Right of Way: Who Has It on the Water?

Minding your manners also applies to boating. So who has the right of way when you’re out on your boat? That depends…

First of all, always keep in mind that not everyone knows the rules of the “road” on the water. So, no matter what, you should behave defensively – providing other vessels and yourself with enough time to react in any scenario.

You should also always yield to vessels that cannot maneuver as quickly as you can. This includes everything from large ships and freighters, to sailboats not under powers, as well as kayaks, canoes and other similar crafts.

Every boater is obligated to do whatever it takes to avoid collision on the water, but boaters should also adhere to the following rules:

  • Stay to the right, allowing other vessels to pass on your port side.
  • When crossing, give way to starboard vessels, and, ideally, you want to pass behind the starboard vessel.
  • When passing another vessel, your boat should be the one to give way. Choose the side which offers a clear path to safely pass; sound your horn to indicate your intent; then increase your speed enough to overtake the other vessel, giving it a nice, wide berth.

Also remain aware of markers and colors. An important one to remember is “red, right, return,” which means you keep those red channel markers to your right upon your return; and if visibility is limited, remember that oncoming boats are required to display a starboard green light and a post red light on the bow, as well as a white light at the stern.