When you’re cruising along in your power boat, you’re rarely alone on the water, so you need to know, and follow, boating rules. In boat-speak, you and your vessel either stand-on course because you have the right-of-way, or you give way to a vessel and let it pass first. The action you take depends on what you and the other vessel are doing.
Sailboats under sail power only are always the stand-on vessels in crossing and meeting situations, so look out for them when you’re under power. Also, commercial vessels restricted by their draft or by fishing gear, such as nets or trawls, hold privilege over all recreational vessels, including sailboats.
Passing a boat
Your vessel: If you’re following another vessel in a river, narrow canal, or marked channel, you’re the give-way vessel, meaning you have the greater burden of responsibility should anything go wrong when you try to pass. Your vessel, in this case, is also called the burdened vessel.
The other vessel: The vessel you want to pass is the stand-on vessel. It’s privileged and the skipper can deny you passage if she thinks it’s unsafe (or doesn’t like the color of your paint).
Asking permission to pass: You sound two short blasts from your horn, signifying you’d like to pass the skipper on his port (left) side.
Receiving permission to pass: He signals back with two short blasts to say “Okay!”
Permission denied: She blasts the horn five times, signifying there’s danger involved in such a maneuver. If she doesn’t respond at all, consider it five short blasts and don’t attempt to pass.
Your vessel: You’re on a crossing course with another vessel that could result in a collision if neither boat changes course or speed.
The other vessel’s on the right: It’s the privileged or stand-on vessel and you must let it pass in front of you.
The other vessel is on the left: You’re the privileged or stand-on vessel and you must pass in front of the other vessel.
Meeting a boat head-on
Your vessel: You’re meeting another vessel head-on.
Both vessels: You should both steer to the right to such a degree that each can see the other’s intentions to pass safely portside to portside (left to left, for the landlubber).
When all else fails
When it seems like no one but you knows or follows the rules, the rules say you must give way to avoid a collision. If you exercise stand-on privilege and an accident results, you’ll be held at least partially responsible.