Like “Navigation Lights” (another post in this series) “Right of Way” are rules designed to avoid collisions on the water. With “Right of Way” there are actually different rules; Inland Rules, Great Lake Rules, Western River Rules, and International Rules. The set of rules used for local waterways here along the Florida panhandle are the Inland Rules. We will begin by defining a few terms.
Privileged Vessel is the one with the right of way.
Burden Vessel is the vessel who must yield to the privileged one.
Short blast would be less than 4 seconds
Prolonged blast would be 4-6 seconds
Long blast would be 8-10 seconds in duration
POWER BOAT MEETING POWER BOAT
The definition of meeting vessel would be any boat within a 12° arc of your bow.
Vessels meeting should pass each other port/port as two cars would pass each other on the highway. When passing a vessel should give 1 short blast and the alternate boat should respond with the same confirming what both captains intend to do and both understand (drawing 1). If for whatever reason if one captain sees that this is an unsafe maneuver then a DANGER SOUND (5+ short blasts) should be given. If a captain hears the DANGER SOUND they should bring the vessel to a stop until the proper signal is given. There is apparently a hazard there you may not be able to see.
This is the approved method of passing a meeting boat but a starboard/starboard pass is allowed. If the captain attends to do this 2 short blasts should be given. The same sound should be given by the other captain indicating they both understand and approve the maneuver.
By definition one vessel is crossing another when they are not meeting head on but not approaching from astern (within an arc of 23° abaft of beam).
A vessel approaching another’s starboard is the privileged vessel. The privileged vessel would be approaching the starboard side of the burdened vessel and thus approaching the “GREEN” side; Green meaning “ok” move forward” as with driving a car. At night the privileged vessel would see the “Green Starboard Light” indicating they have Right of Way. This rule forms what many captains refer to as the DANGER ZONE. The DANGER ZONE would be from dead ahead of the bow to 23° abaft the beam on the STARBOARD SIDE (see drawing 2). ANY vessel entering the captains “Danger Zone” is the privileged vessel and you should yield Right of Way. If a vessel enters you “Danger Zone” you should adjust speed and pass ASTERN of the privileged vessel. The privileged vessel should NOT change course or speed. No sound or horn blast is needed for this maneuver.
By definition overtaking another vessel is when the captain approaches a vessel from astern (drawing 3).
At night this can be determined by the fact the approaching captain cannot see the forward running lights. In this maneuver the overtaking boat is the burden vessel; the boat being overtaken is the privileged one. The preferred method of overtaking another vessel is to do this on the Port side of the vessel being overtaken. When doing this the burden vessel should sound 1 short blast on the horn. The privileged vessel should respond with 1 short blast as well to let all know that both understand the maneuver that is about to happen. IF however the privileged vessel sees a hazard ahead that the burden vessel does not they should sound the Danger blast (4 short blast). If this happens the burden vessel should slow speed and await the 1 short blast indicating the hazard is no longer there. The privileged vessel may see that a safe pass could occur on the STARBOARD side. If this is the case the privileged vessel should sound 2 short blast to communicate this to the burden vessel and the burden vessel should respond with 2 short blast to indicate that all is understood… and then begin the maneuver.
Today many captains communicate these maneuvers via marine radio; particularly barge captains in the Intracoastal Waterway. They will indicate they are “passing on the #1” (port side) or “passing on the #2” (starboard pass). YOU SHOULD HAVE YOUR MARINE RADIO TUNED TO CHANNEL 16 SO THAT YOU CAN HEAR THESE REQUEST FROM OTHER CAPTAINS.
Restricted waters in this sense are channels that restrict maneuverability for larger vessels. Vessels moving in restricted waters should travel as they would on a highway – as far starboard as they can passing port/port. Vessels who are restricted to the channel are the privileged vessels. If the restricted channel contains a long bend and there is limited vision around it (less than ½ a mile) then the vessel should sound 1 long blast and await a response.
Under the Inland Rules of the Road vessels leaving berth should sound 1 long blast. Though this IS the rule most boaters who berth within marinas do not sound their horns as they are leaving or returning. HOWEVER when leaving or returning to port the captain should be aware what other vessels are doing and give this warning sound to let others know you are there and what you are doing. All vessels requiring special berthing (i.e. ferrys, etc.) are PRIVILEGED vessels when entering or leaving their berths.
SAIL BOATS MEETING SAIL BOATS
Sailing vessels BOTH OF WHICH ARE UNDER SAIL should follow these Rules of the Road.
– A sailboat running free is burden to one who is close hauled
– If both sailboats are close hauled the one with a starboard tack is the privileged one
– If both sailboats are running free the one with a starboard run is the privileged one
– If both sailboats are running free and moving in the same direction the leeward boat is privileged
– A sailboat with wind abaft is the burden vessel
These sailing Rules of the Road DO NOT apply during yacht racing
Sailing vessels are NOT required to use sound devices when making their maneuvers
Sailing vessels under power (whether sail is up or not) ARE POWER VESSELS and must use those rules
SAIL BOATS MEETING POWER BOATS
Sailing vessels are privileged over power vessels UNLESS the sailboat is over taking a power boat or the power boat is a fishing vessel engaged in fishing. Barges have Right of Way over all in the Intracoastal Waterway.
Vessels engaged in fishing (using nets, trawls, or lines) have Right of Way over other vessels. HOWEVER fishing vessels do NOT have the right to block navigation channels while fishing.
– Privileged vessels must maintain course and speed when maneuverers are occurring
– Burden vessels should pass privileged vessels astern
– Sailing vessels under power must use sound signals
– Any vessel backing down at full speed should blow 3 short blast if other vessels approach
– When approaching a drawbridge 3 short blast indicates bridge will open now, 4 blast in a few minutes – though most captains and bridge tenders communicate via marine radio
a) Power vessels – 1 prolonged blast / minute
b) Sailing vessels
- Starboard tack – 1 short blast / minute
- Port tack – 2 short blast / minute
- Abaft – 3 short blast / minute
c) Tow vessels – 1 prolonged blast followed by 2 short blasts / minute
d) Anchored – ring bell for 5 seconds / minute (unless in special anchorage area)
e) ALL VESSELS SHOULD MOVE AT MODERATE SPEEDS IN FOGGY CONDITIONS
Again there are different rules if you are navigating the Great Lakes, Western Rivers, or cruising open sea in international waters. Captains navigating these waters should consult those Rules of the Road prior to departure.
For additional information check the following website:
For other articles in this series please visit the marine science section of the Escambia County Extension website: https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/escambiaco