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

Two terms help explain these rules.

  • The 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 in course and/or speed should be large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel. (A series of small changes should be avoided.)
  • The 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.
Answer Two Questions

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
Exceptions to the Rules

The rules that follow cover most of the situations you will encounter as a recreational boater. However, be aware that there are exceptions to the rules. For example, if you approach a vessel that has less maneuverability than your vessel, the other vessel will usually be the stand-on vessel.

Navigation Rules: Definitions

For the purpose of the U.S. Coast Guard's navigation rules, the following definitions apply.

  • Vessel: Every kind of watercraft capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, including seaplanes
  • Power-driven vessel: Any vessel propelled by machinery, including a sailboat using an engine
  • Sailing vessel: Any vessel under sail and with no engine in use
  • Vessel engaged in fishing: Any vessel fishing with nets, lines, trawls, or other fishing equipment that restricts maneuverability; however, this does not include a vessel fishing with trolling lines or other fishing equipment that does not restrict maneuverability
  • Underway: Not anchored, tied to shore, or aground
  • Risk of collision: Any situation where an approaching vessel continues on a collision course (the bearing of the approaching vessel does not change), or anytime you are approaching a very large vessel