How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat? – (3 Steps)

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat: Navigating the open seas or a bustling lake requires knowledge, experience, and a strong understanding of boating etiquette. This is particularly true when it comes to passing a fishing boat, where certain protocols need to be followed to ensure the safety of all parties involved.

Can you pass on a boat?

Yes, you can pass another boat while on the water. However, it’s essential to follow established maritime rules and etiquette. The boat planning to overtake or pass is referred to as the “burdened” or “give way” vessel. The boat being overtaken or passed is the “privileged” or “stand on” vessel, which has the right of way.

Before initiating the pass, the give way vessel (the one intending to pass) should ask for and receive permission from the stand on vessel (the one being passed). This is usually done via marine radio communication or recognized sound signals.

Understanding Boating Hierarchy and Key Terms

On the water, the different classes of watercraft have higher or lower ranks in the boating hierarchy. This ranking determines their right-of-way in situations like passing or crossing in front of one another. The hierarchy, in order of priority from highest to lowest, is as follows:

  1. Sailboats
  2. Active fishing boats (i.e., fishing lines and nets are extended)
  3. Boating vessels restricted by draft
  4. Vessels with limited maneuverability due to gear in the water
  5. Unmanned vessels
  6. Watercraft being overtaken by another

For instance, fishing boats have a higher “right-of-way” compared to powered watercraft, such as tugboats or speedboats.

Two important terms to understand in this context are “give way” and “stand-on” vessels. A “give way” vessel is the one that will yield to the other and signal its intentions to the other boaters. On the other hand, a “stand-on” vessel is the boat that will actively overtake or pass another ship.

The Starboard Side Rule

The starboard side rule is a basic principle of boating etiquette. This rule states that whenever you pass a fishing boat or any other type of watercraft, you should steer your vessel to the starboard side of that boat.

Starboard is the right-hand side of a water vessel, while port refers to the left-hand side. Steering to the starboard side ensures both watercraft pass each other on their port sides, thereby maintaining predictability and manageability for all boaters.

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat – Steps to Passing a Fishing Boat

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat

1. Wait for the All-Clear

Before you pass a fishing boat, it is essential to wait for a signal that it’s safe to do so. Boats usually signal using their horn. This step is both a safety precaution and a courtesy to your fellow boaters.

2. Pass on Port

When you’re passing a fishing boat, you should make an effort to pass on the port side (left) of the vessel, steering towards starboard. When ready to pass, honk your horn once. When they’re ready for you to pass, they’ll return a single honk.

In certain cases, if the fishing boat’s lines are cast toward the shore from their port side, you might need to pass on the starboard side. In such situations, signal your intention by honking your horn twice and wait for a corresponding response.

3. Go Slowly

Go very slowly and try not to make any wakes when passing. A large wake could be dangerous for the fishing vessel as it might rock the boat or even toss someone overboard.

Why is Proper Passing Important?

Being careful while passing a fishing boat is crucial to avoid accidents and adhere to the standard rules of boating. Fishing boats often use complex netting equipment and fishing lines that extend significantly into the water. If not vigilant, you could inadvertently hit the nets or other equipment, leading to substantial damage or personal injuries.

Further Considerations

Boating is a skill that improves with experience. Here are some additional rules to keep in mind. Any anchored boat has the right-of-way by definition as it cannot maneuver quickly enough to avoid a collision.

If you and a fishing boat are meeting head-on, try to pass each other on the port sides while maintaining enough space apart and taking all necessary precautions.


In conclusion, knowing how to pass a fishing boat correctly is a crucial part of boating etiquette. Following these guidelines will help ensure the safety of everyone involved and maintain a harmonious boating environment. Happy sailing!

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