Do sailboats always have the right of way over power boats and ships? This seems counter-intuitive. ?

Does a supertanker really have to get out of the way of my 25' sailboat? Shouldn't I just tack and get out of his way, or is my doing that going to cause him to accidentally steer into me?

17 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Excellent question!! Unfortunately, a lot of sailboaters seem to think so.

    It depends on where you are. Assuming you are not in the middle of the ocean (as in, more than 50 miles offshore) and you are in an area where things like supertankers and container ships are an issue, chances are very good that you are operating in an area which is designated as a narrow channel, fairway, or Traffic Separation Zone. You'll need to look at charts and Coast Pilots for your sailing area to determine where these are. In any of these areas, a sailing vessel, a vessel engaged in fishing or a vessel less than 20 meters in length (about 70', meaning basically any boat anyone is likely to own) is not to impede the passage of any power driven vessel greater than 20 meters proceeding withing the channel, fairway or TSZ. Similarly, such large vessels are generally expected to stay within the channel, fairway or TSZ in order to avoid smaller boats.

    A very simple and elegant way to know if you're in or out of a TSZ is to set the buoys which mark the center of it as waypoints on your GPS chartplotter, create a "track" from waypoint to waypoint and set your crosstrack error (XTE) at whatever the distance is from the center of the TSZ to the outer edge of it. Then, as long as your XTE is greater than this, you're safely outside of the TSZ and presumably safely out of the way of the supertankers.

    If you DO happen to be far offshore, then yes, your sailboat does in fact have right of way over most ships. But your best option is still to hail them on channel 16 and make passing arrangements.

    Source(s): Navrules, Rules 9 and 10
  • 1 decade ago

    Listen to these guys. They seem to know what they are saying.

    I took a sailing class this summer and I'm new at this but I've read a lot of sailing books from the library and they all say the same thing. If a boat is restricted in it's ability to maneuver, you need to stay away from it. Ships certainly have limited ability to maneuver. I would watch out for the powerboat 'weekenders' too. They get nuts with a little beer in them.

    Here's a bit from "The Complete Sailing Handbook" by Roland Denk, originally published in England.

    Page 316 :: With the increase in shipping traffic in recent years the sailboat owner has had to accept more and more that he has no real privileges as a vessel under sail, except perhaps where other yachts are concered. The impossibility of asking large vessels like supertankers to give way to small sailboats in congested and restricted waters has made it imperative to introduce rules in favour of the power-driven vessels. A wise sailor will keep well out of the way of shipping or give way to it, even if the rules are in his favour, unless, of course, such an action puts him in danger. Always bear in mind the very serious consequences of a collision with another, larger vessel even if she is no bigger than a coaster. You could have an awkward time too, if you were the cause of a large ship running aground as the result of such a collision.

    That's my two cents worth.

    Best Wishes


  • 1 decade ago

    A supertanker vs. a 25' sailboat? I don't know what the maritime laws say, but I do know that right-of-way has a lot to do with which craft has more mobility and more responsiveness. A supertanker takes a lot more time and distance to slow down or change directions than a 25' sailboat so I think I would be doing my best to get out of his way and not expect that he's going to be able to turn aside before we collide.

    It's like when you're riding down the road and a Mack truck comes barreling through a red light. You might have the right of way, legally, but he's bigger than you, he's heavier than you, he can't stop or maneuver as quickly as you ... and if the two of you crash, he's not going to suffer nearly as much damage as you.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what other sailors have to say and what the maritime laws are. We had a small sailboat and used to spend some time on a friend's 32' footer and loved both, but vision problems for my husband have curtailed sailing as one of our hobbies. And we only ever sailed in lakes where there were no supertankers.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    A small power boat is far more maneuverable than a sailboat, so the general rule is for powerboats to steer clear of sailboats ( which require wind at a certain angle, while powerboats can do 360 degrees with no problem ). So for close-to-shore encounters, the sailboat almost always has the right of way. Once you're out in Big Waters, however, the equation changes, depending on circumstances. But for most 10' - 30' ship encounters, the sailboat has the right of way over similar sized powered craft. About as basic as it gets.

    - The Gremlin Guy -

    Source(s): my ignorance is your bliss
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  • 1 decade ago

    Great Question and great answers!

    No where in the Navigation Rules is the term 'Right of Way" used.

    There are Stand On vessels and Give Way vessels.

    And agreed that new sailboat operators sometimes believe that they have 'Right of Way" over everything else, they soon learn other wise.

    Also according to the rules, even if you are the Stand On vessel you can not take that privilege into a collision. If you do you can expect to found partly responsible.

    Source(s): USCG License Instructor USCG Licensed Master Nav Rules 11 through 18 (conduct of vessels in sight of one another)
  • 1 decade ago

    No, there are several instances where it is not the stand on vessel:

    1. A vessel of less than 20 meters (this includes your 25' sailboat) in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway.

    2. A vessel shall not cross a narrow passage or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel which can safely navigate only within such channel or fairway.

    3. A vessel of less than 20 meters (this includes your 25' sailboat) in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the safe passage of a power-driven vessel following a traffic lane.

    4. A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel not under command

    5. A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver

    6. A sailing vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a vessel engaged in fishing.

    7. Any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

    I was working on a car/passenger ferry when we were struck by a vessel under sail. The Coast Guard arrested the operator of the sailboat because the ferry could only safely navigate within the narrow channel. The sailboat owners defense "I had the right of way, I'm a sailboat was met with laughs by the Coast Guard CWO and CPO that arrested him.

    Source(s): Knowledge attained while memorizing the Inland and International Navigation Rules ver-batum for a college level Maritime Law class
  • 4 years ago

    If you want to have a really good time, get the sailboat and learn to sail. If all you want to do is drive around on water, and pay $5 a gallon for gas, and get 3 miles to the gallon, then get the power boat.

  • mark t
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    No they do not. A vessel restricted in it's ability to maneuver, constrained by it's draft, not under command, engaged in trawling (fishing with nets, longlines etc. Not a boat trolling) all have the right of way over a sailboat.

  • 1 decade ago

    sailboats have the right of way over powerboats but not ships. the right of way is determined by the ability of the respective vessels to maneuver a powerboat is the most agile so it gives way for the less agile. a sailboat is more agile than a tanker so the sailboat gives way and so on and so on.

  • jtexas
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Sailboats *UNDER SAIL* have right of way over power boats that are under way EXCEPT when the sail boat is overtaking the power boat

    and other exceptions as noted above -- suffice it to say, a non-maneuverable vessel. A shrimp boat with its nets stretched out for miles is a good example.

    Sailboats while powered by an auxiliary motor are powerboats.

    "Right of way" doesn't really exist anyway.

    You have the "stand on" vessel, and the "give way" vessel.

    The "stand on" vessel is the one with "right of way", but their responsibility in a crossing or overtaking situation is to maintain a constant heading and speed.

    The responsibility of the "give way" vessel is to change its heading or speed to avoid a collision.

    With the added caveat that both vessels share equally in the responsibility to avoid an accident.

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