Boat Handling

Written by Chuck Baier

Safe and Courteous Procedures for Passing

A safe and happy day on the waterways can easily be achieved using some good common sense and seamanship. There are specific rules set down in the official Rules of The Road for boaters navigating in both inland waterways and offshore. The most discussed and contentious situations encountered on the water are the passing situation when one vessel approaches from the stern and proceeds to pass the other. The written Rules of The Road has set procedures for doing this, however, just listening to the chatter on the VHF radio on any given day indicates that many are not aware of how this should be done properly.

In the following situation, the give-way vessel must take action to keep well clear. The stand-on vessel should maintain its course and speed. If it becomes apparent that the actions taken (or not taken) by the give-way vessel are dangerous or insufficient, you should take action to avoid collision. When two vessels are moving in the same direction, and the astern vessel wishes to pass, it must initiate the signal to pass as shown in the diagram. The vessel passing is the give-way vessel and should keep out of the way of the vessel being passed. The vessel being passed is the stand-on vessel and must maintain its course and speed. If the stand-on vessel realizes that the course intended by the give-way vessel is not safe, it should sound the danger or doubt signal.

A vessel is deemed to be overtaking when the vessel is approaching the vessel ahead in a direction of 22.5 degrees abaft her beam. At night you would only be able to see the stern light of the vessel being overtaken. You would not be able to see either sidelight. If you are the overtaking vessel, remember that you are the give-way vessel until well past, and safely clear of, the passed vessel. Do not cut in front, impede or endanger another vessel.

In keeping it simple, the rules of overtaking state that if you cannot safely pass another vessel, you do not pass. Common courtesy from the boats that can’t travel very fast dictates that they slow as much as possible to allow boats that can go faster to pass safely. Those boats that can travel faster must slow to a safe speed and reduce their wake so as not to cause damage or injury on the other vessel. Here is the procedure we have used successfully over the years without any complaints. We always approach the slower vessel dead astern of them and slow down to match their speed. We then call the vessel ahead to let them know we are there, on which side we will pass then ask them to slow down so that we may pass. We then pass as close in to the slower vessel as can be done safely, then move directly in front of them as soon as it is safe to do so. Once we are safely in front of the vessel we have passed, we can increase speed and go on our way with little inconvenience or discomfort to the other crew. It is a very simple procedure, but one not practiced as often as it should be. Everyone spends their free time boating to have fun and enjoy the experience and a small amount of consideration and common courtesy can go a long way.

Chuck Baier has been an active boater and cruiser for 50 years and has been a certified marine service technician for over 30 years. Chuck is a freelance writer and has written for every major boating publication over the past 18 years and is currently the publisher and owner of Beach House Publications, which produces ‘The Great Book Of Anchorage’ series. Chuck also provides Navigation Notices for MarinaLife.

If you have additional questions for Chuck Baier, please email him