RulesofRoadatSeaWeb Rules of The Road at Sea

The waterways are spaces where the lanes are not marked, but there is still a right place to be.

There are rules that apply to boats on the water, just like cars on the road. It's important to learn these rules to avoid collision and maintain your safety and the safety of others on the water.

This Sea Yarn is a fun and easy way to help you remember the rules of the road at sea.

Rules to remember when two boats meet

  • When two power boats are approaching head on, both vessels should alter course to starboard to pass port-side to port-side. 
  • When two power-driven vessels are in crossing situation on a collision course, give way to the vessel to starboard (right). The give way vessel must take early and obvious action to avoid a collision by either stopping or altering course to starboard.
  • If the give way vessel has another power-driven vessel from the Port (left) which does not take obvious action to give way, or alter course to starboard, then the Skipper of give-way (stand on) vessel must take evasive action by either stopping, or again, altering course to starboard.
  • Every vessel (power or sail) that is overtaking must keep well clear of the over taking vessel. You are overtaking if you are approaching another vessel anywhere in a 135 degree sector at its stern.

Channels and harbours

  • Every boat must keep to the starboard (right) side of any channel
  • Inside a harbour (normally shown on the pilotage limit on the chart) you must keep out of the way of any ship over 500 tons (which is about 50 metres in length)
  • Do not create a wake which causes unnecessary danger to other boats or people
  • You must not anchor in a channel
  • All small craft must keep out of the way of larger vessels which are restricted by the channel.

When power meets power

  • You must give way to another boat on your starboard (right)
  • If you meet head on, both boats must turn to starboard (right)

When power meets sail

  • Power gives way to sail unless the sail boat is overtaking
  • Sailing boats should avoid sailing in a narrow channel. They have to give way to power boats restricted by the channel.

When sail meets sail

  • When the wind is coming from different sides, the boat with the wind on the port (left) side has to give way
  • When both boats have the wind on the same side the windward (upwind) boat has to give way

When things go wrong

  • If the give way boat does not appear to be giving way, the stand on boat must take evasive action and should turn to starboard (right). If it turned to port it could turn in to the path of the give way boat.

Rules of the road at sea online resource

NSW RMS have a useful new online resource to help you better understand the on-water traffic and safety rules. The College recommends students view the interactive guide prior to attending a course.


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