BOATsmart! Canada
Knowledge Base

Module 05 - Navigation and Right-of-Way Rules

Operating Rules for Power-Driven Boats: Keeping it Simple

Power-driven boats that are approaching each other can determine right-of-way depending on each boat’s position.

To properly understand right-of-way, you must be able to recognize the sectors of navigation, including the port, starboard and stern sectors, and should reference these sectors in order to determine who has the right-of-way.

  • Port Sector: If a powerboat is approaching the port side of your boat, you are the stand-on vessel, and can maintain your course and speed.
  • Starboard Sector: If any boat approaches the starboard side of your boat, you are the give-way vessel, and must keep out of its way.
  • Stern Sector: If any boat approaches your boat from behind your boat (from the stern) you are the stand-on vessel, and may maintain your speed and course with caution.

The Danger Zone–Give way zone

The starboard side of your boat or ‘starboard sector’, is also considered the ‘Danger Zone’ or ‘Give-Way Zone’, and is marked with your green starboard  light.  When another boater sees your green light, it will indicate to them that they have the right-of-way.  You must take early and substantial action to avoid a collision with the other boat, in this scenario.

Memory Tip

Need an easy way to remember if you have the right-of-way, when approaching another boat? Just remember that “Green Means Go”! When you’re approaching another boat, and see their green starboard light, you have the right of way and can ‘Go!’. In this scenario you do not need to alter your speed or course.

Approaching Non-powered Boats

 If you are operating a powered boat and are approaching a non-powered boat, such as a sailboat or canoe, you are the give-way boat and do not have the right-of-way. In this scenario you must take action to keep well clear of the non-powered boat by altering your speed and course.

 Remember: Non-powered boats can easily be swamped by the wake of larger boats. When steering clear of the non-powered boat be sure to operate with caution, and avoid creating a wake that may swamp the smaller boat.

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The Official Transport Canada Boating Course, Test & License.

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