Basic Rules of the Road for Sailboats
- There is no absolute right of way. The boat with the
right of way (the stand-on boat) has a duty to take evasive
action if a collision appears imminent. Otherwise, the
stand-on boat should maintain its course.
- Generally, powerboats should give way to boats under
sail. Powerboats include sailboats (even with sails up)
that are running under power.
- All boats (power & sail) should keep clear of any boat
that they are overtaking.
- Boats should keep to the right when approaching each
other head-on under power.
- Sailboats on a port tack should give way to sailboats
on a starboard tack. (A good way to remember this rule - if
the wind is coming from the right hand side of the boat,
you have the right of way.) See illustration below.
- When both boats are on the same tack, the windward
sailboat should give way to the leeward sailboat. See illustration below.
- All boats should keep a proper lookout. (Keep an eye
out to the leeward under the headsail).
- For the official rules and more information on this subject,see:
[ COLREGS: International Rules of the Road with Canadian Modifications ]
Tip for collision avoidance:
If you suspect that you are on an intercept course with
another boat in the distance, check to see if that boat is
making progress in relation to the horizon (the background
- If the boat appears to be moving ahead in relation to the
horizon, it will pass in front of you.
- If the boat appears to be falling behind in relation
to the horizon, it will pass in back of you.
- If the boat appears to be neither making progress or
falling behind in relation to the background, it is on a
collision course with you.
- Note that the rate at which the other boat appears to
be moving ahead, or falling behind, in relation to the
horizon gives you an indication of how close it will pass
by your boat. If the rate is barely noticeable, it will be
passing very close to your boat.
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Text and graphics by Michael McGoldrick.
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