How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat? Right from the Rule Book

I have been an angler since I was 15. Now I am 35 and still out here thinking of how to make my next catch a memorable experience. Well, if you asked me what has kept me going for all these years, I will tell a simple answer – always keep safe. There are many ways that an angler can keep safe. One of them is to learn how to keep their fishing boat away from trouble. And how can they avoid the collision at all costs. In this post, I will give you one of the best tricks that every angler should learn to keep safe – passing a fishing boat in the right way. So how should you pass a fishing boat? Here is the real thing.

Passing a Fishing Boat

There is no better way to put it than to tell that the right way to pass any vessel in water is the accident-free option. Just make sure that there is no collision whatsoever the case. It is better to be safe than to be sorry. The one thing that every one of us must know is this, unlike driving, which comes with definite rules, waterway rules differ. When it water, there are several regulations that you’ll have to work with depending on where you are. As such, these regulations will differ from one location to the next, including:

  • International waters
  • Inland waters.

More importantly, when it comes to the waterway rules, there are also particular laws that will apply to other types of waters, including:

  • Rivers
  • Seas
  • Great Lakes

As the boat captain, it is important that you have all these rules and regulations at your fingertips to avoid any problems with the law.

How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat?

Having said that, let me make one thing clear. If you must learn how to pass the fishing boat, you should work with the following rules:

The Water Way Rules

Even so, when following the waterway rules, one thing is clear. The rules state that when it comes to the right-of-way, the power vessels should yield to the fishing boats with gear when in water. This is clear by the pecking order in which the main vessels in water are often grouped into. This pecking order is clear and dictates the right of passage-based on the amount of control a vessel captain has on their boat.

As such, sailboats come at the top of the pecking order and are followed by many other vessels in the following order.

  • Sailboats
  • Fishing Boats
  • Vessels Whose Navigation is Restricted by the Draft
  • Boats with Low or Limited Maneuverability
  • Unmanned Water Vessels
  • Boats that are Being Overtaken

A boat might have low or unlimited maneuverability if they have a drag, such as a net that they are pulling. Even so, the boats being overtaken aren’t allowed to try and overtake just like it works on the traffic rules. From the waterway rules, it is, therefore, very clear that a fishing boat has a clear right-of-way over many other vessels, including the powered vessels.

Navigation Rules

Now that you have seen which water vessel has the right-of-way over which other vessels, it is time to introduce you to how you should pass a fishing boat the right way. This would be clear if we looked at the navigation rules.

To begin you in the right navigation rules, here are a few terms that you must get conversant with.

  • Hull: Body of the water vessel
  • Bow: Top of the water vessel
  • Port: Left side of the boat
  • Starboard: Right side of the boat
  • Stern: Backside of the water vessel

How Boats Should Pass Each Other

Now that you know every side of the water vessel (boat), how should you pass a fishing boat? Not so fast; let us still look at how boats should generally pass each other. Here is what you must understand. Whenever two vessels are approaching each other on the water, one will be the give-way boat while the other will be the stand-on vessel. This will depend on the pecking order that we had seen above.

In the perfect scenario, the former should yield to the latter immediately while at the same time avoiding any collision. They should also signal their intentions so as to show whether they intend to change their direction or stop. One thing that is very important to remember in this scenario is this. It is the latter that is actively overtaking. As such, they must inform the next vessel (give-the-way vessel) their intentions and, at the same time, take the right precautions so as to prevent any form of accident.

Overtaking a Fishing Boat

The above only tells you how boats should generally pass each other. The rules above are also applicable to fishing boats that are not fishing at the time when they are being overtaken – as they are just other normal powered vessels at this time.

However, once the boat begins to fish, the rules change, and that’s when the sides of the boat play a key role too. Depending on which side the fishing boat is in line with your position, here is what you must know.

Passing a Fishing Boat from Its Stern (Behind)

If the fishing boat is on your vessel’s starboard side, you automatically become the boat with the right of way (stand on the boat), the fishing boat on the other side becomes the give-way boat. Now you can apply the navigation rules as I had previously stated.

Why is this the right way? The reason is simple; really, the stand-on vessel has a clean (unobstructed) view. As such, it can easily pass through without any risk of an accident.

Meeting Head-On with a Fishing Boat

Apart from coming from behind, how should you pass a fishing boat when you are facing each other head-on? In this situation, the recommended way is for each boat to pass the other on the port side. However, you must all keep enough distance and take the necessary precautions to avoid any accidents.

  • Maintain safe speed
  • Keep safe distance
  • Slow down if you must
  • Watch out for the next vessel

It is important to keep the next vessel in mind, especially if there is a significant difference in your sizes.

Remember that fishing boats will always have smaller freeboards (the distance from the upper edge of the boat’s hull down to its water surface. As such, if the vessel passing by is a large one, it might get easily through up a large wake and, in so doing, send water into the next vessel. Just remember that a little courtesy goes a long way.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we have learnt every vital tip that is necessary when passing a fishing boat, here are some common concerns that boaters often have.

How Should I Pass a Boat at Night?

During the night, you will see two colored lights on the boat. The left one is the red light while the right one is green and signals the starboard of the boat. If you are coming from the stern (back), you will see an elevated white light. Now apply the navigation rules.

Can a Fishing Boat Anchor on a Channel?

They might. However, it is against the law for them to do that. No fishing boat should anchor in a channel. Even so, if you meet the fishing boat in a narrow channel, always steer to the right, just like while on the road.

Why Do Sailboats Get the Absolute Right of Way?

The sailboats have this advantage because of their restrictions in maneuverability. As such, they are left with this one advantage above the other boats.

What Other Rules Should I Learn?

The rest of the rules are common sense applications. Like I mentioned, the most important thing is to do what’s necessary to avoid any form of collision or accident on the water. This means that whichever the situation, you must always try as much as you can to keep safe.


How should you pass a fishing boat? Now you have every tip that you need to know to navigate around a fishing boat safely. Whichever the case, the most important thing that every captain of a vessel should know is that safety is more important than any other thing.

As such, you must strive to keep everybody safe. Focus on your ship but, at the same time, have some courtesy to the ship that you are passing. This is important and will help everybody to have a smile on their face.

Remember, a sea is an unpredictable place, and you never know who will be by your side the next time your boat rocks. Keep safe, good luck, and share this post with people who love to ride the water vessels.

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