prudential Rule which states that all vessels, whether they have the right of way or not, shall take all necessary actions to prevent a collision. If another boat is the give way vessel and is absolutely wrong in continuing on his course, don't glare at him and hold your course and speed, if that would be a dangerous situation. We don't need "road rage" on the water. You can mumble whatever you want, but do all you can to prevent a collision.


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