Last updated on February 7th, 2024
What Side Do I Pass a Boat On?
Navigating waterways can be complex, especially when it involves passing other vessels. The question, “What Side Do I Pass a Boat On?” is paramount for maintaining safety and order at sea.
- General marine traffic rule: pass on the starboard side.
- Remember “Red Right Returning” for buoy navigation guidance.
- Upstream: red buoys right, green buoys left; downstream: opposite.
- Exceptions in narrow channels or when overtaking from behind.
- Always check and follow local regulations and safety norms.
Boating is a sophisticated art, so there will be some rules to follow when you’re out there in the waters. People often boat in public waters, so they will likely be surrounded by other yachts and boats.
Therefore, to ensure safety for everyone, you can never ignore the boating rules. When another vessel crosses your path, or if you’re in their way, you must think smart and act according to your position. In this post, I will discuss passing a boat and all the variables attached.
It may seem simple enough, just like our daytime traffic, but steering a boat is a lot trickier than it appears. Therefore, knowing the rules will make you safe and sound.
When your vessel comes in course with another boat, only one vessel continues its course, which means that it will be either you or your fellow boat that gets to continue its direction and velocity.
So, a stand-on boat is the one that holds the privilege of continuing its course. In technical terms, you can call it the stand-on vessel.
Sides of a Vessel
Before starting with the passing rules, knowing the terminologies for the boat sides is useful. There are two sides, of course. If you look at your boat’s front, the right side is starboard, while the left is the port side.
The terms’ right’ and ‘left’ would be OK for beginners, but knowing the technical terms is always handy because you never know when they will be needed.
Possible Scenarios of Encountering a Vessel
Passing rules apply to vessels only when they are about to get in close contact. Generally, there are three such situations:
You may reach a point simultaneously when another vessel travels across your path.
If you’re about to meet a vessel head-on, it’s called a meeting.
It’s called overtaking when you’re trying to pass or being passed by another vessel.
Rules for Passing a Boat
The rules for boat passing depend on the type of vessel. The primary government says that the sailing vessel or a sailboat will always have the stand-on.
So, if you’re out in your Jon boat or any recreational boat and see a sailboat coming through, you need to give way.
So, the first rule says that a sailing vessel will have the stand-on when it comes in course with a powered boat. Moreover, commercial boats with fishing gear dropped into the water also stand on when held against any recreational boats.
Furthermore, as I mentioned, the passing rules depend on the boat type. We will now look at these rules by boat type. It will help you understand which idea to pass your boat on.
Rules for Motorized Boats
When your motorized boat meets another such vessel during crossing paths, there can be two conditions:
- If the other ship is on your port side, you have the right of way or stand-on.
- If the other boat is on your starboard side, it has the right of way.
In case of a head-on, the vessels must change their course towards their respective starboard sides. Hence, their port sides will pass each other.
The other vessel must take necessary action since the stand-on boat will continue its course. It can either be stopping or changing course to avoid a collision.
Rules for Sailing Boats
Only one will have the wind on its side when two sailing vessels approach head-on. So, if you’re sitting in one of these boats and the wind is on your starboard, you have the right of way. The other ship will need to change the course.
If you’re on the passing boat and the other boat is going in the same direction, you will have the wind on the same side. In this case, you must give way to the other boat and change course.
In this regard, it is essential for sailing boats not to go through shipping channels. Shipping channels require vessels to go at a certain speed.
So, if you’re in the queue, trying to use your right of way just because you’re a sailboat, it can’t happen because it’s difficult to give way on shipping channels.
Generic Passing Rules for All Vessels
Primarily, the passing rules depend on the vessel type. However, some general restrictions apply to every kind of vessel.
- Overtaking applies when approaching a vessel from behind within a 135-degree angle from its stern. Regardless of vessel type, it would help if you kept a safe distance from the boat.
- Always keep to the starboard side of a sipping channel or a harbor.
- You should avoid larger ships in a port if you have a smaller vessel.
- Stay clear of large ships over 50 meters long or more than 500 tons in a harbor.
- You cannot put your anchor down in a channel. It’s risky because a speedy vessel may not see you at all.
- Try your best to avoid a collision if the other boat doesn’t seem to be following the rules.
Are Passing Rules Universal
Most passing rules are uniform globally. However, some international regulations may differ from those I highlighted here.
Nevertheless, these rules may not be essential to remember unless you go on international voyages. It would help to look for such regulations for your specific country or region in advance.
Why don’t boats use left or right?
The answer lies in the unchanging nature of the terms’ port’ and ‘starboard.’ These terms provide steadfast references that are not influenced by the orientation of the mariner, offering an unequivocal means of communication.
On the other hand, the terms’ left’ and ‘right’ can become ambiguous and potentially confusing, as they can change relative to the direction one is facing. Mariners use ‘port’ and ‘starboard’ over ‘left’ and ‘right’ to maintain clear, error-free communication.
How do I pass a boat in a narrow channel where standard rules can’t be applied?
It’s essential to communicate your intentions clearly and well in advance in narrow channels. Use sound signals or VHF radio if necessary. The boat with more maneuverability or minor might need to take evasive action or wait for a broader section to pass safely.
How do the rules change in conditions of restricted visibility, such as fog?
In conditions of restricted visibility, rely more on sound signals and radar, if available, to communicate your presence and intentions. Using proper signals – one short blast to pass on the starboard side and two short blasts to pass on the port side – becomes crucial.
What if I encounter a boat at night and can’t determine its direction?
At night, observe the navigation lights of the other vessel to determine its direction and who has the right of way. Remember, a red light indicates a boat’s port (left) side, green indicates starboard (right), and white lights can indicate the stern (back) or that you are approaching the boat head-on.
Are passing rules specific to certain water bodies, like lakes or rivers?
Local regulations may vary depending on the water body. For example, upstream traffic might have the right of way on rivers over downstream traffic in narrow passages. Always check local boating regulations for the specific water body you’re navigating.
When navigating the waters, it’s vital to understand the fundamental rules of marine traffic for safety purposes. One of the boaters’ most frequently asked questions is, “What Side Do I Pass a Boat On?”.
The general marine traffic rule dictates that boats should pass each other on the starboard side. This rule is often remembered by the phrase “Red Right Returning,” a fundamental principle of buoy navigation guidance.
While traveling upstream, red buoys should be on your right and green buoys on your left; this rule is reversed when traveling downstream.
However, these rules have exceptions in particular instances, such as navigating narrow channels or overtaking another vessel from behind.
Regardless of the general guidelines, it’s crucial to always check and adhere to local regulations and safety norms specific to the waters you are navigating.
These local rules may vary due to geographical or climatic conditions, and failure to comply can lead to dangerous situations.
Understanding and following these marine traffic rules can ensure a safe and smooth sailing experience.