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Rules of the Road

With many boaters beginning to hit the water for some Spring fishing, the time is right to review some basic rules of the road to keep everyone safe. I highly recommend the free Aids to Navigation Brochure produced by the U.S. Coast Guard. In this blog post, we will cover the three most common situations.


Overtaking is like passing on the highway, except that it’s ok to use the horn. In this situation the Stand-on Vessel must maintain course and speed while the Give-Way Vessel completes the overtaking maneuver. Keep in mind that the Give-Way Vessel does NOT become the Stand-On Vessel until after he is past the midship of the vessel being overtaken.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Meeting Head-On:

In a head-on situation, neither vessel is the Stand-On. They are both Give-Way vessels because they are both required to move to Starboard (that means move to the right for you landlubbers) and pass Port-to-Port.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard

Crossing Situation:

In a crossing situation, the vessel with the other on the right (Starboard) side is required to take action. He can reduce his speed and maintain his course, maintain speed and alter course to Starboard, or reduce speed AND alter course to Starboard. Regardless of the choice, the end result must be that he pass to the stern of the Stand-On Vessel.

Photo courtesy of the U.S Coast Guard

And the Most Important Rule: Assume The Other Guy Doesn’t Know The Rules!

Unfortunately, nobody flies an idiot flag. So keep yourself safe by always keeping proper lookout, and ask your crew to be observant too. The more sets of eyes and ears paying attention, the safer everyone will be. Remember, there comes a point when it doesn’t matter who is the Stand-On and who is the Give-Way vessel – do whatever is necessary to avoid a collision. When in doubt, sound it out… with 5 short blasts. The danger signal should get their attention!

Wishing you fair winds and calm seas.


Capt. Frank