When A Sailboat Is Approaching A Powerboat, Which One Is The Give-Way Vessel? (what to do)

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: June 21, 2023
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According to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs), the give-way vessel is the one that has to take early and substantial action to avoid a collision. This is why when a sailboat is approaching a powerboat; the powerboat is the give-way vessel, while the sailboat is the stand-on vessel.

Key Takeaways

  • If two moving sailboats have the wind blowing from different directions or sides then the sailboat with the wind blowing on its’  port is the give-way vessel
  • When two powerboats come together or converge then the powerboat that approaches from the other’s starboard side is to give way
  • The stand-on vessel has to maintain its initial speed and course if the give-way vessel doesn’t respond to the appeal of the stand-on vessel
  • If a sailboat flies a cone or a triangular shape then it means the sailboat is under power
  • The starboard is located on a boat’s right-hand side facing the forward direction and it is identified with the green light at night

Who gives way if you want to overtake?

Who gives way if you want to overtake

When you are overtaking, it is your responsibility to alert the vessel user of your plan and make sure that the way is clear for you to carry out the overtaking. Even if you are operating a sailboat and planning on overtaking a motorboat, you are the one to make sure the way is clear. You should be cautious and have a clear mind, and the most important thing of all, make sure you know what you are doing.

Signs and shapes and what they mean

When traveling on water, operators may have a difficult time when they want to communicate. They, therefore, use signs and shapes to pass the messages that they wish to other water users to get.

A boat is flying a blue or a white flagDivers are in the water
A sailboat is flying a cone or a triangular shapeIt is also under the power
A diamond shapeThis sign means on tow. Therefore, you are prohibited from moving through the middle of the vessels
A ball shapeThe vessel is at its anchor

What happens when two powerboats come together?

When two powerboats that are under power come together or converge, the vessel that approaches from the other’s starboard side is to give way.

How to avoid collisions when sailing sailboats

According to the marine regulations and rules, there are three main rules governing occurrences where one sailing boat approaches another.

  • When both of you are on the same track, it is appropriate that the sailboat on the leeward side is given way. 
  • When both sailboats are on opposite racks, meaning that they are heading in opposite directions, the one with the starboard advantage is given way.
  • The next incident is when you are overtaking. As mentioned earlier, the boat which is ahead is given way. This is the most dangerous instance as the boaters or sailors may be unsure which vessel should go first. However, the one slightly behind should drag there for allow while giving way to the other boat.

All vessels traveling on water; that is, the powerboats, the powered ones, and even the sailboats, should give way to the following ships;

1. Big ships

It is essential to always look for bigger and larger vessels. Once you spot it, make sure you maintain a safe distance. Why are they given this advantage? Unlike the smaller ships, the big and large vessels cannot easily alter the course they were initially following. They also travel at a greater speed than you can imagine, and because of their sizes, the operators cannot easily spot smaller vessels below them.

The key considerations are that you should not cross;

  • The same channel with a large vessel because you will block its way
  • In front of a large ship unless you are sure that the course is clear
  • Follow too close behind a large boat because it may lose control and may lead to a collision

2. Dredges and work barges

However, if you have a way to overtake these vessels, make sure you take great caution and make sure that you pass them at a favorable distance.

If you are uncertain about what to do, focus on the light or shapes that the dredges display. They either display two diamonds or two balls. The two diamonds show that you are free to pass the dredge; the two balls and a diamond restrict you from giving the vessel.

On the other hand, the work badges display either red or yellow flags.

3. Vehicular ferries

If these vessels are moving, all other vessels should;

  • Make sure that they slow down; if not, they should maintain a considerable distance of about a hundred meters from the ropes, chains, or ropes of the vessel.
  • Pass the vessel at a favorable distance. The safest spot to do this is just near the shore.
  • Make sure that their power is turned off entirely when passing near the ferries.

4. Commercial fishing vessels

These vessels may have nets in the water, restricting your vessel’s movement. They display specific shapes and signs that help other vessel operators on what action they should take.

In situations where you are not sure what action to take to avoid a collision, you should;

  • Alter your course. This will effectively remove any chances of collisions. It makes your assurance of the safety of your vessel as well as those on board.
  • You can also change your speed. This can be attained in two main ways; stopping or reversing. When you stop, you are not moving or remaining stationary; this will give the other vessel the go-ahead sign. Reversing is when you decide to lag so that the other boat can move.
  • You can decide to pass the other vessel very fast
  • Make a sound signal. This is a means of communicating and is the most efficient way as you are unsure of what to do.

The primary navigation rules that each boater should know

primary navigation rules

Navigation rules are there to guide boaters and other water body users on what is expected of them. These rules also act as situation helpers as they enable the one using them to know what actions to take in various situations.

There are five main terms that you, as a boater, should know their definitions of;

1. The starboard

The starboard is located on a boat’s right-hand side facing the forward direction. It is identified with the green light that it has at night.

2. The bow

This is the front part of a vessel when it is facing forward. It gives a white light at night and a combination of red and green on its sides.

3. The port

A port is considered a place where there is loading and unloading of cargo and a place where vessels and their operators have a rest. Well, you are right to think so. However, a port can also be described as the left side of a vessel facing forward; it gives a red light at night.

4. The stern

This is the back of the boat, giving a white light at night.

5. The buoy

This is the anchorage float which serves as the navigational marker. It comes in various forms, designs, and shapes, each having a different meaning. For distinction, it also gives a variation of lights at night.

The green buoys mostly have a square-based design, represented by odd numbers and squared tops. They can also be referred to as cans.

The red buoys, also referred to as nuns, are triangular-shaped and have even numbers.

Other buoys include yellow ones and white ones.

The rules;

  1. Make sure that you always listen and keep your eyes ahead 

This is a way of making sure that you notice each activity taking place in the water. Any activity that is dangerous and goes unnoticed may be hazardous.

  1. Always maintain a safe speed

Having a safe speed enables you to change your course quickly. It also limits any collision chances. It also gives you a good view of what is going on in the water.

When raising alarms to other vessel operators in the water, make sure that the cause of the alarm is reasonable. Do not just act with uncertainty as it may lead to confusion among the other vessel operators.

  1. Observe the give-way rules at all times
  2. Observe the overtaking protocols
  3. Keep away from big vessels.

Final word

Just as roads and other means of transport experience accidents, so do vessels operating on-water experience the same. Therefore, the correct procedures, rules, and regulations must be made to avoid instances of collisions and other accidents.


  • https://www.boat-ed.com/canada/studyGuide/Power-Driven-Vessel-Encountering-Sailing-Vessel/10119902_114051/
  • https://www.quora.com/When-a-sailboat-is-approaching-a-powerboat-which-boat-is-the-give-way-vessel
  • https://www.boaterexam.com/navigationrules/two-power-approaching/

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