How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Who has the “Right-of-Way?”

Hierarchy of right-of-way; from highest right-of-way to the lowest right-of-way on the water explained. Which vessel has the most right-of-way of all is the main question, so here’s a quick guide to situations.

I think of it as a totem pole; with the vessel with the most right-of-way at the top, and the lowest at the bottom. Here goes!

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Overtaken Vessel

This vessel has top priority, and top right-of-way on the water.

If you are fast enough to pass someone, then you are the “give-way” vessel; the one you are overtaking is the “stand on,” meaning they should stand on course and speed, and you move around them.

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

NUC Not Under Command

Remember that “A” is the first letter of the alphabet, and has three sides, so, Aground, Adrift, Anchored.

Other than being overtaken; Not Under Command is the top on the totem pole of right-of-way.

Any of those vessels can’t give way even if they wanted!

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

RAM Restricted in the Ability to Maneuver

This would be a vessel like an aircraft carrier that needs a mile to make a turn, or a dredge.

Any vessel, that, due to it’s design or work, cannot move easily to avoid others has right-of-way. 

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

CBD Constrained by Draft

The cruise ship in the channel, the sailboat in a small channel with jet skis around; these have right-of-way due to required draft.

Technically, this is for International Waters, not Inland, however, it’s followed by most as a courtesy even inland to the vessel limited by her draft.

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Fishing

Not jon boat, dog, and cooler, but actual fishing as in dragging a lot of nets and big tackle – nets, lines, trawls – fishing apparatus that precludes quick maneuvering gives them right-of-way.

Not to be confused with trolling, which is dragging a few lines and allows fur turns and does not actually restrict their ability to maneuver!

This is commercial endeavor; serious people earning their tough living; not million-dollar sport fishing machines that can turn on a dime.

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Sailing Vessels Under Sail

Next to the bottom of the totem pole of right-of-ways, and, sailboat are not even sailing all the time.

So, sailing vessels only have right-of-way when they are actually sailing and not overtaking anyone at all, or dealing with any of the aforementioned situations.

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Power

Vessels under power have the least right-of-way.

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Manually Propelled Vessels

Pedestrians of the Sea

Then there’s those underpowered  or manually-propelled cases; paddle boards and kayaks and people doing yoga on floating planks. I like to think of them as pedestrians; somewhere between fishing and sailing. They can’t really move easily…

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Rafted Sailboats at Anchor

Over whom do they have right-of-way? Why?

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

Sailing Vessel Under Power in a Narrow Channel

Over whom do they have right-of-way? Why? When?

What to read next: US Aids to Navigation – Red Right Returning

boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

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boat right-of-way vessel, How to Know If You Have Right of Way When You Are On the Water

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