Rules-Of-The-Road Refresher For Boaters

The long offseason can make any skipper a bit rusty. Here are the rules that will help you avoid a collision.

Head on passing boats illustration
Head On: Keep right or steer to starboard. Pass port to port, like cars.
Boat crossing danger zone illustration
Crossing: Give way to a boat ahead and to starboard. If a boat is in your danger zone, defined as an arc measuring from zero to 112.5 degrees, alter course, slow, or stop.
Passing boats illustration
Passing: When overtaking another boat, give way and steer clear.

As you encounter another vessel in motion, ask yourself two questions: Do I have priority in the pecking order? And consequentially, am I the stand-on or give-way vessel? If two vessels have equal priority, follow the examples in the illustration.

The Pecking Order

A vessel lower on the list below must give way to those higher on the list. Generally, recreational powerboats must yield to other types of traffic.

1. Unable to steer
2. Limited turning ability
3. Restricted by draft (commercial ship)
4. Commercial boats engaged in fishing
5. Sail and human-powered boats
6. Recreational powerboats

Give-Way Boat (red): Must alter course and speed to avoid a collision.

Stand-On Boat (Green): Must maintain course and speed unless a risk of collision is imminent.

Aids to navigation mark the edges of a channel and define a course through deep(er) water. They typically don't appear side by side, as in this illustration, but rather are staggered on either side as necessary.

Aids to navigation illustration

Lighted marks are often found at headlands and at entrances to rivers or channels. Cans are always green and odd numbered, while nuns are cone-shaped on top, always red, and even numbered.

Similarly, green daybeacons are square and odd, while red daybeacons are triangular and even.

Orange and white markings indicate information or danger, including speed restrictions, shoals, or other hazards. 

— Published: June/July 2015


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