Fishing For A Right Of Way
By Bob Adriance
If you browse a fishing forum, there's a good chance you'll read a post from someone who was trolling seven rods along with a pair of planer boards spanning 50 feet out from either side of their boat, and they're upset because other vessels, especially sailboats, didn't observe "the right of way" rules. In this case, everyone involved is wrong. Some anglers are convinced, because they're trolling all these lines 50-250 feet behind the boat, or using outriggers that can span 100 feet across their course, that this entitles them to a right-of-way status because there is less maneuverability. Yes, there is less ability to correct a course but no, there isn't any privilege to being the stand-on vessel. Another problem with this idea is the other vessel in a crossing situation probably isn't aware the angler is trolling. So, here's how to handle trolling lines:
- Even though a boat has lines in the water and is underway, it has absolutely nothing to do with having the right of way over other vessels. In fact, the boat on starboard has the right of way when two vessels are crossing. The number of lines in the water has nothing to do with it.
- If you're in a crossing situation with a boat that's trolling lines, slow down, let them pass, speed up and cross ahead of their direction without creating a large wake, or just put the engine in neutral and let them pass, allowing lines being pulled to clear your prop.
- BoatUS Magazine electronics editor (and avid troller) Lenny Rudow suggests the following if a boat is about to pass over your lines while trolling: "If someone is about to cross over your lines, shift into neutral and allow your lures to sink, thus pulling your lines down and reducing the chance the other boat will snarl them. And if you have to shift into neutral to avoid running over someone else's lines, don't forget to reel in your own deep lines, so they don't fall to the bottom and become snagged." Rudow also notes that trolling depths vary from place to place; in the Great Lakes, they're in deeper water while on the ocean, they can be run along the surface.
- A sailboat under sail and without engine power has the right of way over powerboats in its path. That said, sailors should be aware of boat traffic and, right of way or not, avoid creating a situation where contact with another vessel is possible. It's easier to tack than deal with insurance companies.
- Similarly, if there is any concern you, or the other boat, may not have an understanding of the right-of-way rules, then the simple thing to do is make a big circle, allowing the boat in question (and its lines) to pass. Remember, the most important navigation rule is to avoid a collision with another boat at all costs. Time may be lost but both boats, and crew, will be safe.
A fishing technique by which you drag lures or bait behind a moving boat to attract the hungry fish
The COLREGS govern our responsibilities as vessel operators, both in inland and international waters
Often-missed questions from the BoatUS Foundation Free Online Boating Safety Course