Right of Way Question

My Bowditch Manual lists all the rules. Then it lists a VERY good concept to keep in mind.


Let’s face it, yield. It would be nice if everyone obeyed the rules, they don’t. Treat all craft as if they were out of control obstacles, unmanned. And then just tend your own boat. Remember, if no one were on board the other craft, there would be no one to get mad at, blame or take to court. Just miss them. Assume nothing.

#1 rule?
avoid collision at all costs.


For Levity…
Last autumn a few of us were paddling on Lake George. It was after the ‘season’ so there were few other boats on the lake. We managed to stay as a tight pod when crossing and were always alert to motor and sailboats.

We had done a pretty efficient job of not causing other vessals to change their tack to avoid us throughout the day.

Towards the end of the day when heading back to the launch, there was a sailboat with which it seemed no matter what we did, we were in its path of travel. So, we decided to simply stop, raft up, and let him pass.

The sailboat came alongside. The skipper hailed ‘Those are Valley boats!’ It turned out that he was a paddler and was trying to come alongside us to chat the whole time we were trying to stay out of his way :wink:

True, but how?

– Last Updated: Sep-19-07 12:52 PM EST –

True, but how to do that? It's correct advice but not very useful.

In this case, it appears that the paddler was in a place he didn't need to be. It appears that the advice, in this case, is not to paddle in the channel.

Waste of time
Has anyone but me noticed that while this thread, in which many stand by their right to be wrong is thriving while a thread started Tuesday morning has zero (i.e. none, nada, zip) responses.

I think this speaks volumes as the thread is titled “America’s boating course”.

You know, rules and things; but probably no rights.

I didn’t mean for this post to become heated, controversial or a time waster. For the record, the sailboat still had about 50 to 75 yards before it was going to run out of harbor. I noticed it heading im my direction several seconds before it turned. For all I knew it was going to slow down and dock at the end of the harbor or pull into one of the several smaller docking channels to its left. It just decided to turn suddenly right in front of me. Had he waited a second, he would not have almost hit me and would have still had plenty of room to complete its turn before running out of harbor. It should also be noted that he turned sharply and fast at a point in the harbor where there are a lot of moms with young kids in rented paddle boats. That is actually what bothered me the most. The incident got me curious about right of way rules in harbors so I deceided to post my question. Will never do it again. For the record, I have called the Coast Guard and Harbor Patrol with other rules of the road questions in the past. I’ve always just gotten “Hmmmm, that’s an interesting question” and half baked responses, even contrary ones if I called back and spoke with someone else. Long ago I even tried to read the ColRegs that Cllffsjr was nice enough to post above. Anyway, I’ll stick to paddling, not posting. Thanks for the responses and good luck to you all.

Apparently even calling the USCG (twice) didn’t yield the poster an absolutely clear answer, so the stuff on this board doesn’t seem so off a wall. It is perspectives based on real experience, which is always worth at least some discussion. The other post is links to an excellent resource more than a question which means likely less response. If reading this stuff is so annoying, then just don’t do so.

so how is it
That my phrase “speaks volumes” equates to your assumption that “reading this stuff is so annoying …”?

Sorry, but the fact that not one single person has posted even a thanks for the info does speak volumes; and while you may find that annoying, I do not.

PWC incident
This summer we were practicing rescues off South Bass Island on Lake Erie. We made the effort to stay out of traffic. The group consisted of approximately 15 kayaks.

As we were wrapping up, a big cabin cruiser named Zorba went by - probably passing within 10 ft. The group was not moving at that time - it was extremely easy target to avoid. The stern wave surfed one kayak into another resulting in 1x1 inch hole.

The operator circled, never stopping or inquiring as to our wellbeing :slight_smile:

We contacted the Coast Guard with VHF. The CG had no interest in the name of the boat, they wanted to know the registration number ( a plate 4x10 inches with numbers on it). Since we did not provide them with the registration number, “investigation” did not go anywhere.

Once in a marina, I made an effort to look registration numbers up on a different boat. We are talking about a plate comparable to vehicle registration plate with more and smaller numbers.

Hmm - numbers on the boat?
I sometimes see numbers painted in the side of motor boats, seems to vary depending on where we are. Do you know if they would be what the CG wanted if available?

That’s seriously crappy - a wake hard enough to hole thru and the guy doesn’t even check. Gotta wonder what damages may have ensued if a kayaker holding onto their boat was what got hit.


– Last Updated: Sep-19-07 1:58 PM EST –


The name of the boat can be anything. It's those registration numbers that can be traced.

There are rules too about where and how they are placed, etc.

(Clearly, in this case, the CG wasn't interested in sending a boat out to chase the "offender" down.)

not quite
Here, in Ohio, it is either numbers painted on the hull, or a small plaque.

Would you want unsightly numbers to mar your $00000 penile extension?

Silly states

– Last Updated: Sep-19-07 2:04 PM EST –

There are differences between states. In NJ and NY, they are are not little plaques.

Still, what Cecilia observed is an example of what the CG was looking for.

By the way, PWC are personal water craft, that is, wave runners, sea doos, etc. PWC doesn't refer to "cabin cruisers".

I see no mention of …
Were you in a “no wake” zone or in an area with a posted speed limit?

If the answer is “no” I think you’re looking at a civil matter instead of a criminal matter as there was no collision, but rather just an inconsiderate powerboater and a kayaker or two who weren’t properly prepared or experienced enough to deal with the powerboat’s wake.

Besides which, the Coast Guard is charged with enforcing federal laws and does not usually enforce state and local laws.

And to be technical, the person with liability issues is the kayaker that punched the hole in the other kayak.

And, since there was a collision between two vessels that resulted in physical damage to one of the vessels, was an accident report filed with anyone?

A more appropriate call would’ve been to the local marine patrol or sheriff’s office. But still, without there having been a crime committed, all they would’ve done is accept a complaint so you would have some documentation for your lawsuit.

Maybe not
"And to be technical, the person with liability issues is the kayaker that punched the hole in the other kayak."

This might actually be analogous to a stopped car being rear-ended and being pushed into the car ahead of it. I think the liability would be assumed by the rear-ending car.

seems to me there are two issues
what’s the respective responsibilities of you and the sailboat,

and folks just do stuff without warning.

not a time waster

Question has to do with what "stand on"
means. I understand that to mean that the sailboat has the right to maintain course and speed and kayak has to yield. But the question here involved the sailboat NOT maintaining course and speed. That’s fully explained by the circumstances–sailboat had to maneuver because it was running out of water–but isn’t that a different rule than you’re citing?

Just curious, not trying to pick a fight.

Sounds like you were basically running
him off the road. From what you’ve described, he had no alternative to doing what he did. That’s why you shouldn’t have put yourself on the channel side of his boat as he was running out of room on the course he was on.

nobody got rear ended as there was no contact between the powerboat and the ramming kayak.

Perhaps a closer analogy would be a collision that resulted after a driver lost control of their vehicle at high speed due to wind sheer created by an oncoming truck.

Bottom line: right of way rules apply to all watercraft. So it looks to me like the ramming kayak was not a safe distance away and was unable to keep clear.

wakes and regs
Bottom Line: Vessels are generally responsible for damage caused by their wakes to person or property either on or beside the water.

Responsibility dictates that other water users need to take reasonable precautions for expected conditions, so yes kayaks should be prepared to deal with wakes. However, avoiding traffic areas could well be considered reasonable precaution for a group not wanting to deal with the big wash. A large vessel deliberately operating at speed so close to smaller vessels that aren’t in or near a channel could well be interpreted as reckless operation. I’ve seen large vessel operators charged with serious crimes when their wash swamped or damaged smaller vessels and the larger vessel could have reasonably avoided the situation.


Coast Guard Nav. Faq on the Topic:

What are the regulations concerning wake effects, wake damage, and responsibility? Regarding one’s wake, vessels over 1600 Gross Tons are specifically required by Title 33 CFR 164.11 to set the vessel’s speed with consideration for…the damage that might be caused by the vessel’s wake. Further, there may be State or local laws which specifically address “wake” for the waters in question.

While vessels under 1600 GT are not specifically required to manage their speed in regards to wake, they are still required to operate in a prudent matter which does not endanger life, limb, or property (46 USC 2302). Nor do the Navigation Rules exonerate any vessel from the consequences of neglect (Rule 2), which, among other things, could be unsafe speeds (Rule 6), improper lookout (Rule 5), or completely ignoring your responsibilities as prescribed by the Navigation Rules.

As to whether or not a particular vessel is responsible for the damage it creates is a question of law and fact that is best left to the Courts. For more information, contact your local Marine Patrol or State Boating Law Administrator.