How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat?

Summer days are perfect for enjoying water activities. Having a boat is even more exciting because it gives you the option to go wherever you like, but you need to keep yourself safe.

Knowing how boats work is crucial because you’re not the only one enjoying the water. There are many other boats, too, like fishing ones. How should you pass them?

There are a lot of rules on passing boats. Firstly, you need to determine if it’s a power vessel or a non-power vessel. Non-power vessels usually have the right of way over power vessels. Then, you have to make sure you’re passing the boat on the port side. There are many other rules, but these are the most fundamental ones. 

Knowing how to drive a boat is as important as knowing what to do on a highway when you’re driving a car. Of course, there are not as many boats as cars in one place simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

Captains usually learn the fundamental boating rules for the ocean, seas, and rivers. When they get very good at that, they can safely begin boating in more crowded places.

There has been a report of 4,300 boat accidents in 2017 in the USA. This data refers to recreational boats. Their captains are usually more carefree and don’t stress about rules so much. That can lead to serious consequences.

If you’re a recreational boat captain and want to learn how to pass fishing boats easily, this article is for you. We’re going to go through some boating rules and give you a few tips about boat passing. Let’s dive in!

How Are Boats Supposed to Pass?

How Are Boats Supposed to Pass

Being a boat captain is a great responsibility because a captain needs to make sure that everyone on board is safe. He needs to be aware of all the boating rules and safety measures.

Here are a few fundamental tips on keeping yourself and the crew safe:

  • When you see a boat getting close to you or going in your direction, you should slow down. 
  • You need to be aware of any other boats surrounding you and see if you can slow down without interfering with them.
  • It would help if you kept in mind that many captains don’t pay very much attention to the rules. Just because the rules exist and you follow them doesn’t mean everyone will.
  • Keep in mind that the other boaters need the space, too.
  • Use your logic. Even if you have the right of way, you shouldn’t change your course if it seems dangerous. 
  • You must use your experience and knowledge when the situation isn’t very clear.
  • The rules on the water are determined by multiple factors: direction, position, and hierarchy.

There are different terms you should learn.

The vessels which have the right of way are called “burdened” or “stand-on” vessels. If you’re a burdened vessel, you need to keep your course and speed until you pass the other vessel. That way, you won’t confuse them.

The vessels that don’t have the right of way are called stand-off or giveaway vessels. If you want to give them the right of way, you need to be sure that stand-off vessels understand that. You do that by slightly altering your course.

Non-power vessels are vessels with no motor, such as sailboats. They have the right of way.

If the sailboat is “under sail,” then they have the right of way, but if they’re using a small motor, they have the right of way that’s the same as powerboats.

Human-powered crafts such as kayaks are considered “vessels under oars.” When the vessels are being overtaken, they have the most rights.

When passing vessels under oars, you should give them enough space to make sure they’re safe. If you’re uncertain, you should slacken your speed.

When it’s nighttime, you need to keep your eye on the lights coming from vessels. The red light indicates the port side and means STOP. If the light is green, it indicates the starboard side, and it means you have the right of way.

When passing someone head-on, you should always pass each other port to port – left to left.

If you hear a siren or see blue flashing lights coming from a vessel, that means it’s an emergency, and you need to give that vessel the right of way.

When passing large commercial tankers and container ships, you should always go for the stern and never try to cross them in the front.

The U. S. Coast Guard made a list that defines the highest and lowest priorities of the right of way.

Every vessel that can’t maneuver around itself has the right of way. There’s usually a technical problem like an engine that has stopped working or a steering failure in those situations. It can’t move around other boats.

A Vessel Being Overtaken 

Every vessel which approaches another astern must give the other boat the right of way.

A Boat Engaged in Fishing

Every boat which has commercial fishing equipment onboard has the right of way.

A Vessel Under Sail or Not Under Power

Vessels that are not powered, such as canoes, paddleboards, and kayaks, have the right of way over powerboats.

Which Side of a Boat Do You Pass On?

Suppose you’re a power-driven vessel and encounter other power-driven vessels that have the same right of way. In that case, the determining factors of who has the ultimate right are direction and position.

When you need to determine the position of another vessel approaching you, you need to know about the sectors of your vessels. Some of them are stern, starboard, and port.

You have the right of way when a powerboat is approaching you from the port or the left side of your boat.

If a powerboat is trying to cross your way and they’re on your right side or your starboard, they have the right of way.

If any vessel is trying to pass you for the stern, they don’t have the right way. If a boat is overtaking another boat, the one in the front always has the right of way. Even if the vessel in the back has priority in passing, the one in the front keeps it.

Why Should Boaters Slow Down While Passing Recreational Fishing Boats?

Passing fishing boats is far more dangerous and complicated than passing any other boats, power or non-power ones.

Fishing boats usually have a lot more ropes which ordinary vessels don’t. They also have many fishing lines and large fishing nets.

Those lines can be as long as a hundred yards. This can be very dangerous; the boat can get caught up between different ropes, and that can cause damage to the boat and the crew on board.

If you want to pass a fishing boat, you need to steer to the right-hand side of the board, which is the starboard side. That way, both boats will pass each other by their port side, which is the left-hand side.

Although the rules mentioned above are usable in most situations, there are some in which you need to think about other factors to keep yourself and the boat safe.

In some situations, passing to the starboard is impossible, and you need to think about some other way to do it. It might happen that you’re passing a fishing boat that has cast lines toward the shore, and they make you unable to pass.

This is a situation in which you can pass the fishing boat on the other side, but be careful. It would help if you let the fishing boat captain know that you’re doing that to not panic and do something that will endanger you both.

If you decide to pass a vessel on the starboard side, you should honk once. If the other boat is honking back, it means you can pass. If you’re passing on the port side, you should honk twice and also wait for two honks that allow you to pass.

It is also very important that you keep a minimum wake when passing other boats. It isn’t just tradition and courtesy; it’s a way of keeping yourself safe. You should also check for any obstructions. You can also ask a crew to check for you. 

Obstructions can be any boats going towards you, sailboats, surfers, etc. It would help if you gave them some signs.


There are a lot of rules which determine boating and how to pass boats. A hierarchy must be respected, but the captain’s most powerful weapon is his knowledge and experience. 

Fishing boats are especially dangerous because they have many ropes and fishing lines around them which can be tricky if they get caught up with another boat.

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