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Rules of the Road

Standardize rules and practices for all vessels to prevent collisions

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All sailors must understand the rules of the road in order to prevent a collision at sea. International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea were published in 1972 by the International Maritime Organization to standardize rules and practices for all vessels. Turning a boat while at sea can take a while, especially for a large tanker, so when you're a collision course with another vessel it's important to know what you're expected to do first time and thus preventing one of those silly dances people do in the street when they both step the same way.

When two vessels meet each other, the rules designate one vessel as the stand-on vessel and the other as the give-way vessel. The stand-on vessel must continue it's course and should not change either it's direction or it's speed, while the give-way vessel must turn away to avoid the collision. Below are the basic rules for understanding which is the stand-on and the give-way vessel:

Different Tacks

When two sailing vessels are on the same tack the vessel on the starboard tack is the stand-on vessel. The vessel on the port tack must give way.

Rules of the Road - Different Tacks

Same Tacks

The windward boat is the give way vessel when two sailing vessels are on the same tack. The leeward vessel is the stand on vessel.

Rules of the Road -Same Tack

Head On

Both vessels must turn to starboard to avoid a head on collision. This applies to both sailing vessels and motorboats.

Rules of the Road - Head On

It must be noted though that BOTH the give-way and the stand-on vessels are responsible for preventing a collision and not just the give-way vessel. If the give-way vessel does not take avoiding action then it is the responsibility of the stand-on vessel to take action