A motorboat is crossing paths with a PWC. What action should be taken?

A. The motorboat should slow down and let the PWC pass because the PWC is smaller.

B. The PWC should speed up and attempt to cross in front of the motorboat.

C. The vessel on the port (left) should give way.

D. The slower-moving vessel should give way.

The answer is: C.  The vessel on the port (left) should give way. Take a look at the brief explanation of the answer below.

Driving a boat is in many ways similar to driving a car – it has its own set of rules that need to be adhered to. If you are out on busy waterways, ignorance is a luxury that you will be able to afford ill.

Many places around the world have local governing bodies putting down rules and regulations when it comes to leisure boating while there are certain international protocols that one needs to be aware of as well.

One of the most common questions that boaters pose is with regards to two boats meeting or being on overlapping courses. The query is around which boat should hold its course and which one should be altering its position. Before getting into the nitty-gritty, there are some important terms and concepts that you should take note of.

Common violations on waterways

Just as there are rules applicable for driving on a highway, the waterway too has its own set of rules of the road. A good boat operator is expected to abide by them and exhibit practices of good seamanship. The most common violations observed are:

  • Failure to maintain a proper lookout
  • Excessive speeding on the waters

Maintaining a proper lookout

A boat operator needs to ensure proper lookout throughout by sight and hearing, keeping an eye on the surroundings and recognizing possible risks of collision with other boats or obstacles.

Typically, a fellow passenger should be allocated the role of a lookout “sidekick” to help the boatman stay alert for swimmers, oncoming traffic, and other potential hazards.

Ensuring operations at a safe speed

The waterways too have demarcated speed limits that boat operators must adhere to. Where such limits are not available, they should travel at safe speeds, enabling proper and effective action to be taken such that collisions can be avoided and the boat be stopped at a safe distance from unforeseen hazards and obstructions.

Determination of position and course of direction

Even when you find yourself in boat traffic, it is possible to determine who gets the right-of-way by observing the position of each boat relative to others on the water by means of the navigation sectors concept. The sectors are:

  • The port sectors
  • The starboard sector
  • The stern sector

Is there a risk of collision?

A boat operator should make use of every available means for identifying possible risks of collision. If looking and listening cannot help confirm the possibility of a collision, then the thumb rule is to assume risk is existing and take appropriate measures for safety.

The protocol states that a boat may yet be on a collision course even when it changes direction, especially if it is a towboat, a large vessel, or one at close range.

Who gets the right-of-way?

In order to determine the right-of-way, it is important to first understand the associated terminologies.

  • Stand-on craft: Boats that enjoy the right-of-way are known as “stand-on craft”. Stand-on craft is capable of maintaining speed and direction while approaching other vessels.
  • Give-way craft: Boats not given a right-of-way are referred to as “give-way craft”. A give-way craft is required to take early, substantial measures so it can steer clear of the stand-on craft. They need to alter the speed and direction in order to avoid a collision.

Collision avoidance rules (PWC meets powerboat)

  • A head-on meeting

When a PWC and a powerboat are on course for head-on collision, each vessel is advised to move to a starboard position and pass as in a normal pattern of traffic.

  • Vessels on crossing paths

A PWC wishing to cross paths with another boat should focus on the direction of approach in order to figure out the right-of-way. If a powerboat is approaching from the starboard side, then it enjoys the right-of-way.

As the boatman of the PWC, you need to take early and substantial action to steer clear of the other vessel. If the approach of the other vessel is from the port side, then the right-of-way lies with you, and you can continue traveling with a maintained speed and course.

  • To overtake another boat

As on a highway, overtaking another vessel on waterways is also legal – you can do so either on the port side or on the starboard side. The rule for a vessel overtaking on the starboard side is to sound one single blast on the horn.

The overtaken vessel should ensure that the starboard side is clear and, for a positive signal, respond with a single blast to indicate clear passage for the overtaking boat.

If the intention is to pass on the port side, the overtaking vessel needs to sound two blasts on the horn as a signal of intent. The overtaken vessel should respond likewise with two blasts of horn after ensuring that the port side is clear so that the overtaking vessel can proceed.

In case of overtaking on either the port or starboard sides, if the vessel in front responds with five blasts of the horn, then it should be taken as an indication that the time is not right for a pass.


The information shared above should not be interpreted as legal advice. These are simply a helpful explanation of some popular boating terminologies and concepts.

It is important to have a proper understanding of the rules of the water before deciding to venture out on to the waterways. Safety is always of paramount importance and needs to be given first priority if you wish to make the most of your fun and leisurely time and activity.


  1. Water Rules & Crossing situation: Taken from the site lakeexpo.com
  2. PWC Encounters Power Boat: Retrieved from smartboater.ca
  3. About Boat Navigation, Rules & Violations: Retrieved from boatsmartexam.com


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