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How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat? — A Safety Guide

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat? — A Safety Guide
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How should you pass a fishing boat?
Image by Matt Hardy from Pixabay

Many people all over the world are taking up fishing as an occupation, or as a leisure activity. What this means is that there are more and more fishing boats (and, of course, other vessels) on the water each new day that you have to be on the lookout for. And imagine that the fellow in the other boat doesn’t know what the rules are!

As a fishing boat captain, the responsibility is on you to ensure the safety of your boat, its occupants, and the lives of other people near you on water. A wrong attempt at passing a boat may lead to a collision, which will either result in panic, injury, dent and scratches to the boat, or even death.

It is important to be able to answer safety questions like ‘how should you pass a fishing boat?’ because while you may be able to swim your way to safety in the case of an accident, not everybody can. And prevention they say is better than a cure.

One thing that can pose a great threat to safety on the water is passing a fishing boat. But not to worry, this article will explain all you need to know about how to pass fishing boats.

An expressway, for example, has lanes and each driver is expected to stick to his, taking certain measures before attempting to swerve into another’s. But the ocean (or any other body of water as the case may be) doesn’t have lanes and cut-out demarcations that each boat captain must stay on. However, there are rules, and following those rules is the first step towards securing the lives of the people in your boat and other ones near you.

How should you pass a fishing boat?
Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS from Pexels

Why Passing Fishing Boats May be Complicated

Fishing boats are unique in that they have extra features like nets, lines, and hooks. These things could get caught up under other vessels, (as the lines, for example, go many metres below the water) amounting to some unforeseen circumstances. This makes navigating your fishing boat around them a bit complicated. You have to keep communicating with your counterpart to decide on the best decisions to take, in passing your boat. Asides communication, moving at a safe speed will also help in controlling the boat, thereby forestalling accidents.

What the Rules Say — Right-of-Way in Boating

Just like the roads, there’ll be people who either don’t know the navigation rules, don’t understand them, or do but choose not to keep them.

You who are the informed one, however, should do the right thing because, in the case of an accident, it doesn’t matter much who is right or wrong — both parties bear the loss/damage. The US Coast Guard’s Rule states that a vessel or boat should stay on the right side (starboard side) so that any other vessel or fishing boat will be on the left — the port side– while crossing or bypassing.

However, there are situations where it may not be possible to stick to the rules, such as when it is evident that the fishing lines of the other vessel are on your left. In such a case, you’d need to find a way to maneuver yourself out of that spot.

The best practice will be to communicate with the other person to agree on a safe side on which you can navigate. This is one of the times when you’d have to improvise, and not stick to what the rule book says. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to avoid accidents.

In boat language, you ‘stand-on’ if you have the right-of-way, or you ‘give way’ to another vessel so it can pass first.

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When Two Boats are Heading in the Same Direction

If your fishing boat is following any other vessel in a river or narrow canal, in boating language your boat is called the ‘give-way’ or the ‘burdened’ vessel. This means that your boat has to seek permission from the other vessel, (called the ‘stand-on vessel) to pass.

The other vessel being the privileged one can deny your fishing boat access, especially if the captain feels it’s unsafe for you to pass for some reason. And in the case of an accident arising from your passing without the other vessel’s permission, the burden of responsibility is more on you.

Seeking Permission to Pass

The standard procedure in seeking permission to pass is to sound the horn in two short blasts to let the stand-on vessel know you want to pass on its left side.

If the captain of the vessel wishes to grant you access, they will blast their own horn twice, meaning ‘access granted’ — then you can pass. But if for some reason the captain feels it’s not okay for you to pass, they will blast the horn five times signaling that such a maneuver could be dangerous. Or as is the case with some, they will ignore — that too means a no. And remember that if anything happens, you’d bear the greater burden…

It is important to exercise patience in cases like this, try to see things from the other captain’s point of view, and also use common sense.

Check out this video to learn more about how to pass other boats:

When You’re Crossing Paths

When you’re about to cross paths with another vessel and each person’s unwillingness to yield could lead to a collision, remember that the one with the right-of-way is the one on the starboard (right) side. If the other vessel is on your right, they’re the privileged one; and if you’re on their right, you’re the privileged one. But either way, use a safe speed and just be alert to see what the other person will do.

The ideal thing to do in such a situation is to come down to a safe speed, or change course.

When You’re Facing an Oncoming Boat

Risking the possibility of a head-on collision? Not to worry — you know the rules. Steer your fishing boat well enough to the right, while you watch out to see the other person’s intention. Each boat is supposed to pass portside to portside (left to left). And don’t forget to leave enough space so as not to get the lines of your fishing boats entangled, assuming the other boat is a fishing boat too.

When Nothing Else Works

Despite knowing a thing or two about passing a fishing boat, there may be times when it seems nothing else works, and you have to do something smart to get out of an otherwise dangerous situation. Whether the other person has forgotten the rules or doesn’t care about keeping them, the truth is that you’d still be partially responsible for anything that happens. So, you must give way to avoid a collision! That too is what the rules say.

One more thing: The rules do not grant rights and privileges that anybody must insist on having; they impose responsibilities and require that precaution be taken under every condition and circumstance, to protect life.

Meanwhile, if you are curious about learning new fishing knots for your next fishing expedition, then you may want to check out our expert guide on how to tie a fishing knot.


The right knowledge on how to pass a fishing boat is very important, as it can make a difference in the level of orderliness maintained and the precautionary measures taken while on water. This is because the safety of many lives depends on what you do or choose not to do anytime you set out in your fishing boat.

Moreover, while you can make your own choices, remember that you can’t determine what other people do with their fishing boats while at sea.

Some of the rules guide boating include Right-of-way, how to seek permission before passing, etc. However, these rules impose responsibilities and require that safety precautions be taken at all times, and not the right to insist that things go your way on the water, at the expense of safety.

That being said, when all else seems to fail, try improvising — use logic and common sense to forestall danger.

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