BOATsmart! Canada
Knowledge Base

Module 05 - Navigation and Right-of-Way Rules

Determining Right-of-Way

To understand right-of-way rules and regulations, it’s important to know which boat’s have the right-of-way on the water, and to learn about right-of-way terminology.

There are many factors that can help boat operators determine which boat has the right-of-way, including:

  1. The type of boat you’re operating
  2. The type of boat you’re approaching
  3. The direction from which the other boat is approaching you
  4. The type of waterway that you’re operating on

Right-of-way Terminology

What is a ‘stand-on vessel’? : Boats with the right-of-way are called ‘stand-on vessels’. Stand-on vessels may maintain their speed and direction when approaching other boats.

What is a ‘give-way vessel? : Boats that do not have the right-of-way are called ‘give-way vessels’. Give-way vessels are required to take early and substantial action to avoid a collision, by changing their speed and direction.

As a power-boat operator, you will never have the right-of-way when encountering:

  • Emergency boats: Emergency boats will always have the right of way over other boats on the water.   * Emergency vessels will display a blue flashing light.
  • A tug and its’ tow: Never pass between a tug and it’s tow as it may be using a submerged tow line.
  • Ferries: Always keep away from docked ferries, ferries in transit, and cable ferries that may be using a submerged towing cable.
  • Working fishing vessels: Keep well clear of working fishing vessels, such as those with fishing nets or trawls.
  • Non-powered boats: In most scenarios, power-driven boats are required to give-way to non-powered boats such as canoes, sailboats, paddle boats, sailboards, and racing shells.
  • Larger less manoeuvrable boats: Larger boats will take much longer to steer, and stop, and the operator will likely not be able to spot smaller boats in it’s path.
  • Boats that are not under command: Always give-way to anchored or disabled boats.




Get your Official Canadian
Boating License

The Official Transport Canada Boating Course, Test & License.

Get your Official Canadian
Boating License

The Official Transport Canada Boating
Course, Test & License.

Campfire Collective truck icon.



Go boldly, tell your story. Campfire is building a collective of ambassadors who share a passion for the wild. If you’re an influencer, publisher or sport expert drop us a line. Let’s hook up and inspire others.

Campfire Collective high five icon.



Stay in the loop. Sign up for our newsletter
to get the latest stories from around the fire.