Two powerboats are about to cross paths. what should the boat on the starboard (right) do?

A. Speed up to cross in front of the other boat.

B. Speed up and turn toward the other boat.

C. Maintain course and speed but stay alert.

D. Shoot a flare and sound a danger signal on a horn or whistle.

The answer is C: Maintain course and speed but stay alert.

The starboard boat must maintain the speed, and the route but should be alert at the same time especially when another power-driven boat is approaching from the front. One boat is supposed to give way to another vessel on the same route.

Right of way

When you are out on a boat, you need to be aware of the boating rules. Just like vehicles on the road have rules to follow to ensure safety and avoid accidents, boats on water also must follow the rules to remain safe.

You and your vessel either give-way and let the other vessel pass first or stand-on course if you have the right of way. The general right of way rules are as follows:

Passing a vessel

Your vessel: If you are following another boat in a marked channel, river or narrow canal, then you are the boat that gives way. Your boat is the burdened vessel as you bear the burden of responsibility if anything goes wrong when you try to pass the other boat.

The other vessel: The boat that you want to pass is the stand-on boat. That boat has the privilege to allow or deny you passage.

Ask for permission: You sound two short horn blasts signifying you want to pass on the other boat’s left side.

Receive permission: If the other boat replies by again sounding two short blasts that means its ok to pass.

Denied permission: If the other boat gives five horn blasts, it means there is danger in passing. If there is no response, then too, consider that permission is denied to cross.

Crossing paths

Your vessel: If you are on a crossing course with a different vessel then there could be a collision if no one changes course.

The other vessel on the right: This will be the privileged vessel or stand-on, and you must let them pass before you.

The other vessel on the left: You are the stand-on or privileged vessel, and you get to pass in front of the other vessel.

Head-on meeting with a boat

Both vessels: Both vessels must steer to the right, so both can see each other’s intention to pass safely, port side to port side.

Rules for approaching a non-power vessel

The right of way rule may differ in case of a non-power vessel. If you approach a vessel that is without any motor power, then they get the right of way. Non-power vessels include kayaks, rowboats, sailboats and watercraft like fishing tubes.

A sailboat must be under sail to be considered as a non-power vessel. If they use a small outboard motor, then they have the same right of way as other motorboats.

Rules for approaching a power-driven vessel

If two vessels with the same priority for right of way approach, then the differentiating factors for right of way is the direction of travel and position.

For determining the position of the other vessel in comparison to your own, you must know the different sectors of your own vessel – stern, port, starboard etc. Use the following rules to determine the right of way:

-If other vessel approaches from the port or your left side, you will have the right of way and must maintain the direction and speed of your boat.

-If a vessel is going to cross your path from your right or starboard, then they have the right of way. You must alter your course to ensure safe distance in a manner that makes it evident to the other boat.

-If a vessel approaches your boat from the stern, then it doesn’t have the right of way. You must maintain your course and speed.

-If a vessel is overtaking another, then the vessel in front always has the right of way and must be allowed to proceed unhindered. This also applies even if the vessel behind has a higher priority for right of way, like a sailboat.

At night boats put on navigational lights to determine who has the right of way.

-If you see a red light on the other vessel, then it is indicating their port side. This means they have the right of way and you must not stop them.

-If you see a navigational light that is green, then you are probably approaching the boat from their right side, and you have the right of way.

-If you want to know that you are overtaking another vessel at night, find their stern white light to steer clear. It shines 22.5 degrees on either side of the boat.

Right of way between different types of boats or watercrafts

-A vessel restricted in its maneuvering ability or a boat not under command; both these vessels have the same priority in right of way.

-A boat with commercial fishing equipment installed has the right of way.

-A vessel approaching another from astern must give them the right of way.

-A vessel that Is not powered or is under sail has the right of way.

-A motorboat has the last priority after all the watercraft mentioned above.


Boating and sailing are great activities, but care must be taken to follow the rules and prevent accidents. It is important to be on a lookout while operating a watercraft. Some other tips on boating would be to watch out for tugboats and the like.

In an open ocean, they have a submerged tow-line with a lot of distance between them and the vessel being towed. Also, never cross in front of large commercial ships and tankers. They appear to move hardly, but actually, are moving quite fast.


  1. Different types of Boating rules: Taken from
  2. Navigation rules for power-driven vessels: Taken from
  3. Determining the right way of boating: Taken from


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here