Rules Of The Road: Even If There Is No Road

Boating Safety is Serious Business


Tournament fishing can be an exciting and enjoyable experience. With fast boats, big waters, high winds, and low visibility, however, the experience can quickly become unpleasant. Note these facts taken from the U. S. Department of Transportation Navigation Rules that will help all anglers have a better experience on the water, tournament fishing or otherwise. These rules exist for the safety of the vessel, the crew, and the environment.


SAFE SPEED (Rule 6, page 15): "Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. In determining a safe speed the following factors shall be taken into account: (1) the state of visibility; (2) the traffic density; (3) the maneuverability of the vessel...; (5) the state of wind, sea, and current..."

The general theme is to slow down in these situations. When operating in restricted visibility such as rain, snow, or fog, navigational lights are also required. It doesn't mean to go faster than everyone else when there is a lot of traffic just because you can maneuver through it. Most collisions occur in a moment of carelessness, not recklessness.


This rule exists to prevent collisions that include capsizing. The state of wind, sea (waves), and current determine safe speed for any vessel. It is always important to know your vessel's capabilities when rough conditions exist. During a tournament or an outing on the water, an alternate route (any port in a storm) to safety should be planned ahead of time. Navigate parallel to the wave pattern or quarter the seas to a safe harbor; the waypoint/compass heading should already be known.

OVERTAKING (Rule 13, page 29): "...any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the other vessel being overtaken."

On the water, passing another vessel from behind is called "overtaking." The vessel being overtaken is to maintain course and speed and not slow down or turn suddenly. Even in wide-open water after traveling for some time, it's necessary to look back; it may be that you are being overtaken.

The vessel that is overtaking (passing) should, if at all possible, pass on the port (left) side, but may pass on the starboard (right) if for some reason she cannot pass on the left. When yours is the boat that is passing, remember to "stay out of the way of the other boat as necessary" to avoid a collision. It is necessary to stay out of the wake of the boat being overtaken to be out of the way. After passing, "keep clear of the overtaken vessel," or stay out of the way of the boat you just passed.

CROSSING (Rule 15, page 31): "When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall... avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel."

When two vessels are on nearly reciprocal courses (risk of collision exists) in a crossing situation, the vessel on the starboard (right) side is in the right and is considered the "stand on vessel." The responsibility of the vessel on the right is to maintain course and speed. The vessel on the left is called the "give way vessel" and is required to pass behind the vessel on the right.

These are only some of the "rules of the road," but they are some of the most important ones, especially for tournament anglers caught up in the excitement of the experience. Ignorance of navigational rules is never acceptable. They make common "cents" and will save anyone the cost of breaking them.

For more information, contact: Great Lakes Charter Training, 31679 South River Road, Harrison Township, MI 48045; 586-468-1460.

*Andy Kuffer, a PWT pro from Fair Haven, Michigan, is also a Coast Guard approved boating safety instructor.

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