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What Should You Do to Avoid Colliding With Another Boat?

Written by Anthony Roberts / Fact checked by Jonathan Larson

what should you do to avoid colliding with another boat

Are you wondering, what should you do to avoid colliding with another boat? Piloting your watercraft can be one of the most thrilling experiences you can ever have. Unfortunately, it can also be fraught with danger because there are no well-defined ‘roads’ to follow.

However, there are many things you can do to avoid running into another boat and risk your life, your passengers, and your investment.


What Should You Do to Avoid Colliding with Another Boat

1. Maintain a Watch

Even if you have a boat that runs on Autopilot, it is always best to have someone stand on the vessel to look out for hazards or obstacles in the water. It can include watching for other boats, people in the water, navigation aids, and other objects.

If you stand on vessel watch, you can avoid collisions, especially at night, in stormy weather, or on a foggy afternoon. Good-quality binoculars should always be on hand to stand on a vessel.

Maintaining a sharp watch and stand while managing your course is essential to preventing collisions.

2. Learn and Understand Marine Navigation Rules


There are rules of navigation you must follow and aids to navigation all water vessels must observe if you want to avoid a collision with another vessel.

For example, you should always steer your boat on the starboard side of a water channel. The starboard side is the right side of your heading. Oncoming boat traffic is on the port side or left side.

There are also markers on the water that signal where the port side and the starboard side are. Even without these markers, it is always best to stay on the starboard or right side of any waterway.

When learning the rules of navigation pay attention because your safety depends on understanding these rules.

You must also learn the correct use and interpretation of sound signals. A sound signal comes in short or long blasts of the horn.

For example, one short blast tells another boater you intend to pass his vessel on your port side or left side. One short blast lasts only a second.

On the other hand, two short blasts indicate you will pass other boats on your starboard side or right side.

Three short blasts tell other boaters you intend to back up or reverse your boat.

Five short blasts indicate imminent danger. It can also mean you disagree with other boaters or do not understand what they are trying to convey.

Power-driven vessels sound one prolonged blast every two minutes whenever they leave the port. On the other hand, a sailboat will sound one long blast and two short blasts every two minutes. Hence, you will know if a sailboat or a power-driven water vessel is leaving the docks.

Another sound signal you must know is one prolonged blast used by any boat or ship as a warning signal. If you hear this signal, the other boat owner is rounding a blind bend.

Avoiding collisions with other boats is easy if you follow the rules, especially when approaching another boat, sailboat, a shipping vessel, or any watercraft.

3. Avoid Boating in Shipping Lanes

Large shipping vessels and cruise liners take time to stop. If they spot your tiny boat on the water, these vessels may not change course in time to avoid you.

If you encounter a large ship, it is best to give way if you cannot shun it.

If you have to pass any of these gigantic vessels, it would be best to do so at a 90-degree angle.

Shun overtaking the large vessel even if you have the fastest motorized vessel in the world. A small boat must give way to a vessel larger than it.

Never anchor your boat, dive, or fish within the shipping lanes. Be mindful of the ships’ sound signals, including their right of way in shipping lanes. Always stay on your starboard side relative to the ship. Here we have tips on anchoring and docking if you need.

4. Watch Your Speed

A sailboat or a power-driven boat may look far from you. However, at an average speed of 30 knots, a vessel can be right in front of your boat within minutes.

Maintain a safe speed whenever you are boating. If another vessel is crossing your path, avoid gunning the throttle to outrun it.

If you are unsure whether you can cross the other boat’s path without colliding, it would be best to slow down and steer your watercraft at the other vessel’s stern. The stern is the back of any boat, motorized or not.

Watch out for control markers on the water. For example, if you enter no-wake zones, it is essential to throttle down and observe the no-overtaking rules.

Use caution when boating near swimming areas because some people may swim outside the safe zone.

5. Improve Your Watercraft’s Visibility


Boats look like specks in open waters, making them challenging to spot on foggy or windy days and at night.

That is why your boat must always have its running lights operating from dusk until dawn. Anchored boats should also display the correct light schemes.

It is also advisable to install a radar reflector, improving your radar signature to other vessels. It would be best if your radar has an Automatic Identification System.

If you have strobe lights, know that the US Coast Guard warrants its use only in an emergency to send out a distress signal.

6. Be a Responsible Boater

Remember what experts say about alcohol and driving being not an ideal pair? Well, the same is true when piloting boats. You need all of your senses as sharp as an eagle if you do not want any boating accidents.

It would also be best to forego your boating adventure if you are sleepy or tired. Vigilance is crucial whenever you are in the open seas with other boats.

7. Be Vigilant

It would be best to be extra cautious and vigilant when heading into the sun. The sun’s glare on the water can also increase your risk of collision with another vessel. Glare on the water can also hurt your eyes.

If you are boating on rivers, lakes, or coastal areas, it would be wise to remember that a debris field usually forms after a heavy rainfall or a storm. Be on the lookout for floating debris and other hazards on the water.

Always check your course and speed, slowing when encountering congested traffic and giving way to vessels larger than your boat.

When you encounter other boats, it would be best to shun overtaking. Always give way because you do not know what other boaters are thinking.

Be mindful of the wind. If you notice the wind picking up, it would be best to head to port. A gentle wind can turn into a gale instantly.

8. Use Common Sense in Boating

It is always better to look in all directions before making any changes in your boat’s direction. If you see another boat, it would be best to give way to prevent collisions.

It is also safer to assume that other boaters are not as skilled as you. It would be best to keep your distance from other watercraft to prevent collisions.

If you have to tow a wakeboarder, it would be best to do it away from secluded anchorages and navigation channels. If you engage in water towing activities in these areas, you increase your risk of colliding with other boats.


Do you know what should you do to avoid colliding with another boat? You can keep watch at all times and understand marine navigation rules. It also helps to steer clear of shipping lanes and pilot your boat within the speed limits. Also, there are some tips to avoid running aground for your reference.

Improving your watercraft’s visibility, keeping the VHF radio operating when in the water, and being vigilant also help. You can also be smart about boating while piloting your craft only when sober and well-rested.

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