How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat?

Boating can be a fantastic way to connect with nature and enjoy the outdoors, particularly in the spring and summer months. Whether you have a sailboat, a fishing boat, or any other kind of watercraft, it’s imperative to know how to pass fishing boats. These common watercraft can present hazards to inexperienced boaters.

Let’s discuss the proper procedures and the formalities of passing a fishing boat on the open water.

Why Is It Important To Pass A Fishing Boat In A Specific Way?

Fishing boats are not like other typical commercial or private watercraft. Modern fishing boats use complex netting equipment and fishing lines that can reach significantly farther into the water compared to the equipment used by other types of watercraft.

If you aren’t careful, you may accidentally hit the nets and other equipment of a fishing boat simply going about its business. Be vigilant, even if it appears that there’s enough space between your boat and the fishing vessel.

Furthermore, it’s essential to know how to pass a watercraft in order to adhere to the standard civil rules of boating. 

If you aren’t careful when passing a fishing boat, you could cause an accident. Thus, leading to hundreds or thousands of dollars of damage or personal injuries.

Marine “Rights-of-Way”

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. Here’s the hierarchy in order from the highest priority to the lowest:

  • Sailboats
  • Active fishing boats (i.e., fishing lines and nets are extended)
  • Any boating vessels whose navigation is restricted by draft (a measure of how much a ship sinks into the water due to weight). For example, a massive and heavy cargo ship will be severely restricted by draft compared to a light clipper.
  • Boating vessels that have limited maneuverability because they have gear in the water, including anchors and nets
  • Unmanned vessels
  • Watercraft that is currently being overtaken by another

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

Key Terms

Boating terminology is dense and complex. Fortunately, only two terms are relevant to this discussion.

A “give way” vessel is the vessel that will yield to the other and signal its intentions to the other boater(s).

A “stand-on” vessel is the boat that will actively overtake or pass another ship. The boater of a stand-on vessel will also communicate their intentions to the other boater and take appropriate precautions to prevent an accident.

The Starboard Side Rule

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.

If you steer to the starboard side, both watercraft will pass each other on their port sides. This rule keeps passing predictable and manageable for all boaters.

What if you can’t pass on the starboard side because there is fishing equipment in the way or because doing so would bring you too close to shore? In that case, you are allowed to pass on the port side. However, you need to communicate your intentions to the other boater beforehand, so they are not surprised.

Passing Behavior

Passing isn’t as simple as speeding past a fishing boat or any other watercraft. You should also:

  • Honk at least once. Wait for a reply honk from the other boat, as this is commonly understood as a “go-ahead” sign.
  • Honk at least twice if you need to pass on the port side. Similarly, wait for a double honk in return before passing.
  • Maintain a minimum wake whenever you pass a fishing boat. Wake is the water disturbance left behind a boat as it sails around. If you pass a boat too closely, the wake may disturb the fishing boat or even cause safety issues due to wave generation.
  • When you pass a fishing boat in particular, give yourself a little extra room to maneuver. Remember, fishing boats have the extra gear they may have cast into the water. If you don’t give yourself enough space, you could break the equipment or get your boat tangled in nets.

Further Considerations

Becoming a master boater will take time. But here are some other important rules to keep in mind as you build up your skills and gain experience.

  • Any anchored boat has the right-of-way by definition. That’s because an anchored boat is unable to maneuver quickly enough to avoid a collision, so the onus is on any passing boat to prevent an accident.
  • If you and a fishing boat are meeting head-on (that is, heading toward each other directly), try to pass each other on the port sides. Remember to maintain enough space apart and take all the necessary precautions. Slow down so you don't generate an uncomfortable wake or accidentally drift too close.