Anyone who has operated a boat in this area knows that there is often confusion resulting from boats converging on one another.
Unfortunately, many boaters do not have the knowledge or training that allows them to understand who has the right of way on the water.
When boats are converging, one is always the “stand on” vessel and one is the “give way” vessel.
The “stand on” vessel is required to maintain its course and speed unless doing so will result in a collision. Knowing that a boat is the “stand on” boat also allows other “give way” boats the opportunity to predict what and where the “stand on” vessel will do and go, so “give way” boats can adjust their course and speed accordingly.
The “give way” vessel is required to do what is necessary to avoid a collision with the “stand on” vessel.
Knowing which vessel is “stand on” and which is “give way” is essential to be a safe boater, so how does one know which is which? This determination is made by the way every boat is “sectored” into green, red, and white sectors. The sectors are actually easier to identify at night because your boat’s navigation lights establish them, if they are installed and working correctly. It may help you to understand the sectors by walking around your boat at night with its navigation lights on.
The green sector on your boat, as identified by your green navigation light, is your danger zone or give-way Zone. This extends from the center of your bow (dead ahead) to 22.5º behind the starboard beam, or 112.5º from the bow, along the starboard side. When another boat operator sees your green light, or is in the zone of your green light (0 degrees to 112.5 degrees) the other boat has the right of way (think of green as being “go” for the other vessel) and is the “stand on” boat. When you have a boat in your green sector, you are the “give way” vessel and must take action to avoid a collision.
The red sector on your boat, as identified by your red navigation light, is your safety zone or stand on zone. This extends from the center of your bow (dead ahead) to 22.5º behind the port beam, or 112.5º from the bow, along your port side. When another boat operator sees your red light, or is in the zone of your red light (0 degrees to 112.5 degrees) the other boat becomes the “give way” vessel and is required to alter course to avoid a collision with your boat, which is now the ”stand on” vessel (think of red as being “stop” for the other vessel). When you have a boat in your red sector, you are required to maintain your course and speed so the “give way” vessel can alter its course and/or speed to avoid a collision.
The third sector on your boat is the white sector, indicated by the stern light. This sector covers the area not covered by the red and green lights, of 135 degrees. If you are approaching another boat and see its white light you are always the “give way” vessel and must take whatever action is necessary to avoid a collision. At night, a white light that you appear to be closing on indicates that you are overtaking the other boat and you are the “give way” vessel. Also, a white light can be a masthead light, visible 360 degrees, and usually indicates that a boat is anchored, in which case if you are under power you are also the “give way” vessel.
You cannot be a knowledgeable and safe boat operator if you do not know the three sectors of a boat and are able to translate that knowledge into action when you are on the water. For example, if you are under power and see a boat heading directly to you from your bow, or at night see both the green and red lights of a boat approaching you, it means that you are on a “head on” course for a direct front end collision with the other boat. In this case each boat operator is to avoid a collision by altering her respective course to starboard (left), if possible.
In the event you are in another boats green sector, or see its green light, you are the “stand on” vessel and should maintain your course and speed so that the “give way” vessel can alter its course to avoid colliding with your boat.
In the event you are in another boats red sector, or see its red light, you are the “give way vessel and should alter your course, speed, or both to avoid a collision with the other boat.
Also, you should be aware of the fact that the operator of the other vessel may not see your lights, know what they mean, or even be aware of your presence.
If a serious danger of collision exists for any reason and you have time, you should use your horn to sound the emergency signal of five short blasts and take whatever steps are necessary to avoid a collision, no matter what the rules are. The key is, whether you are “stand on” or give way” you should take whatever action is necessary to avoid a collision.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary provides training on this topic and others through a Boating Skills and Seamanship course offered in your area. Many insurance companies will provide you with a discount on your boat insurance if you have successfully completed the course. For information on the closest course offered in your area, please call 898-1324 and leave a message. You will be directed to the course nearest to you.
If you enjoy spending time on the water in a boat, taking the course might save your life one day.
Loren D. Reuter serves as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Staff Officer for Public Affairs and Publications, Flotilla 7-2.