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Rules of the road under sail

The International Collision Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, commonly known as the ColRegs or steering rules act like driving rules used for safety on the roads. They apply to all vessels sail or power, large and small.

Rule 12 - Sailing vessels

  • Power driven vessels must avoid and/or give way to all sailing vessels when under sail.
  • Ships, tugboats with tows, commercial ferries and fishing vessels have right of way over sailing vessels. Yachts should stay well clear of these vessels.
  • A sailing vessel using its motor is considered to be power vessel even though sails (motor sailing) may be hoisted. In this situation the sailing vessel with sails hoisted and using motor should hoist a cone forward of the mast to show that she is "motor sailing".
  • The overtaking vessel must keep clear. This also applies when a sailing vessel is overtaking a power boat.

When two or more sailing vessels are approaching one another the tack they are sailing on determines which boat has the right of way.

Starboard tack over port tack

When sailboats approach on different tacks the boat on the starboard is the stand on vessel with right of way. The boat on the port tack is the give way vessel and should pass behind the other sailing vessel.

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Points to remember

  • Keep a good look out at all times.
  • Port tack gives way to starboard tack
  • When sailing vessels  are on the same tack, the leeward vessel has the right of way. This means the vessel sailing closest to the wind must give way.

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