“Which boat has the right of way?”, the old boatman seems wonder. The question is interesting but the moment to ask it is maybe wrong.
This is why – even if the matter of right of way rules is particularly interesting in August when waters are crowded with yachtsmen – we want to deal with it now in order to refresh some notions and, maybe, a little some sense.
First of all, let’s see together how we can recognize a risk of collision against another boat. The rule is actually too simple for words: if the distance between the two boats under way decreases and bearing doesn’t change, this inevitably means that we’re on a collision course.
At this point, who has to maneuver in order to avoid collision? It depends.
Between a sailing boat and a motor one, the first always has the right of way. According to boating rules, sailing boats have right of way over any mechanically propelled boat. A sailing boat is obliged to give way to a motorboat only if the latter is experiencing some kind of difficulty restricting its maneuverability or has some draft constraints or is involved in fishing operations.
All this is true only if the sailing boat doesn’t sail under power.
Does that mean that a 7-metre boat have the right of way even over a 15,000-ton tanker? In theory yes but good sense should suggest us to change our course in this case.
A big ship, a ferry, a cargo ship will certainly have lower maneuverability than a recreational cabin-equipped boat; consequently, keeping the course would be silly and extremely dangerous.
Now, let’s see what happens when two sailing boats cross their courses. Anytime two sailboats are on opposite tack, the boat on starboard tack has the right of way; when, on the contrary, they are on the same tack, the boat most to leeward has right of way.
And what about motorboats? In this case, too, it depends on situations.
When motorboats paths cross, the boat on the other’s right is stand on and the one on the other’s left is the give way boat. If, on the contrary, the courses are opposite, the two boats have just to turn starboard.
Finally, there’s the case where a boat reaches another one. In these cases, the first always gives way. According to rules, a boat is “reaching” if it sails within 135 degrees from the boat it is reaching.
Please don’t forget that captains are always obliged to avoid collisions at sea. Constant lookout (in the cockpit or in the pilot house), strict respect for rules, caution and sense are the key elements to avoid them.