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Understand Right Of Way Before You Go Boating

The right of way and passing side is relatively easy to understand when you’re driving a land vehicle. Yellow and white lines mark off the different lanes and traffic directions, and depending on whether they’re solid or not you know when it’s okay to pass. Road lines don’t stop accidents from happening altogether, but they make accidents much less likely.

Unfortunately, when you’re on the water you don’t get a strip of pavement that shows you where to go or lines that mark what part of the road to stay on. Quays and marinas are clear enough about where you’re allowed to be and which ways to go, but when you’re out on the open water of Florida, whether it’s on the Atlantic Ocean, in one of the barrier island lagoons, or on a freshwater lake, it’s not always easy to tell what angle you’re meeting another boat at or which boat has the right of way. Fortunately, there are clear rules that dictate who gives way in every situation.

Head On

When two vessels face each other, both have an obligation to be the give-way boat. When you give way, always try to pass the other vessel by turning starboard (right). The exception is when a powerboat meets a sailboat. Sailboats are harder to turn, so the powerboat must be the one that gives way.

Odd Angles

If two boats meet at an angle, the boat to the left (port) is the give-way vessel. So if you see the other boat to your right, you need to turn to avoid them, but if you see a boat to your left they need to avoid you. However, you should slow down either way in case the other boat’s pilot doesn’t know this rule. Also, sailboats are still the stand-on vessel when they meet powerboats no matter what the angle is.


If your boat is coming up behind another vessel and will overtake them, you need to give way and steer around them to the left or the right. This is true even if you’re in a sailboat and overtaking a powerboat.

Night Passing

It can be hard to see which direction a boat is going at night, which is why Florida law requires them to have three lights. These include a green light on the front right, a red light on the front left, and a white light either on the rear or on top of the ship. A light on top is a powerboat while a light in the rear is a sailboat. These lights let you know whether you’re looking at a vessel pointed at you, away from you, to your left, or to your right. It also lets you know when a boat uses power or sails since only powerboats show you white and colored lights at the same time.

Playing by the rules on the water keeps everyone safe, but sometimes accidents happen anyway. If you get in a boating accident in the waters of southwest Florida, consider contacting the All Injuries Law Firm. We have years of experience representing clients who just want insurance companies to process their claims, and we can often get you better settlements than what you could get on your own. Remember, the first case review is completely free and comes with no obligations.