Right of Way Question

Just curious. I was paddling in a local harbor recently when a sailboat (approx 30ft) under full sail decided to turn in front of me. Had I not stopped, there would have been a collision (I would have lost.) Who technically has the right of way in a harbor, a sailboat under sail or a kayaker?

Motored craft gives way to wind powered craft which gives way to human powered craft, except when water is too shallow for a larger boat to deviate course and in marked commercial shipping lanes.

There is always common sense, Human powered craft always gives way otherwise they will get run over. I do not know what recourse you might have for reporting the sail boat. I carry a camera which I’m not afraid to use in snapping reporting marks. It might help bolster an argument but chances are whoever has jurisdiction over the water has better things to do than to ticket a near miss between non-motorized craft.

Right Of Way order:

New Reels Catch Fish So Purchase Some Soon.

N-o command

R-estricted by maneoverability or draft (us)


F-ishing vessels that ‘are’ fishing


P-ower boats

S-ea planes


#1 ROW rule- Avoid Collision at ALL cost. you done good.


well now…
“Human powered craft always gives way otherwise they will get run over.”

if this were the case in many constricted passages the kayaker would NEVER move.

Maintain course and speed, stick closely together and ‘go for it’ and TAKE your ROW. keep an eye open for anyone who doesn’t give YOU the ROW (angle on the bow) and InMYExperiences, 100% of the time the other boat gives ROW.

Many years of experience in the (sometimes constricted) San Juan Islands AND Columbia river.


Stopping Distance
And I think this might be accounted for in Steve’s acronym. We always give sailboats a lot of room, stop often, for a few reasons. Their stopping distance is not short, they often may not even see thru or over the sail or if they are busy messing with it, and they are still a heck of a lot bigger. We’ve seen people coming in on regattas fighting for first place that probably would challenge the Queen Mary let alone a little kayak. I just don’t trust their ability to see us well.

right of way

– Last Updated: Sep-17-07 7:13 PM EST –

"Right of way" on the sea isn't exactly the legal thing as it is when driving.

Another way to see it is that it provides a standard way for multiple vessels to cooperate together.

As a kayaker, it would be a mistake to use the "right of way" stuff as a way of keeping safe. (I'm not saying you should always yield the right of way.)

Thus, in my opinion, a kayaker has to be sure that he/she never needs the "right of way" to keep safe.

Note that, you, as the captain of a vessel, have a responsibilty to avoid collisions.

Part of the problem is that kayaks are rather hard to see. Also, sailing boats tend to be pretty poor vantage points.

Note that you probably won't make friends with the Coast Guard if you assert your "rights" over commercial traffic.

"R-estricted by maneoverability or draft (us)"

Kayakers are certainly not restricted by draft and a sailboat (in a harbor) might be. Kayakers are also not really restricted by manueverablilty but by speed. It's pretty clear that a tanker in a shipping channel has the right of way over a kayak.

Sailboat under sail
would technically have stand on status over you as there is, to my knowledge, no special allowance in the Colregs for a human powered kayak. We would simply be regarded as another vessel, albeit slow moving. A sailboat is in effect somewhat restricted in mobility and thus it’s place in the pecking order. However if the engine is running it is another power vessel.

Kayakers would do well to behave as if they were a small, slow moving trawler. We really have excellent mobility relative to some other craft.

Always consult local regs that may trump the Colregs such as lakes, state regs etc. But generally on the sea, or harbors the Colregs apply whether International, or Inland Rules are in effect.

As I read you post I’d give way to the sailing vessel. While I surely don’t know all, I have held a USCG Masters license for nearly ten years.

If you truly wish to gain a great understanding of these often confusing Rules I would recommend a maritime course such as CG auxilliary, or a Captains License prep course. You, as a kayaker, will not be able to sit for USCG exams with kayak sea time (must be power or sail vessel sea time…and a lot of it) but, you could shadow that portion of the course and I guarantee you’ll see the water world and your responsibility differently.

Best of luck.

How many kayakers
would pass a USCG Rules exam?

How many power boaters?
How many power boaters would pass the exam?

(I’m not sure what the point of the question was.)

If you have to argue right of way with a sailboat underway, it probably is too late!

Seems to me that…
only one person indicated other than to give a sailboat under sail the road. I’m not sure that the ability to recite the rules indicated is more critical than having avoided the collision using common sense.

Common sense

– Last Updated: Sep-17-07 7:41 PM EST –

"avoided the collision using common sense"

This is key and a requirement!

If you are in a near collision with another vessel, you have cut too close to the margins!

Note that, you, as the captain of a vessel, have a responsibilty to avoid collisions (regardless of the right-of-way).

Not many, BUT
a higher percentage than would kayakers within their sub-set. I believe anyway. I think “most” kayakers never put themselves in situations where a firm grasp of the Rules is really critical, so their knowledge is spotty, and or inaccurate. That said not as a slam, rather a staement of my experience as both a kayaker and numerous power vessel operator.

The problem

More power boaters than kayakers might be able to pass the exam, but a large fraction would not.

The problem is that you can’t choose to near-miss that power boater who has passed the exam! And, you have to hope he sees you. Do you feel lucky?

sail boats
everything in the world stops for a sail boat. If there is an airplane 3200 ft in the air crossing the path of a sail boat under sail it must deter it’s path as to avoid any possible interaction with said sail boat.

that is my thought on the subject,


Right of way?
There is no such thing on the water. It is either burdened and priviledged or stand-on and give-way, depending when you learned them. Human powered craft are at the bottom of the pecking order NOT as Steve implied. They manuver better than anything else. Just think stopping distance. When collision is imminent, neither vessel is stand-on nor priviledged both become burdened or give-way.


– Last Updated: Sep-18-07 10:53 AM EST –

Kayakers have a strong responsibility to keep out of the way of other boaters.

Personal Water Craft (PWC) have an even stronger responsibility to keep out of the way!

Cliffjrs is correct. The appropriate terms are "stand on" (maintain course) and "give way" (change course).

Still, many people map this to the "right of way" concept they learn while driving.

my point is…
by acting as a slow moving trawler, like Salty said, maintain course and speed and move directly across a channel, we need only really worry about B I G vessels, commercial traffic and sailboats under sail. The powerboats and sailboats under power have ALWAYS given way to me and my group. I monitor AOB position and watch them either change speed or course. if I slowed the group or changed course everytime a vessel crossed my path it shows MY INTENTIONS are NOT clear, since we are moving soooo slow.

Cross the 1+ NM Guemes channel into Anacortes on a busy weekend and you would/could NOT move across within the 1/2 hr of slack w/o taking a ROW position.

In fact I spent considerable time chatting with a San Juan ferry captain one day and he said " maintain course and speed and we’ll miss YOU, confuse us and all bets are off." they also have radar that picks up a stone spash! made me feel good.


hey Flatpick-i thought that techinically
we are under NoCommand…

Practical approach
I know of where Steve speaks, and I have no issue with that approach. As he states they do yield to Stand on vessels…for the most part, and the ones that are highly maneuverable and fast simply avoid them. The good seamanship effort I’m seeing here is a thought process and courtesy of staying together.

The Captain was correct that they would rather know your intent and avoid you, than have to guess. I know a few of those guys as well as local tug operators.

Technically kayaks are not limited in mobility. Spoke with USCG group Bellingham today. They in fact are observing that kayakers are generally mis-informed and falsly assume stand-on status.

Complicated stuff, but worthy of discussion and sharing of info. As a sub-group we are not all that well liked. I think in time and with more emphasis on being informed Mariners that will change. Good day all.

My criteria…
I try to keep out of everybodys way and give the right of way to every other boat on the water.

Grayhawk made a good point last year when a group of us were going to cross a channel :

Group up together. Wait until there are no other boats in close proximity and then cut straight across the channel as a group. At least then if a fast moving power boat starts to get close, he will know which course to take rather than try and weave through a bunch of stung out paddlers.



Or the way he jokeingly put it was; if we are all together we make a much easier target!