Every boater has (hopefully) heard of the rule of “red, right, return” meaning to keep the red buoys on your right when returning from sea.

What many don’t realize is that this old chestnut is one of many that represent the embedded knowledge of centuries of seafaring known formally as the “International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea” and the largely parallel United States Inland Rules. Sometimes referred to by the old salts as the “COLREGS” or simply The Rules, it has been estimated that less than 10% of today’s boaters are familiar with them…

And the IMO (International Maritime Organization, global governing body) estimates that 80% of all collisions at sea are due to “pilot error.” Here are a few tips to remember to maintain a better level of safety while boating.

Bottom line, if you are overtaking another vessel, you are the give-way vessel. You cannot turn it into a stand-on crossing situation by speeding ahead and then cutting across the over-taken vessel’s starboard bow.

Head On
If you see a boat steaming towards you in a head-on situation, “both” captains are required to turn to starboard (showing their red port-side light) and return to their respective compass headings once an appropriate passing lane has been established between them. Under the Rules, they are “both” give-way vessels.

OK, I will use the term. If another boat is crossing your bow from your right-hand (starboard) side, she has the “right of way.” Turn to starboard and go behind her (called “going under her stern”). If you can’t, stop your boat until
she passes.

Source:; Vincent Pica; May 8, 2012.