Right Of Way

All the gear in the world won't help unless you know the basic rules.

The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) say if you are in immediate danger, then a departure from the right-of-way rules may be necessary. Put another way: Don't hit the other boat even if the rules say you're the privileged vessel. See Rules for exact language at the USCG Navigation Center Navigation Center.

Tactics Boaters Must Know:

  • Illustration of meeting another boat head on
    Illustration of boats crossing
Illustration of sailboat vs. powerboat right away

1. Meeting another boat head on: Pass on their port and steer to their starboard. If the approaching boat doesn't show intentions of doing this, the burden is on you to clearly steer to starboard or port and move out of the other boat's path.

2. Crossing: The boat on your starboard side is the privileged/stand-on vessel so it has right of way, and you should steer toward the boat's stern so as to avoid any confusion. That said, if you are the privileged vessel but the other boat shows no intention of changing course, then slow down and let it pass or steer behind it.

3. Sailboats: If under sail, they have right of way. If they're under power, consider the vessel a powerboat and follow the established rules. 

— Published: Fall 2013


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