Rules of the Road: Which Boat Has the Right of Way?

Resources for Rules of the Road

After last week's astonishing boating accident near Thomas Point Light on the Chesapeake Bay, much discussion has taken place on social media and around the docks about rules of the road out on the water. Remarkably, and thankfully, no one was injured in that dramatic accident.

Photo courtesy of MD DNR twitter page

We won't begin to speculate on who was at fault, but the incident has reminded us all to brush up on the rules of navigation. We've pulled together some resources and listed them below. In addition to learning the rules of the road, this is also a good time for refreshers on marine radio operation and air horn signals.

Good resources for explaining the rules of the road

For some good, basic, information we like this Boat U.S. article because it covers rules of the road, collision avoidance, and how to maneuver when two boats are crossing, meeting, or overtaking, plus much more.

Collision avoidance: communicate any way you can

Air horn

As sailors and boaters, we all have air horns on our boats; they are part of our required safety equipment. We suggest instead of stowing it, keep your air horn within easy reach. When you're not sure if the other boat's captain sees you, or when you need to make clear an intended course change, alert the other boat with the horn. Here is a nice description of air horn signals and their meaning posted by BoatUS., with simple diagrams, too. In the most simple terms, one short blast means, "I'm turning right." Two short blasts means, "I'm turning left."

VHF radio

Like the air horn, keeping a hand-held VHF radio within reach is a good safety practice. If you need a primer or refresher on operating a marine radio, take this $30 online course from BoatU.S.

Hand signals

If you need to communicate with another boat, and you suspect the captain of the other vessel can't hear you, use dramatic hand signals with both hands, pointing first to yourself and then toward your intended direction.

The Bay is an amazing natural resource. Life is simply better on the Bay. All of us, powerboaters, sailors, and paddlers, are fortunate to enjoy it together. Stay safe out there. 
Feel free to send us other resources to add to the list. [email protected]