Boat Safety Tips: How To Safely Operate Your Vessel

Boat safety is not something often talked about but it’s an important topic that needs to be covered. High-powered outboard engines help anglers get to their spots faster than ever before but have drastically reduced their margin for error in boating traffic. Quick decisions must be made to avoid disaster when running a bass boat 70 to 80 mph. Increased boat traffic also makes it imperative that anglers know the basic “rules of the road” to navigate safely on our nation’s waterways. The following rules of the road can be found in the Chapman Piloting Seamanship & Small Boat Handling book by Elbert S. Maloney, a reference guide recommended by the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Boat Safety: Meeting Another Boat Head On

Boat Safety

When two power-driven boats approach each other head-on, the drivers should pass “port to port.” Neither boat has the right of way, so each boat should pass on the port (left) side of each other. This rule doesn’t apply if it appears two boats will pass clear of each other if each maintains its present course and speed. However, the Coast Guard recommends if you’re unsure of the other boat’s direction, assume you are in a meeting situation and act accordingly by turning to starboard. If a close quarters situation occurs, make a substantial course or speed change to avoid a collision.

During the day, you can see whether or not another boat is approaching on a reciprocal course, but at night you must detect the navigation lights of the oncoming craft.  If another boat approaches head-on, you should see its masthead lights (white) in a line or both of the boat’s sidelights (red and green).

Boat Safety: Crossing Paths With Another Vessel

Boat Safety

When two boats approach each other at right angles with the risk of collision, the boat on the right (stand-on vessel) has the right of way and should hold its course and speed. The other boat (give-way vessel) must yield by directing its course to starboard and passing behind the stand-on vessel.

Any boat approaching yours in an area from the bow of your boat to a point 22.5 degrees behind your boat’s beam to starboard is considered in the “danger zone’ and should be given the right of way. Altering your course to starboard is usually the best method of keeping out of the way of a vessel on your starboard bow.

Boat Safety: Overtaking Another Vessel

Boat Safety

When two boats are running in the same direction, the leading boat is designated as the stand-on vessel and the following boat is the give-way vessel.  In passing situations, the driver of the overtaking boat must give a sound signal with a horn or whistle. Two short (one second) blasts of the horn signals the stand-on vessel that you intend to pass the boat on its port side, while one short blast signifies you pass the boat on its starboard side.  

When passing a boat, you must yield to the overtaken vessel, which has the privilege to hold its course and speed. If your boat is being passed, you should maintain your course and speed to allow the trailing boat to safely overtake your vessel.  

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