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avoid boat crashesNavigation Rules for passing, crossing, and meeting situations, protect boaters and can help them possibly avoid a boat crash. If you don’t have a copy of the navigation rules on your boat, you should. Larger boats are legally required to have these rules onboard.  

Basic Terminology

The boat with the right of way is the stand-on vessel and is obligated to maintain course and speed.

The give-way vessel is obligated to act to avoid the collision, usually by slowing down, changing course, or both.

There will be incidences when you are the stand-on vessel, obviously positioned to approaching traffic, but for some reason, the give-way vessel fails to follow the rules. You will need to make a quick decision to avoid a collision “as soon as it becomes apparent” that the give-way boat isn’t moving out of the way.

Ships at sea and slower boats, like sailboats under power, pontoons, and boats that are cruising have plenty of time to react in this situation. However, some waterways are more congested with boats regularly running at planing speed. This requires much faster action to navigate the many meeting and crossing situations happening continually.

Rules to Remember

If your boat is starboard (right) you have the right of way.

There is a danger zone when a boat is positioned from dead ahead with an arc two points (22 degrees) in either direction abaft (in front of) the starboard beam. This position has the right of way.

At night, running lights communicate by color. Red lights mean “stop” because you are the give-way vessel, while green means “go” and indicates that you are the stand-on vessel.

Regardless of who actually has the right of way, when someone isn’t following the rules, act quickly to avoid a collision. Never stand on principle when lives are a stake.



Falvey, K., 2014. Tips for Avoiding a Boat Crash, https://www.boatingmag.com/tips-for-avoiding-boat-crash