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Sailing Rules of the Road When Sailboat Meets Sailboat

Updated July 9, 2024

Everyone wants to avoid collisions while sailing and boating.

Before we get started, a Windward vessel refers to a vessel that is upwind of another vessel, while a Leeward vessel is downwind.sailboats There are three basic sailing rules-of-the-road to follow when your sailboat approaches another sailboat. And remember, a sailboat using its engine is considered being under power. Sailboats under sail (no engine running) generally have right-of-way over most recreational powerboats, because sailboats are assumed to have more restricted maneuverability than powerboats (for example, a sailboat cannot turn and sail directly into the wind to avoid a collision).

Rule 1: When you are on the same tack as the other boat, the leeward boat has the right-of-way. avoid sailboat collisions

Rule 2: When you are on opposite tacks, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way.

Rule 3: If you are overtaking the other boat, or it is overtaking you, the boat ahead (the overtaken boat) has the right-of-way.

Rule 3In Figure 8-2, two boats are approaching each other and subject to the same tack rule. Sailors refer to the boat with right-of-way as the stand-on vessel-the boat that must hold its course. The leeward boat has right-of-way, and the windward boat has to keep clear, or give way. Which boat is the leeward boat? If you said the boat on the left, you were correct.

Figure 8-3 shows the opposite tack rule. The starboard tack boat is the stand-on vessel and has the boating right-of-way.  The port tack boat has to keep clear or give way. Which boat is on port tack? If you said the boat on the right, you are correct.

Figure 8-4 shows two boats involved in the overtaking rule. In this case the boat ahead is the stand-on vessel and has the boating right-of-way. The overtaking boat has to keep clear or give way. Which boat is overtaking and what tack is that boat on? If you said the boat behind is overtaking and is on starboard tack, you are correct.

Note that these boats are sailing downwind, with the wind pushing from behind, and they are on opposite tacks. In the overtaking rule, the difference in tacks is not relevant, unless you are racing. Over many years, a complete set of sailing rules of the road specifically for sailboat racing has been developed and administered by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), which now goes by World Sailing, but these are not relevant to recreational sailing. If you’re looking to become a pro sailor, check out our Offshore Sailing Certification Courses. We teach boating safety and how to avoid collisions in our Basic Learn to Sail and Bareboat Cruising courses at resort locations on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the British Virgin Islands. Get a taste of sailing by watching this video with happy Offshore Sailing School students and instructors. Watch video. We also produced a 4-hour Online Learn to Sail course in collaboration with the BoatUS Foundation. There is a nominal fee. Get details.

Other resources on boating and sailboat safe-handling: Our friends at BoatUS Foundation offer this helpful guide to boating safety courses in the U.S. View Guide. Similarly, our friends with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offer this handy Rules-of-the-Road schematic.

View all Offshore Sailing School courses, including our most popular combination Fast Track to Cruising® course.

Call us at 888-454-7015 or Contact us via Email to learn more.

Rule overtaking


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