Right of Way


sailing addict
Thread starter #1
Today i was sailing slow and steady i was even relaxing in the cockpit when a family in a 20 something foot motor boat comes by at fullspeed and goes only fifteen or twenty feet off of my bow. Now did i miss the memo or are the right of way laws still as follows.

When operating a power-driven vessel, you must give way to:
  • Any vessel not under command, such as an anchored or disabled vessel
  • Any vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver, such as a vessel towing another or laying cable, or one constrained by its draft, such as a large ship in a channel
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing
  • A sailboat under sail unless it is overtaking
When operating a vessel under sail, you must give way to:
  • Any vessel not under command
  • Any vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver
  • A vessel engaged in commercial fishing


sailing addict
Thread starter #3
I couldnt really do anything just sailed back to the beach pissed off and started this post. I guess i could have went to the harbor master but i have learned not to trust him.


Member Emeritus
Sure sounds like the sentiment was, if you didn’t have to veer off in a panic there was enough room. The distance issue was just a topic of conversation in another thread. The legal definition seemed to boil down to the need to act to avoid accident. Pretty subjective for most close calls, if you ask me. I’m sure it was fun sport to disturb your relaxation, heaven forbid the stinkpotter should change course and slosh their drinks.

In my state’s boating guide the recourse is to get the state registration number and file a complaint. Can you go over the harbor master's head?

We have one thing extra, if the water authority receives three independent complaints, then that’s enough to issue a citation and send the offender to court to answer to a judge alone. So file a complaint, maybe your state has a three strike rule too.
You can also talk and bring up the incident to the Coast Guard Aux - they can't issue a ticket but will then tell the harbor master.

Usually if the CGAUX hears of a problem they will try to fix it by explaining to the boat in question the rules of the water. If the CGAUX can't fix the problem they pass it up to law enforcement.

You can also call the local CGAUX in your area and just talk on the phone - just look them up on the internet.

Hard to know whether this is a right of way infraction since 15 or 20 ft. may have been sufficient room if you were doing a knot or 2 and he was going much quicker. It seems the issue is more one of the wake caused by his lack of distance in combination with his speed. It's hard to believe that you can buy any size power boat if you have the bucks and then be unleashed on an unsuspecting boating public, without really having to know anything about the collision regs or anything else for that matter.
Most powerboaters I know are fairly skilled, courteous and aware of the rules of the road, but a few are not and can be real jerks bordering on downright dangerous. Report bad behavior to the offender (if possible over the noise of two 150 hp outboards) and failing that, report the behavior to whoever provides police coverage to the body of water you sail on.

Alan Glos
Cazenovia, NY
You should have seen it this last Monday down at Willamette Sailing Club in Portland, OR.

There we were doing our normal Monday series. The third race just got started and there were 20 to 25 boats on Starboard charging off the start line.

Here comes this 30 foot cruiser with yahoo's on board flying pirate flag on Port not crossing half the laser fleet. Lasers were hailing starboard, and a few other "words".

These cruisers just laughed and hooted and yelled at the lasers, calling tonnage basically.

Half the laser fleet had to duck his stern.

I have half a mind to find this guys boat, dive in the water and wrap a rope around his prop.
Those sail boats had the right of way regardless of the tack they were on, just so long as they are "sailing" with their motors off or at least out of gear. As for the powerboaters, karma will get em'.