How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat? 

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat

Whether you are new or old to boating, understanding the US Coast Guard’s Rules on water bodies is vital to protect yourself and other boaters. 

There are many boating rules and practices, but a common law that many boaters ask about is how to pass a fishing boat properly. 

If it’s your first time riding a boat, you may think it’s okay to pass a fishing boat on any side you please when sailing at any speed. 

However, there are specific rules on passing a fishing boat, and you should follow them to be on the safe side. 

There is actually a protocol or right of way hierarchy when it comes to passing boats. 

If you want to cruise safely and are wondering how you should pass a fishing boat, here is a quick guide to help you out. 

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat (2)

Just like there are rules and a certain driving etiquette on the road, the US Coast Guard requires a boater to follow a set of specific rules when boating. 

Today, there are lots of boats on the water, and without rules, it can be quite risky and life-threatening. 

Think of thousands of boaters on the water with no rules to control how they cruise or what they do on the water. Wouldn’t it be horrendous?  

Even so, boating accidents still happen. Hundreds of people die and thousands of passengers are injured from such accidents. 

Not to mention the millions of dollars lost due to the damages resulting from ship accidents. 

To be a bit specific, about 15% of the accidents involve a fishing ship. 

With that said, you can see that it’s crucial to pay particular attention to boating rules when steering by a fishing boat.  

Here are some essential tips you can apply when passing a fishing boat to ensure that you do it properly: 

Slow Down

When passing a fishing boat, it’s important to reduce speed or stop completely if you can. This will give you a chance to communicate with the other vessel. 

It also helps to minimize the wake your boat leaves behind. Steering at high speed to pass a fishing boat means that you are leaving a large wake, especially when using a pontoon boat.

The huge wake is risky to the fishing boat as it could result in loss of balance and capsizing.  

If you are approaching each other, you should signal the fishing boat to confirm whether it’s giving way or standing on. Then adjust based on what the other captain tells you. 

However, when the large fishing boat approaches the right-hand side, this automatically makes you the stand-on boat. 

Being the stand-on boat means that you should maintain your path and speed. 

On the other hand, you should give the fishing boat a way if you are approaching on the right-hand side.  

So, what should you do when it’s a narrow meeting? Well, in such cases, a rule of thumb is to ride to your starboard side and let the large fishing boat pass first. 

Drive to the Right Hand Side (Starboard) 

The US Coast Guard’s rule on how you should pass a fishing boat states that boats should drive to the starboard, which is the right side of the vessel. 

This means that boats should pass each other on their left-hand side. 

Captains should also sail smoothly, avoiding a large wake or interfering with the fishing lines. 

If the large fishing vessel is stationary, it’s easier for you to sail away to the starboard side and prevent a collision. 

But this doesn’t mean that you should simply steer to the starboard without giving the other captain a single signal. 

You should signal the fishing boat captain with a honk to inform them about your course. If they don’t respond immediately with a single honk, you should slow down and wait until it’s safe to pass. 

There are some cases, though, where it’s safe to steer the port side when passing a fishing boat. After all, the main reason these rules are put in place is to prevent collisions and accidents. 

If you want to ride to the left, you should honk twice and wait for the other captain to respond. 

The other boat should also respond with a double honk. Be sure to wait for the response to pass the fishing boat safely. 

Always Ask for Permission 

While sometimes it may seem like you can quickly pass a fishing boat without any complications, this doesn’t mean you should. 

It’s crucial to ask for permission before passing any fishing boat, no matter how safe it seems. You don’t want to ruin the fishing ropes or even cause the other boat to capsize. 

Ideally, you should slow down or stop completely to communicate with the fishing boat operator and ask for their permission. 

The best way to ask for permission from a fishing boat is to honk once or twice, depending on which side you intend to steer to. 

If the starboard (right-hand side) seems to be the better side for you to pass, you can honk once. For scenarios when you have to use the left side for safe passage, you can ask for permission by honking twice. 

Then the fishing boat operator will respond and give you the green light on which side to use. 

Maintain Full Concentration 

Passing a fishing boat is a bit tricky, so you need to maintain full concentration to avoid any unexpected obstacles on the water. 

If you have passengers on board, you can ask them to have a proper lookout in case there are any swimmers or other oncoming boats and give appropriate warning. 

You should also look out properly to see which side of the boat is safer to avoid a collision. Remember, the top priority is to avoid a collision or anything that can harm your passengers or the other party. 

So, if you think that it will be safer to use the port side or there may be a collision when using the starboard side, don’t hesitate to steer to the left.

But again, you need to honk twice and wait until the other captain permits you to pass. 

Overall, it’s important to stick to the rules but even more crucial to use your common sense to keep everyone safe on the water. 

You can simply overlook the rules if you think it will put the passengers of both vessels in danger. 

Why You Should Pass a Fishing Boat Correctly

Why You Should Pass a Fishing Boat Correctly

With so many registered recreational boats and fishing vessels on the US waters, there is always a risk of boat accidents. 

And while being able to cruise freely in the direction you please can provide a wonderful time, you need to follow the navigational rules to avoid accidents. 

Every boater should understand boating rules and know how to pass a fishing boat properly. They should give other water users ample space and not create large wakes when passing. 

Like road users are expected to follow traffic rules, boaters should adhere to navigational rules and practices. 

You cannot simply ride a vehicle on the road without knowing traffic rules, as this would result in a road accident. 

Similarly, you cannot just decide how you want to sail since there are rules to follow when navigating any water body in the US. 

If you are wondering why you need to be careful and follow navigation rules when passing a fishing boat, here are the two main reasons: 

To Avoid Damaging the Fishing Lines 

Unlike other boats, fishing boats have many tools and equipment, such as fishing nets, fishing lines, and ropes. 

And all the vessel’s fishing ropes and nets are usually in various parts of the water connecting to the boat. 

If you pass without informing the fishing boat owner, you may end up damaging the cast lines and other tools connected to the boat. 

This is not only potentially dangerous for the fishing boat, but you also risk ruining your own boat’s propellers or even capsizing. 

To Prevent Collision 

The next reason why you should carefully observe the navigation rules when passing fishing boats is simply to prevent an unnecessary collision. 

When sailing near other boats or passing a fishing vessel, you should keep in mind that the other captain expects you to follow the navigational rules on the water. 

They simply expect you to slow down to ensure a minimum wake when passing and send signals to ask for permission before the passing maneuver. 

If you disregard the US Coast Guard Rules or make your own rules and apply them without informing other boaters of the same water bodies, you might cause an accident. 

This will lead to damaged boats, injuries, or even worse, deaths. 

You also want to ensure that you are sending the right signals, as sending the wrong ones makes it impossible for the other boat captain to understand you. 

And if you are not on the same page as far as the navigation rules are concerned, you might end up colliding. 

For example, sending a single honk to a fishing vessel and steering to the port side instead of the starboard side creates confusion for the other boat since they expect you to ride to the right side. 

Passing fishing boats properly essentially means that you reduce the collision risks and unexpected damages while on the water. 

What to Do If You Are the Captain of the Fishing Boat

What to Do If You Are the Captain of the Fishing Boat

If you’ve made it this far, you might have understood the overtaking rules as stated by the US Coast Guard. But what if you are the one in charge of the fishing boat? 

In this case, you even need to be extra cautious than the overtaking vessel since you are the stand-on boat. It means that you are on the lead, and you should maintain your waterway side. 

You shouldn’t increase or reduce your sailing speed as it would make it hard for the other boat to pass. 

So, the best thing to do is to maintain a steady speed to ensure that the other boat can overtake you while still maintaining safety and adhering to the passing rules. 

Fishing boats must maintain a safe speed when other boats want to overtake to prevent accidents and protect the cast lines. 

As the fishing ship captain, you need to be aware of speed limits, so you don’t exceed the ideal limit. Otherwise, you deny yourself a chance to react hastily in case an unanticipated hurdle arises. 

Some of the most common unforeseen issues that fishing boats experience include:

  • The captain gets incorrect signal from an oncoming boat
  • An unexpected large wake from a passing boat
  • Sudden weather and water conditions changes like huge waves
  • Floating broken boats on the waterway

I usually go recreational fishing with my family a few times a month during the summer, and I’ve encountered most of these issues while out there. 

But since I’m always in leading positions, I try to keep my side and communicate with other captains in overtaking situations. 

When riding a fishing vessel on busy waters, your main priority should be preventing accidents and keeping your fishing lines safe as the other vessels pass. 

Even if the captains of both vessels know the passing rules, communication is a very important rule. 

It’s the best way for the captains on the two boats to discuss and come up with a solution that suits both parties.

What to Do When a Sailboat and a Fishing Boat Meet

What to Do When a Sailboat and a Fishing Boat Meet

When two vessels try to pass each other, captains should know that there is a right of way to prevent usual hazards like collisions and other inconveniences. 

One boat should give way while the other boat should take it while watching their speed. 

And this isn’t an exception when a fishing vessel and a sailboat meet. If a powered sailboat meets a fishing vessel, the latter has the right of way over the sailing vessel. 

The US Coast Guard’s Rules state that fishing boats, unmanned vessels, and vessels with restricted navigation have the passing priority over sailboats and powered boats. 

This is because such vessels have limited maneuverability. Keep in mind that the fishing lines sink deeper in the water. 

In other cases where a fishing vessel is only trolling and not actively engaged in fishing, its priority becomes equal to a sailboat, powerboat, or any smaller vessel. 

Captains of small powered vessels should do everything within their power to prevent colliding with big vessels like fishing boats, as this would lead to a terrible accident. 

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat at Night?

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat at Night

While it’s certainly not ideal to pass a fishing boat or even sail in the dark, you may still find yourself in the situation. 

If you want to pass a fishing ship at night, I’d suggest that you know all the boat’s lights by heart for a safe passage. 

The port side is red, while the starboard side has green lights. The elevated backlight is usually white. Knowing these lights by heart will help you understand which side to steer to in which manner. 



Q: What is the Correct Side to Pass a Boat?

A: Port (left-hand side). The correct side to pass a boat is the left-hand side. This means that you should ride to the right side so that the two vessels pass each other on the left side. 

Q: Why Should You Go Slow Down While Passing Recreational Fishing Boats? 

A: Slowing down when passing recreational fishing boats gives captains the chance to communicate and agree on something that suits both vessels. 

It also helps prevent a large wake that could capsize the other boat. And if the large wake from the passing doesn’t capsize the boat, some passengers may be tossed overboard.

Q: What Should You Do When You Meet a Fishing Boat Head on?

A: When you meet a fishing boat head-on, you should immediately send a signal to indicate your intention. Then the other boat will respond promptly. 

When boats meet head-on, there is usually no stand-on vessel. 

Instead, both vessels should pass each other on the port side while maintaining safe practices like keeping a wide berth. 

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

The federal laws regulating boat riding are just as vital as road traffic rules. Every boater should make an effort to learn them to maintain safety when sailing. 

If you go boating without understanding the navigation rules, especially on how to pass a fishing boat, you are simply exposing yourself to the risk of a boat accident. 

To steer clear of boating accidents, you can keep the rules and tips provided in this article in mind next time you are sharing a water body with a fishing vessel. 

Sure, sometimes you may forget a certain instruction, but it’s always wise to communicate with the other boat to ensure that you sail through without a hitch. 

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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