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  • Writer's pictureMTC

Boating rules made easy...

When you’re cruising along in your power boat and notice other vessels in your vicinity you will need to know and follow the boating rules. In nautical language you and your vessel will either become the stand-on vessel because you have the right-of-way, or you will become the give-way vessel and let the other pass first. The action you take however depends on what you and the other vessel are doing.


Sailboats under sail power only, commercial vessels restricted by their draft or work, fishing vessels restricted by fishing gear such as nets or trawls, diving vessels and vessels not under control are always the stand-on vessels in crossing and meeting situations, so look out for them when you’re under power. They all hold privilege over all recreational power vessels.


  • Your vessel: If you’re following another vessel in a river, canal or channel then you are seen as the give-way vessel, which means you have the greater burden of responsibility should anything go wrong when you try to pass. Your vessel, in this case, is also called the burdened vessel.

  • The other vessel: The vessel you want to pass is the stand-on vessel. It’s privileged and the skipper can deny you passage if he thinks it’s unsafe.

  • Asking permission to pass: You sound two short blasts from your horn, signifying you’d like to pass the skipper on his port (left) side or one short blast to signify you want to pass on his starboard (right) side.

  • Receiving permission to pass: He repeats the sound signal you have just given to acknowledge which side you will be passing and gives you the go-ahead.

  • Permission denied: He blasts the horn five times, signifying there’s danger involved in such a manoeuvre.


  • Your vessel: You’re on a crossing course with another vessel that could result in a collision if neither vessel changes course or speed.

  • The other vessel is on the starboard (right) side: It’s the privileged or stand-on vessel and you must let it pass in front of you.

  • The other vessel is on the port (left) side: You’re the privileged or stand-on vessel and you must pass in front of the other vessel.


  • Your vessel: You’re meeting another vessel head-on.

  • Both vessels: You should both steer to the starboard (right) to such a degree that each can see the other’s intentions to pass safely port-side to port-side (left to left).


When it seems like no one but you knows or follows the rules, the rules say you must give way to avoid a collision. If you exercise stand-on privilege and an accident results, you’ll be held at least partially responsible.

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