What Should You Do To Avoid Colliding with Another Boat

what should you do to avoid colliding with another boat

"What should you do to avoid colliding with another boat" is a question that is raised in boat ed course programs and tutorial centers more than it is in actual practice which is indicative of how boat collisions are generally viewed: relatively overlooked.

Avoiding collisions or preventing boat-related accidents and worse, deaths, may be as simple as "avoid a collision" but the statistics may surprise you. In the United States alone, the Coast Guard tallied approximately 5,000 boat-related accidents, a little over 3,000 boat-related injuries, and almost 800 deaths for the year 2020. Most accidents involve two boats, but there are also occurrences of multiple boat collisions. There are accidents that happen during heavy rainfall, but there are also some that occur as a result of the inability to follow the rules.

In other words, we must always put emphasis on putting theory into practice, which is why we have prepared this brief primer for you to learn more about boat collisions for both your exam and actual boat navigation needs. Read more to learn more!

Common Questions that You May Encounter in a Boat Ed Exam (and the Appropriate Responses)

First things first, for those who looked up this guide for some quick tips and guidance for an upcoming boat ed exam, we have you covered! So, beyond the question "what should you do to avoid colliding with another boat," we have listed below are a few of the most common boat ed questions and their respective correct answers.

  1. To who should you leave a float plan before getting underway? A responsible person.
  2. What do red and green lights on a sailboat indicate when seen together at night? It is the bow of a sailboat heading straight towards you.
  3. What does a flashing blue light indicate? A law enforcement boat.
  4. What do visual distress signals have in common? They should be locked away to keep them safe.
  5. It is important to keep metal and/or electrical devices at a distance from the magnetic compass because it could display inaccurate information. True or false? Answer is true.

Things to Keep in Mind to Avoid Colliding with Another Boat

There are countless possibilities (and combinations of possibilities) that could happen during any given day out at sea. Despite the best efforts of the vessel and its crew, some accidents are simply unavoidable. However, it must be emphasized that most accidents actually are avoidable. Listed below are what we consider to be the most important tips to take to heart before leaving port and taking your vessel to sea.

Maintain a Safe Speed

A common cause of boat collisions is the propensity of some inexperienced boat operators (and even veteran boat operators) to speed up (accelerate) or speed down (decelerate) during inappropriate times and locations out on the sea. Whether it be two boats attempting to overtake one another or simply attempting to dock your boat in a relatively crowded port area, always use caution, use the appropriate signals, and keep your head focused on the task at hand.

Look in All Directions Before Making Turns

Unlike commercial vehicles that are generally small and agile enough to make quick turns that do not disrupt the course or flow of traffic, boats require more patience and elegance in making turns. Keep sharp watch of objects to avoid such as floating debris and other boats in every possible direction. Double and triple-check if you have to. Your safety, as well as that of your crew's, is on the line.

Give Way to Vessels (Consider Common Practices and Right of Way)

An action to avoid is letting your ego get the best of you when operating a boat or vessel out at sea. Aside from abiding by the rules of navigation such as the right of way and overtaking protocols, it is best to be safe, defensive, and intuitive in all situations that involve multiple boats.

If you see a signal and the opposing boat has right of way, then you must give way. If, however, you find yourself in a situation where you can sense that the opposing boat operator is either inexperienced or overconfident, then you must give way (in most circumstances) to avoid any unfortunate accidents or injuries. Feel free to report any untoward behavior or actions out in sea afterward as this aids the proper and safe operation of seafaring and fishing.

Follow Safety Rules and Regulations

The rules are put in place and have been for several decades for very good reasons. The creators of these boat provisions (and their subsequent revisions and modifications) are experts in the field of boating, fishing, and congested traffic operation. The rules and regulations should be followed at all times and should be committed to your head and heart for a safe and enjoyable trip (fishing or otherwise).

Pay Attention to Overall Visibility and Other Environmental Factors

Another way to avoid colliding with vessels is to be on the sharp watch or lookout for overall visibility and other environmental factors. This includes the sun's glare, fog, wind direction, wind strength, glare on the water, and even floating debris (man-made or otherwise).

Always Have a Lookout

In relation to the entry above on visibility, it is required for every boat operator to have a designated lookout. Unfortunately, in some boat operations, this rule is not followed diligently. In any case, we hope that moving forward, our readers always keep in mind to designate a responsible (and sober) lookout for the safety of everyone on board (as well as for those on another vessel or boat).

Boat Navigation Rules and Regulations

General Rules

There are several guidebooks, articles, and abbreviated handbooks that cover the rules and regulations of navigation of vessels, including what to avoid, the signal to use, types of vessels in operation, technical terms (such as stand-on vessel, starboard, port, stern, head, and many more). Listed below are a few of the core concepts that you need to know about when it comes to the rules of navigation. Pay attention to each and commit everything to memory in your head.

Give-way Vessel: The vessel that slows down (ideally to a stop) in its course to give way to the stand-on vessel to either maintain course to cross or overtake.

Stand-on Vessel: The stand-on vessel refers to boats that maintain course and speed to proceed past other boats as a result of giving way by the give-way boats.

Power-Driven Vessel: Refers to boats powered by machinery.

Aids to Navigation (Sound and Light to Avoid Collision)

Boat Sound Signals Guide (including Miscellaneous Sound Signals)

One Short Blast: One short blast means another boat intends to pass you on its port side (left).

Two Short Blasts: Two short blasts means another boat intends to pass you on its starboard side (right).

Three Short Blasts: Another boat intends to back up.

Five Short Lasts: A five-short blast signal is considered to be a warning or danger signal.

One Prolonged Blast: One prolonged blast at intervals of under two minutes is a signal used by power-driven vessels to signal their departure or operation. Alternatively, this is considered to be a warning signal.

One Prolonged Blast and Two Short Blasts: At intervals of under two minutes, this indicates that boats are sailing.

Boat Light Signal Guide

There are several anti-collision boat light signals (with unique combinations of colors depending on whether the vessel is a power-driven vessel or otherwise, or if the vessel is the stand-on vessel or give-way vessel) which require several visual guides and memorization to get a solid grasp of every light combination and its respective intention.

Take a look at the following terminologies to begin to acquaint yourself with boat light signals:

  • Power-driven vessel from ahead less than 50 meters
  • Power-driven vessel from ahead at least over 50 meters
  • Air cushion vessel in non-displacement mode port side
  • Sailing vessel over 20 meters ahead
  • Sailing vessel less than 20 meters ahead
  • Not under command
  • Vessel over 50 meters aground port side
  • Restricted in ability to maneuver
  • Constrained by draft starboard side
  • Vessel engaged in fishing starboard side
  • Vessel engaged in towing starboard side

Boat Tips and Tricks in Common Situations

In addition to the chunks of information provided in the earlier sections regarding boats and boating, we have a few more things for you to consider and stand by when operating boats in the open wind and seas.

  • Overtake only when necessary.
  • Wind conditions (wind direction and strength) can alter your boating ability to dock at a port, overtaking, and dispersion of sound (one short blast may not be heard at a great distance).
  • The stern of the boat is just as important as the bow when it comes to sound warnings and light signal patterns. Make sure you orient yourself accordingly with the stern, bow, and sides (port and starboard) of the other boats when out boating, especially when overtaking or being the stand-on vessel.

The Importance of Navigation Aids

Navigation aids are essential and mandated, regardless of the size or shape of your boat. Make sure to have full awareness and understanding of the different signs and signal patterns to be aware of what intentions you are sending to other operators and what messages others are sending over to you.

How to Properly Utilize Sound Signals

For this, we would advise undertaking a theoretical approach, at least initially, to master the different sound combinations and the orientation of overtaking boats relative to you (starboard, port, etc.) before putting practice into operation.

Safety Advice for Boat Launching and Boat Docking

Just like what we said above, mastery of the concepts and rules is key to understanding what boats have to offer, from understanding starboard and portside all the way to recognizing sounds of boats and light signal patterns of boats (from starboard, bow, or stern). Look up a guide or video online that is applicable to your region or state.


We now ask you: what should you do to avoid colliding with another boat? Think about it really well and keep our primer in mind! You will be a boating savant in no time!

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