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There are rules that every operator must follow when encountering other vessels.

Two terms help explain these rules:

  • Give-way vessel: The vessel that is required to take early and substantial action to keep well away from other vessels by stopping, slowing down, or changing course. Avoid crossing in front of other vessels. Any change of course and/or speed should be large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel. (A series of small changes should be avoided.)
  • Stand-on vessel: The vessel that must maintain its course and speed unless it becomes apparent that the give-way vessel is not taking appropriate action. If you must take action, do not turn toward the give-way vessel or cross in front of it.

The action a vessel operator should take when encountering another vessel depends on the answers to two questions.

  • How are the two vessels propelled?
    • Two power-driven vessels
    • Two sailing vessels
    • A power-driven vessel and a sailing vessel
  • How are the two vessels approaching one another?
    • Meeting head-on: A vessel operator sees another vessel ahead or nearly ahead
    • Paths that cross: Two vessels are on crossing paths so as to involve risk of collision
    • Overtaking: A vessel is coming upon another vessel from behind or nearly behind the other vessel