Lakeside is pleased to announce the addition of Frank Taylor to our staple of monthly columnists. Frank is an avid boater on Lake Lanier and will offer tips, advice, and general information on boating safety. He is past commander of America’s Boating Club – Atlanta and is currently a content creator at the YouTube channel “The Ships Logg.”

Rules for who has the right of way on the water

There can sometimes be a lot of confusion over who has the right of way on the water. Some people don’t think about it. The fact is, there are rules and we all should be aware of them. Yes, the rules are different than when on roadways and they only really apply when there are other vessels around. If you are the only vessel on the water, you can pretty much go where you want without regard to direction or speed. You may need to be aware of channel markers and warning markers to keep from running aground but otherwise, the water is all yours.

The rules change when there are other vessels around, especially when two or more vessels are heading in a direction where there might be a collision. This defines a situation where one vessel is considered the stand-on vessel and the other is the give-way vessel. The rules specify that when two vessels are approaching each other on the water, the stand-on vessel can continue on its course and speed while the give-way vessel must change its course, speed or both in order to prevent a collision.

So how do we know which vessel is the stand-on vessel and which one is the give-way vessel?  Let’s start with the basics. If you are navigating your boat across a body of water and you see another boat approaching from your port side (that’s the left side for the landlubbers), you are the stand-on vessel and the other boat is the give-way vessel. If you see the other vessel approaching from your starboard side (right side), you are the give-way vessel and the other boat is the stand-on vessel. If you are approaching head-on then both vessels are required to turn to starboard to avoid collision. That’s it.

Here are two ways to help you remember this:

  1. “A star stands on stage” – Starboard is the stand-on vessel
  2. “Right side means right of way.”

Things do get a bit more complex if we are talking about vessels of different types such as a sailboat and a powerboat. In that case, there is an order of precedence to determine who has the right of way no matter what the direction of approach. You will definitely not see all of these types of vessels on Lake Lanier but its good information to have:

  1. Not Under Command – This is a boat where there is no one at the helm. Obviously, it cannot get out of your way.
  2. Restricted in Ability to Maneuver – A vessel that is restricted in maneuverability because of operations such as dredging or towing.
  3. Constrained by Draft – A vessel that is restricted due to the draft required for it to navigate. For example, a large ship that must remain in a channel.
  4. Fishing Vessel – Commercial fishing vessel. Sorry, this does not apply to you when you are casting from your bass boat.
  5. Sailboat – Note that if a sailboat is running its engines, it is considered a powerboat because it is under power.
  6. Powerboat – This includes all powerboats from personal watercraft up to cruisers.
  7. Sea Plane – You are probably not going to see one of these on Lake Lanier but just in case.

One last thing to keep in mind is that no matter what the situation, it is always required that everyone do whatever is necessary to avoid a collision. Also, don’t forget that simple common courtesy and basic common sense can also go a long way in helping to keep us all safe on the water.