Who Has Right of Way at Sea?

Michigan Boating Boat Crossing Rules Guide from fishweb.com

In Short Size Does Matter!

Traditionally ‘sail before steam’ is the maxim that is often stated, and traditionally (in days of yore) respect for the rules of theroad’ were respected.  However, a touch of pragmatism is called for in todays world. Sure, when sailing the Bay motor powered boats will usually give way because a sail boat is harder to manoeuvre and losing the wind can be a problem for them, whereas motive power boaters can always open the throttles and get back under way.

There is a risk attached and this is why it makes sense to have a rule that is recognised generally and acted upon. If boating people are under sail it makes sense for them to know what to expect from the oncoming traffic, when people break the rules it is to everyone’s detriment. As with most laws in this world they are put in place to protect people and create a recognisable order.

However, it is good to be a pragmatist! Keeping watch on any boat is important so that one always knows what is happening, and what may happen in some circumstances. Hope for the best but plan for the worst! Sail boats do get run down by other boats/ships at sea, don’t be one of them!

Michigan Boating Boat Crossing Rules Guide from fishweb.com
Michigan Boating Boat Crossing Rules Guide from fishweb.com

Consider that (too) many ocean-going ships: container ships, oil tankers, general cargo carriers, and (rarely) naval vessels – the US Navy was guilty of this a couple of years ago and others do sail without due care and attention. It is known that long-haul ships set the auto pilot, leave a token watch on the bridge and go to bed.

The Maritime Post described a new container carrier, September 2016 and posted in Facebook on 26/09/2018, that can carry 15,000 containers, and has a crew compliment of just 13. There are vast oil tankers and gas carriers that weigh in at half a million tonnes and more, they too carry a small crew.

A ship so large, in all fairness, will take a great deal of skilled manoeuvring and will respond to the helm and the request for more or less power over a distance measured in miles, do not expect large boats/ships to stop for you whilst sailing your half tonner – or any sail boat, they cannot do it! Likewise, the crew of a large vessel simply will not see you from the bridge and it is likely that your small boat will not appear on their radar scopes – even if they are being watched.

Safety first.

Many amateur boating fans will sail from harbours or areas adjacent to them, many marinas operate in and around major ports across the world. Learn where the sea lanes are, military ships and commercial vessels need deep water and will follow the prescribed channels out to sea and inbound also, keep clear as much as you are able.

Sail boats are more manoeuvrable, do not expect a half million tonne ship to go around your boat, instead choose the sensible option and go around her. Simple.

Be seen, sailing close into such a vessel is dangerous because they displace a lot of water creating turbulence that can cause small boats to capsize. Motoring out to the bay is fine but keep a look out and stay safely away from the big boys.

Learn your craft, wise boating people learn their sailing from training courses run in almost every country, before even buying a boat go on a training course and learn from the experts. Good trainers will also advise about which boat is best for you, they are all keen boating types who love sailing and want us to love it too, safely.

Who has right of way? Size does matter! Sail safe, always.


The icon used is from Michigan Boating Boat Crossing Rules Guide from fishweb.com