How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat? [The Proper Way]

how should you pass a fishing boat

Just as there are rules and practices that ensure safety on the road, so too are there regulations that ensure the same on water. Understanding and applying these rules when you’re out and underway should protect both yourself and those around you from accidents and injury.

One of the most common rules of boating is the proper way of driving by a fishing boat. While you might think you could pass an angler any which way you please, there’s specific boating etiquette that teaches us exactly how you should pass a fishing boat the right way. Wondering how? Here’s a quick guide.

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat?

Imagine a road where there are no rules - just a bunch of cars deciding where they want to pass, however fast they want to do it. It would probably be chaotic, and not to mention hazardous and potentially life-threatening. The same goes for operating a boat.

According to the US Coast Guard, there were over 4,300 boating accidents in the year 2017. Of these recorded accidents, around 15% were involved a fishing boat. With that, it’s easy to see why lots of pontoon owners are cautious when it comes to steering around a fishing boat.

Fortunately, avoiding any accidents is as easy as simply following these steps whenever you pass a fishing boat to help ensure everyone’s safety:

Slow Down or Stop Completely

If you’re passing a fishing boat, it helps to slow down or stop completely so you can communicate with the other vessel. Are you both approaching each other? If you are, wait for the fishing boat to give a signal as to whether it’s giving way or standing on and then adjust your course accordingly.

If the fishing boat is on the starboard side, remember that this makes you the stand-on boat which means you should maintain your course and speed. Alternatively, if you’re on the starboard side, you should then give way.

But what if it’s a narrow meet? If you’re passing another boat, steer to your starboard side. As a general rule, the larger vessel should pass first..

Steer to Starboard

Assuming that the fishing boat is stationary, this is when you must steer to the starboard side. This is because it’s always easier to steer away and avoid a collision if you’re on the starboard side.

As a general rule, boats are always encouraged to pass the starboard side. But even then, it helps to give a single honk to inform the fishing boat of your course. Wait for the boat to respond with a single honk to signify that it’s safe for you to pass.

If you’re planning to pass the port side, then honk twice. Again, make sure you wait for a double honk response from the other boat to make sure you’ve got the green light and that it’s safe to pass.

Always Ask Permission

While it might seem like you can pass over fishing lines without a fuss, that doesn’t mean you should. Before you pass any fishing lines, make sure you ask the fishing boat operator first. Always stop completely if you see that you’re about to pass over lines.

Once you get the go signal, then you can safely pass over the lines. And, when driving over them, make sure you go at a reasonable speed to avoid damaging the lines and your boat. What if the boat doesn’t give you a go? Then communicate as to which side would be better for you to pass. Again, honking once or twice works best in this scenario. Depending on their response, then you should know whether to steer to the port or starboard side.

Go Slow

Finally, reduce your speed. Passing a fishing boat at high speed risks leaving a large wake, which pontoons have been known to create. When this happens, you could topple over the neighboring vessel, cause its passengers to lose balance and fall out, or even capsize the boat depending on its size. Leave as small a wake as possible to avoid potential harm to the other boats around you.

The Importance of Doing It Correctly

importance in following rules when pontooning


There’s an importance to passing a fishing vessel properly, and it all lies in the matter of safety. Remember that fishing boats have a bunch of nets, ropes, and tethers connecting their boat to various areas of the water. If you pass by without following the rules, then you risk snapping a line and damaging your propellers on top of damaging the neighboring boat’s gear.


Another reason for observing the protocol is simply to avoid collision. Keep in mind that all of the other boats you share the water with expect that the vessels around it follow the same rules. So as you pass other boats, they anticipate that you’ll honk your horn, ask permission, slow down, and follow the rules when it comes to which side to steer.

If you completely or even just partially disregard the rules, then you confuse the boats around you. And because many of the interactions on the water two-way in that both boats have to communicate and agree, sending all the wrong signals by forgoing the protocol makes it impossible for other boats to understand where you plan to steer.

In essence, properly following these guidelines means that you minimize the risk for collisions and accidents while you’re on the waves.

Over to You

The laws that govern boat driving are just as important as those that you follow when you’re driving on the road. What’s unfortunate is that not a lot of boaters fully understand these regulations, especially in terms of how you should pass a fishing boat. So if you want to steer clear of an accident, it helps to read up. Keep this short guide in mind the next time you find yourself sharing the waves with a fishing boat so you can pass through without a hitch.

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