Who Has Right of Way?

It’s hard to be around sailboats without knowing that a boat on starboard tack has right of way over a boat on port tack. But that’s only one of four basic situations when one boat has rights over another. Learning these will give you a solid sense of how to stay out of trouble during a race.

Here are the basic four:

  • Rule 10 says when boats are on opposite tacks, port tack must keep clear of starboard. The tack you’re on corresponds to your windward side. Port tack means the wind is coming over your port side. If an experienced sailor purposely calls “starboard” to confuse an inexperienced sailor, the experienced sailor can be penalized for “unfair sailing.”
  • Rule 11 says when boats on are the same tack and overlapped, the windward boat keeps clear of the leeward boat. One way to decide if you’re windward boat is, if you threw a beachball overboard would it fly toward the other boat? Yes? You’re to windward. Overlapped means some part of the leeward boat or equipment is overlapped with some part of the windward boat or equipment. Note that this definition covers more than just the hull.
  • Rule 12 says the boat clear astern (not overlapped) must keep clear of the boat clear ahead. This changes when you get an overlap to leeward.
  • Rule 13 says a boat tacking must keep clear of other boats until it is on a close-hauled course. It doesn’t matter if its sails are filled or not. Only that it is positioned to be close hauled. If two boats tack at the same time the one to port of the other or the one astern must keep clear.

There are additional limitations on what a right-of-way boat can do. For instance, they must give a keep-clear boat time to respond. However, it must respond quickly. Learn these four basic rules and you’ll understand many of your rights and limitations during a race.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment