homepage logo

Safe at Sea: The Rules of the Road, Part IV

By Staff | Jul 9, 2019

(Editor’s note: This column is part of a series regarding Navigational Rules. Content for it was taken from the text for the America’s Boating Course, which is offered by the America’s Boating Club.)

In the previous three columns, Safe at Sea has repeatedly referred to “Stand-On Vessels” and “Give-Way Vessels,” important terms all boaters should know and then apply as they captain their boat.

In the “Rules of the Road,” knowing whether your vessel is “Stand-On” or “Give-Way,” is situational. In other words, these “identifiers” may change when overtaking another boat, meeting another vessel or crossing other boats.

When “Overtaking,” or “Meeting,” or “Crossing” another boat special rules apply. Unfortunately, the majority of boaters either 1) do not know these rules or 2) choose not to comply.

The guidelines to overtake a boat are simple.


A captain may overtake (pass) another boat on the right (starboard) or on the left (port); however, typically the one passes on the starboard side. Before doing so, the captain must make his/her intentions clear and must remember that in all situations, his/her vessel is the Give-Way boat.

– If overtaking, the captain must remain clear of the boat being passed. If appropriate, use sound signals.

– To repeat, the boat overtaking (passing) another is always the Give-Way vessel.

– The boat being overtaken is always the Stand-On boat, and safety requires this boat to maintain speed and direction.


Two boats are considered “meeting” when they are approaching nearly head-on.

– Note: In this scenario, neither vessel is Stand-On.

– Typically, two boats will turn to starboard, thus passing port-to-part.


While these procedures may seem more complicated than Meeting/Overtaking, they are similar to those applicable to a vehicle.

– From the bow of the boat to slightly aft (approximately a 112 degree curve or one-third of a circle surrounding the boat) is considered the danger zone in crossing situations. You are the Give-Way vessel to another boat crossing from this starboard angle.

Thus, this captain is required to adjust speed or course until the other vessel has crossed.

– The other boat is the Stand-On vessel and is obligated to maintain course and speed until the Give-Way vessel clearly indicates its intention.

– Obviously, if the Give-Way Vessel does not take timely action, the Stand-On boat must! (Remember the General Rule of Responsibility!)

While readers may consider themselves experienced boaters (particularly when arriving from the north), local waters are unique, and learning how to navigate these bays, estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico is important to safe boating. Sadly, the number of boating accidents in the first half of 2019 give testament to the fact that boating education is an essential component safe boating locally.

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more information on courses offered by the chapter, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 239-985-9472.