Chapter 3: Navigation Lights Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road are governed by the Collision Regulations. They spell out which vessel is the Stand-On Vessel and which vessel is the Give-Way Vessel.

They also explain actions to take for crossing, meeting and overtaking situations.

Every pleasure boat operator who must give-way to another vessel, that means the operator who has to move, must take "early and substantial action to avoid a collision."

The stand-on vessel must "maintain course and speed."

Danger (Give-Way) Zone

Danger Zone

The green sector on your boat, that sector defined by your green sidelight, is your Danger Zone or your Give-Way Zone.

This extends from the centreline on your bow (dead ahead) to 22.5º abaft the starboard beam, or 112.5º from the bow, along your starboard side.

When another skipper sees your green light, he has the right of way...green for go. When you have a boat in your green sector, you must take early and substantial action to avoid collision.

Exceptions

There are several exceptions to this rule.

  • The operator of a pleasure craft of less than 20m in length, or a pleasure sailing craft, shall not impede the passage of vessels which can navigate safely only within a narrow channel.

This generally refers to large ships or commercial vessels making way in a narrow channel where they have no room to manoeuvre. Ships may remind you of this rule by giving five short blasts of its horn.

Ships may remind you of this rule by giving five short blasts of its horn.

  • The operator of a pleasure craft less than 20m in length or a pleasure sailing craft, shall not impede the safe passage of a power driven vessel following a traffic lane.
  • The operator of a power driven craft shall take early and substantial action to avoid any vessel engaged in fishing, or any sailing vessels.
  • The operator of a pleasure sailing craft shall take early and substantial action to avoid any vessel engaged in fishing.

Sound Signals & Rules For Overtaking & Crossing

Every pleasure craft of less than 12m shall carry an efficient sound signalling device. It is used in overtaking and crossing situations and in periods of reduced visibility.

Overtaking Crossing

Overtaking: The vessel that wishes to overtake is the Give-Way Vessel. The vessel being overtaken is the Stand-On Vessel.

The Stand-On Vessel maintains course and speed. The Give-Way Vessel must take early and substantial action to avoid the Stand-On Vessel.

In the diagram above Vessel 1 is the overtaking or, Give-Way Vessel. It can overtake Vessel 2, on either side.

They will sound the following signals:

I want to pass on your starboard side: One Short Blast

Proceed: One Short Blast

I want to pass on your Port Side: Two Short Blasts

Proceed: Two Short Blasts.

If either vessel operator is not clear about the intentions of the other vessel operator in any situation, the operator should sound five short blasts.

Meeting Head On

Meeting: Head On: In the diagram above, two vessels are meeting head-on.

Since they both must take action, they will both give one short blast to indicate they will alter their course to Starboard so that they pass Port to Port.

Meeting: Crossing: In the diagram above, Vessel 1 is the Give-Way Vessel as it has the vessel on the right in its green sector.

Meeting Crossing

The Give-Way Vessel must take early and substantial action to avoid crossing in front of the Stand-On Vessel, Vessel 2 so it alters its course to starboard and adjusts its speed appropriately.

Meeting: Powerboat and Sailboat: When a sailboat under sail alone, meets a powerboat, the sailboat is the Stand-On Vessel and the powerboat is the Give-Way Vessel.

The powerboat must take early and substantial action to keep clear of the sailboat.

Powerboat and Sailboat Meeting

Rules of the Road for Sailboats

Sailboats under sail have their own rules and rights of way over each other.

Sailboat Rules of the Road

The Windward Side of a sailboat is the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried. If the mainsail is over the Starboard Side of the sailboat, the Port Side is the Windward Side.

  • If two sailboats have the wind on different sides, the vessel with the wind on the Port Side (which places the mainsail on the starboard side) is the Give-Way Vessel. The vessel with the wind on the Starboard Side, (which places the sail on the port side) is the Stand-On Vessel.
    In the diagram above, the Sailboat 1 has the wind on the Port Side and must take early and substantial action to keep well clear.
  • If two sailboats with wind on same sides, are on a collision course, the windward vessel, the vessel upwind, gives way. In the diagram above, Sailboat 1 is the Give-Way Vessel and must take early and substantial action tokeep well clear.
    Sailboat Rules of the Road
  • If a sailboat with the wind on the port side is to windward of another sailboat and cannot determine which side the other vessel has the wind on, it must take early and substantial action to keep well clear.