Rules on the water are just as important as rules on the road. If one boat is overtaking another, which boat must give-way? What if one vessel is overtaking another? The vessel priority list is essential to remember while on the water. It is helpful to understand different possible maneuvering situations as well. Whether you enjoy the water or an emergency happens, it is crucial to understand the right of way between boats.
Importance of boating rules
Between 600 and 700 deaths yearly are due to boating accidents. Some places have seen an increase in fatalities on the water. Causes vary, but the importance of boater safety and understanding the rules will help to minimize accidents. Knowing which boat has the right of way is integral to avoiding crashes on the water. A devasting incident in Virginia shows the importance of boating safety. The two boats were rounding a turn quickly, resulting in a collision and two fatalities. Accidents on the water can be just as deadly as car accidents.
Boat overtaking rules
The water is an open place, with many regulations that must be followed to ensure everyone’s safety. Rule 13 of the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea is specific to overtaking and that the overtaking vessel should keep out of the way of the boat being overtaken. It isn’t necessarily a complex rule, but some factors and variables need to be known.
One boat is overtaking another; which boat must give-way?
A quick guide to understanding which boat must give-way
Knowledge of which vessel will be the one to make apparent changes in speed or course is vital. Here is a quick guide:
- Which will be the give-way?
- Power vs. Power – Overtaker is give-way
- Power vs. Sailboat – Overtaker is give-way
- Meeting head on
- Power vs. Power – Both are give-way vessels and should turn right
- Power vs. Sailboat – Power-driven must give-way
- Crossing paths
- Power vs. Power – The vessel on the left is give-way
- Power vs. Sailboat – Power-driven must give-way
What is a give-way vessel?
The give-way vessel is the one that will change speed, course, or stop.
A power-driven vessel is overtaking another vessel from behind
If you are in a power-driven vessel and are approaching another power-driven vessel from behind, overtaking will make you the give-way. You may overtake the boat on either right or left, whichever is safest.
A power-driven vessel is meeting head-on or crossing paths with a sailboat
How two boats approach one another is also a variable of who must give-way.
If a power-driven vessel is either meeting head-on or crossing paths with a sailboat, the power-driven vessel must give-way.
Two power-driven vessels meet head-on
If two power-driven vessels meet head-on, both will give-way and should turn to their right.
Two power-driven vessels will cross paths
If two power-driven vessels will cross paths, the vessel on the left is the give-way.
One boat is overtaking another; which boat should stand-on?
What does stand-on mean?
The stand-on vessel will maintain its course and speed. Which boat should stand-on is also determined by how they are approaching and how they are propelled. Vessels may approach differently, and there are rules that dictate who should stand-on and stay the course.
Which vessel is the stand-on in overtaking
In an overtaking scenario, regardless of power-driven or sailboat, the boat being overtaken is the stand-on. The stand-on vessel should not make any changes until the overtaking is clear and it is safe to do so. The stand-on vessel is responsible for not making changes and should be aware of its surroundings even though they are not making changes.
Two power boats meeting head on
If a power boat is meeting another power boat head-on, then neither is the stand-on. Both vessels must make adjustments.
Power-driven meeting sailboat head-on
If a power-driven meets a sailboat head-on, then the sailboat is the stand-on vessel.
Two power-driven boats crossing paths
Crossing paths between two power-driven boats, the vessel on the right would be the stand-on.
Sailboat and power-driven crossing paths
If a sailboat and power boat cross paths, the sailboat is the stand-on. The stand-on will be the opposite of the give-way except when both vessels need to adjust.
Which will be the stand-on?
- Power vs. Power – Overtaken is the stand-on
- Power vs. Sailboat – Overtaken is the stand-on
- Meeting head on
- Power vs. Power – Neither, both need to make adjustments
- Power vs. Sailboat – The sailboat is the stand-on
- Crossing paths
- Power vs. Power – The vessel on the right is the stand-on
- Power vs. Sailboat – Sailboat is the stand-on
One boat is overtaking another, which boat must give-way and stand-on – A detailed guide.
Factors that determine the right of way in boating
A priority list of vessels determines which has the right of way. While out on the water, you must consider the vessel you are on. Is it power-driven or not? When encountering another watercraft, you will also have to identify whether they are power-driven or not. Then the situation, are you coming up from behind, coming head-on, or crossing paths?
What give-way and stand-on mean
The give-way vessel is the boat changing speed or course. The stand-on vessel will maintain its direction and speed.
The priority list of stand-on vessels
- A vessel not under command or restricted ability to maneuver
- This could include unexpected circumstances such as engine or steering failure.
- A vessel being overtaken
- This is when a vessel is coming up from behind another.
- A boat that is fishing
- A boat that is actively engaged in fishing limits its ability to maneuver.
- A sailboat or vessel that is not power-driven
- Due to the lack of power and maneuverability, these are given the right of way.
- A power-driven vessel
- Have to give-way to many other vessels.
The possible maneuvering situations may also factor into who should give-way and who should stand-on. The first is meeting head-on. Meeting head-on is when two vessels are directly headed toward one another. If you are in a power-driven vessel and the other boat is power-driven, both will be the give-way vessel. Both should turn to the right or starboard. Both boats will move to avoid a collision. If the approaching boat is a sailboat or not power-driven, it will be the stand-on, and the power-driven vessel is the give-way and needs to adjust.
If two power-driven vessels cross paths, the vessel on the left is the give-way and needs to change course or speed. If a power-driven vessel crosses paths with a sailboat, the power-driven is the give-way, and the sailboat would stand-on.
Finally, overtaking is when one vessel is coming from behind another. Power-driven or not, the boat overtaking will give-way, and the overtaken vessel will stand-on and not change until the other boat is clear. Evaluating every situation is vital, ensuring you follow the rules and avoid collisions.
Extra Information: Terms and lights
There is more information that can help you to determine who has the right of way. Many nautical terms are involved in boating. When you are standing on a boat facing forward toward the bow, on the right is starboard and on the left is port. Lights on boats will reflect their respective sides by having a red light on the left and green light on the right. Behind you will be called the stern. There are also white lights displayed that mean different things. A stern light is a white light seen from another vessel’s rear. A masthead light is a white light that shines forward and on both sides. Lights may not be easily spotted in the daylight, but knowing what the lights mean is essential if you ever boat at night or in low visibility.
FAQ on overtaking boats
- One boat is overtaking another; which boat must give-way?
- The boat that is overtaking must give-way. The overtaking boat is the one coming from behind to go around. You can go right or left, whichever is the safest option.
- One boat is overtaking another; which boat should stand-on?
- The boat being overtaken should stand-on. Meaning you keep the same course and speed as before.
- What should you do if you are operating a motorboat being overtaken by a sailboat?
- If you are being overtaken by a sailboat, you will stand-on, keeping the same speed and course until the sailboat is safely overtaken and clear.
- If a sailboat and a motorboat are both underway, when is the sailboat the give-way vessel?
- Generally, the sailboat is the stand-on vessel in most scenarios. If a sailboat is overtaking a motorboat, then the sailboat would be the give-way vessel.