Rules of the Road

For the younger boating enthusiast… RULES OF THE ROAD

FerryMuch like car drivers, motorcyclists, bike riders and lorry drivers have to follow the rules of the road there are certain rules you have to follow when you’re out on the water. Let’s take a look at some of the key rules for you to learn.

Remember, these rules apply to sail and power boats

Who gives way?

  • Power boats give way to sail boats - remember if a yacht is under engine it is a power boat!

But what if both boats are sail boats?

  • If both boats are under sail then a boat on PORT TACK gives way to a boat on STARBOARD TACK
  • If the boats are both on the same tack, then the WINDWARD BOAT gives way to the downwind boat

BUT, there are exceptions to these rules… sometimes sail boats have to give way to motor vessels. Big ships can’t manoeuvre as easily as smaller boats and they also have to stick to deep water channels, so smaller boats should keep out of their way and alter their course in good time, making their intentions clear to the skipper on the deck of the big ship.

What happens when two powerboats come together?

  • When two boats under power converge, give way to the vessel approaching from the starboard side.

What happens when two boats under engine meet head on?

  • When this happens BOTH boats should turn to STARBOARD (if you’re on a river or narrow channel, drive your boat on the right hand side)

Remember – Port is the left hand side of a boat and starboard is the right hand side

Who gives way if I want to overtake?

  • When you are overtaking another boat it is up to the overtaking boat to keep well clear, so even if your sail boat is overtaking a motor boat it will be up to the sail boat to keep clear.

When you’re out on the water some boats will also show flags or shapes to show you that you need to keep out of their way…

A boat flying a blue and white flag means there are divers in the water
If you see a sailing boat flying a cone (triangle shape) this means it is also under power
The diamond shape means ‘on tow’ – so don’t try and go through the middle of these two boats!
This shape will tell you that this boat is a fishing boat – don’t go too close, their nets can go a long way out!
If you spot a ball shape on a boat it means that boat is at anchor

Next time you’re out on the water why not keep your eyes peeled for any boats flying this different shapes or flags…

Rules of the Road information taken from RYA Go Cruising! written by Claudia Myatt. Check out RYA Go Cruising! for loads more top tips and information about going cruising.


Quiz Time – True or False?

Let’s see what you can remember… which of these statements are true and which statements are false? No cheating now!

  1. Sail gives way to power
  2. Port tack gives way to starboard tack
  3. Give way to big ships
  4. Powerboats meeting head on should both turn to starboard
  5. If someone is overtaking you, you need to get out of their way
  6. Windward boats give way to downwind boats
  7. If you see a boat flying a cone shape it means they are sailing
  8. A ball shape on a boat means that the boat is fishing

Answers: 1 False, 2 True, 3 True, 4 True, 5 False, 6 True, 7 False, 8 False


RYA Youth and Junior membership

Want to join the RYA? We have special memberships designed exclusively for younger members.

RYA Junior Membership – As an RYA Junior member (up to 11 years old) you’ll receive a welcome pack containing an activity book on joining. You’ll be sent a quarterly newsletters from ‘Bob the Buoy’ crammed full of stories and quizzes, facts and pictures. You also have your own dedicated Junior Members area on the RYA website where you’ll find the latest news, gallery, your stories, games and lots more.

RYA Youth Membership – Designed for young people between 12 and 17 years of age. When you join you’ll receive a welcome pack containing the RYA Youth Notebook which is crammed full of useful information, a personal log to record your boating activities, contacts, events and much more. You’ll also receive an exclusive Youth member e-newsletter four times a year and have access to a dedicated Youth area on the RYA website. Here you can catch up on all the latest youth news and videos, read about different marine related careers, check out the photo gallery and share stories about the boating you do.