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Safe at Sea: The pecking order, right of way priority

By Staff | Jan 28, 2020

The Navigational Rules of the Road are clear in terms of the “right of way.” Most boaters are familiar with which vessel is the “stand-on” vessel when two boats meet, whether head-on or at a four-way intersect. A refresher might be in order: the “stand-on” vessel is the boat which has the right to continue on course; the “give-way” vessel does not have the right to remain on course and must alter its direction.

What some boaters may not be as familiar with is what is known as the “pecking order,” which gives priority to some vessels over others, even under the navigational rules. In general, the pecking order states that the boat with more maneuverability will be required to give way to one that has less. This maneuverability can often be situational: for example, a large boat in a narrow channel has less maneuverability than a smaller vessel.

That said, the pecking order gives the following priority based on vessel status:

– Priority 1: Overtaken vessel

Simply, a boat that is being passed by another has the right of way. This is an often-neglected rule among boaters in local waters.

– Priority 2: Vessel not under command

In short, this is a boat which has no steerage and no power. In our local waters, this surfaces most frequently with boats that are anchored. Giving way to anchored boats whose passengers are fishing. Is a frequent occurrence. (An aside: What comes to mind is also a boat that has “run aground.”)

– Priority 3: Boats with restricted maneuverability

This includes more than the afore-mentioned large boats in narrow channels. Included are underwater operations (think dive boats) and dredging boats, as well as tugs with barges.

– Priority 4: Fishing or trawling boats (not trolling boats)

Remember that commercial fishing boats are included in this category.

– Priority 5: Sailing boats

Under sail, boats lack the capacity to maneuver as swiftly as those under power. A sail boat under power, however, does not have priority status.

– Priority 6: Power-driven vessels

This includes all vessels “powered by machinery.

– Priority 7: Sea planes (lowest priority)

The boat’s captain is responsible for complying with the Navigational Rules. The General Rule of Responsibility, though, takes precedence over all: The skipper must comply with the navigational rules and take every precaution to avoid immediate danger – including departing from the rules!

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.