Two Ships Passing: How to Pass a Fishing Boat in the Day or Night

How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat

If you’re wondering how you should pass a fishing boat, the short answer is straightforward. The rules of water state that all boaters must take action to avoid a collision. In the hierarchy of the so-called right-of-way, power vessels must yield to fishing boats that have gear in the water.

Rules of the Water

Nearly 50 million Americans took to the water to go fishing, based on the latest 2017 figures. Though over half fish from the shoreline, proper boater education is imperative to prevent accidents with fishing vessels.

Boating differs from driving in that there isn’t a defined right-of-way like you’ll follow when driving. Instead, there are best practices or rules of the road you must obey. There are different regulations whether you’re on international or inland waters. There are also specific laws pertaining to rivers and the Great Lakes. As the captain of a boat, it’s your responsibility to know them.

Pecking Order

There is a hierarchy that dictates navigation based on the degree of control each pilot has of their boat. A powered boat that is underway is on the bottom of the totem pole. They are followed in order from least to highest in priority in this way:

  • Sailboats
  • Fishing boats actively engaged
  • Vessels with navigation restricted by draft
  • Boats with limited maneuverability due to gear in the water such as nets
  • Unmanned vessels
  • Boats being overtaken by another

Fishing boats, therefore, seem to have a clear right-of-way over powered vessels. The exception to this rule is those which are trolling. In that case, they must adhere to the same regs as the latter so that neither boater has to start checking new boat prices.

Navigation Rules

When discussing how should you pass a fishing boat, you need to begin with some terminology. The body of the vessel is the hull. The top is the bow. The left is port. The right is starboard. The back is the stern.

When two boats approach each other, one is the give-way vessel and the other the stand-on. The former yields to the other while avoiding a collision and signaling his intentions if the boater is going to change direction or stop. The latter is the one who is actively overtaking the other. This individual must also inform the other of his actions and take like precautions to avoid an accident.

Crossing a Fishing Boat

Remember, if the boaters aren’t fishing, they are like any other powered boat on the water. If the two meet, there are specific rules for crossing by each other. That’s where knowing the parts of the boat comes in handy.

If the fishing boat is on your starboard side, you are the stand-on boat, and he is the give-way one. Follow the navigation rules as listed above. The reason for the distinction is that the stand-on vessel has an unobstructed view. It’s easier for both to avoid an accident and avoid looking for a boat payment calculator.

Meeting Head-On With a Fishing Boat

In this situation, the preferred way to maneuver is for each boat to pass on the port side. You both must keep an adequate distance apart and take proper precautions. It’s also essential to maintain a safe speed and perhaps even slow down while you pass one another, especially if there is a significant difference in size between the two personal watercraft.

Fishing boats often have a smaller freeboard. That is the distance from the gunwale or upper edge of the hull down to the water’s surface. A vessel speeding by will throw up a large wake in the aftermath and might send water into the other. It’s not a written rule, but instead, is a good boater etiquette.

Special Situations

There are also navigation rules that apply to other situations where you may need to know how you should pass a fishing boat. The first is night. Waters with speed limits will have lower ones at night, which helps with navigation. The lights on a vessel can also make it easier.

Night Boating

There are two colored front lights on the boat. The left one is always red. You can remember that by recalling that port is the same hue and that it has four letters like the side’s name. The right or starboard one is always green. You’ll also see an elevated light on the back or stern that is white. With this information, you know what direction it’s headed and how it’s facing.

Tight Quarters

If you meet a fishing boat in a narrow channel, you must steer toward the right just like a road. Allow larger vessels to pass if the width is too tight for you to pass side-by-side. It’s usually not permitted for a fishing boat to anchor in a channel no matter how they’re biting.


Sailing vessels get the right-of-way because of the restrictions of maneuverability. The exception is those under power. It’s not uncommon to see them with used outboard motors to help them navigate into port and dock their boats.

Other Rules for Passing a Fishing Boat

Many other rules are simply common sense. A fishing boat that is anchored has the right-of-way. Make sure to keep an adequate distance away from them. The line from their vessel may extend far from it. The last thing either of you wants is a line wrapped around your boat’s prop.

It’s also respectful of everyone’s use of the water. Throwing up a large wake or buzzing the fishing boat gets in the way of their enjoyment and safety. According to the US Coast Guard, there were nearly 4,300 boating accidents in 2017. Over 15 percent involved fishing vessels.

Boating and fishing are wonderful ways to have fun on the water and connect with nature. Practicing proper safety is essential whether you’re casting a line from the shore or anchored in your favorite spot. Remember that boaters always take care of other boaters, especially when it comes to navigation and the rules of the water