How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat?

How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat Featured Photo

Between all of the thrill and excitement on the water, practicing safety is important. You may not have considered it, but passing fishing boats is a vital skill to have as a boater.

Such boats usually have ropes and finishing lines, which might reach hundreds of yards across the ocean. And depending on the size of the fishing vessel, it might even have large nets. With these fishing gears circling the boat, passing it might result in mishaps and damages to both boats if it’s not done properly.

There are guidelines for properly passing a fishing boat. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the process, as well as the rules you must adhere to while on the water. But, before we get there, I want to truly understand why it’s critical to properly pass a fishing vessel.

Why Is It Important To Pass a Fishing Boat Correctly?

In the US alone, there are 11.84 million registered recreational boating vessels. And this number keeps growing every year. Which means that there is a higher risk of collisions and mishaps on the water, particularly with a fishing boat.

This is due to the fact that such vessels frequently have ropes and large harnesses in the water, often for hundreds of yards.

You are responsible for following the general rules of giving other boats plenty of berth in the water and not crossing through their waves. This is especially important when there are fishing boats nearby. Without respecting these rules, you might be in for disaster.

To avoid accidents and fatalities, federal laws control and oversee the usage of all types of vessels when they navigate bodies of water in the US. Such federal statutes include rules for passing a fishing boat.

Understand The Basics: The Hierarchy of Right of Way

As a boat wonder, you are responsible for keeping safety precautions on the water. Understand that there is always a chance for accidents to happen, no matter how skilled of a captain you are. All boaters must do all the necessary approaches to prevent clashes and accidents with other boats.

One of the basic and common courtesy is to not pass across lines until the other boat has given you the “all-clear” signal. In the hierarchy of right of way, vessels being overtaken by another and unmanned boats get the highest priority.

The passing priority from highest to lowest should be:

  • Vessels being overtaken by another
  • Unmanned boats
  • Boats with restricted mobility due to equipment in the water
  • Vessels with limited navigation capabilities
  • Actively engaged fishing boats
  • Sailboats
  • Powered boats

Fishing vessels have precedence and right-of-way over powered boats. This is why you must wait for the “all clear” signal before moving. When a fishing vessel is merely trolling and not actually fishing, it’s given the same priority as powered boats.

So, How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat?

Here are simple approaches you must follow to safely pass a fishing boat.

Wait for the “All-Clear” Signal

This is the signal that the other boats give you and indicates that you’re clear to pass. Boaters will usually give you the signal by blowing their horns.

Minimize Your Speed

As your boat passes the fishing vessel, you must lower your speed if necessary for safe passage. Passing slowly allows the skipper to steer the boat so that it is a safe distance away from the fishing vessel. This helps prevent collision with the fishing boat.

You must ensure a safe speed and stay within the minimum speed of the given zone. This way, you’ll be able to properly deal with obstacles in the water.

Pass on Port

The US Coast Guard urges passing on the port side (left) of the vessel whenever possible. You should steer toward the starboard so that both vessels can pass on their port sides.

Once you’re ready to pass this direction, beep your horn once, and the other boat should respond with a single honk, which means that they’re ready for you to pass. This isn’t always an option, though.

When the fishing vessel has fishing lines cast from its port side to the shore, passing on that side may be impossible. In this situation, you must act as the “stand-on” boat. You should notify them that you are passing on their starboard side by blasting your horn twice and wait for them to give the “all-clear” signal.

Once they understand your signal, they’ll honk back twice, which means that you are clear to pass. To safely pass, you should maintain a clear view of the other boat.

Pass Slowly

You must pass slowly and avoid leaving any wakes if you can. A large wake can endanger the fishing boat. It can upset the balance and push people onboard over the edge.

Navigation Rules

When it comes to passing a boat, it is necessary to first understand a few important terminologies such as:

  • Hull – the vessel’s body
  • Bow – the forward section of a boat’s hull
  • Port – left side
  • Starboard – right side

In a situation where two boats approach each other, one is a give-way boat and the other is a stand-on. The former concedes to the latter to prevent an accident as well as to signal the boater’s intention to alter direction or pause.

If you’re the give-away boat, you’re steadily overtaking the stand-on boat. So, you must alert the other boat of its activities and take similar efforts to prevent a mishap. Check out the federal laws rules and regulations to avoid getting yourself into trouble.

Other Rules on Passing a Fishing Boat

There are more standard rules to follow when passing a fishing boat. Such rules are determined by the position of the vessels in question as well as other factors.

Steer to the Right-Hand Side

When you pass a boat, steer to the right side. This way, both boats can pass each other on their left or port sides. The rules also provide that a boat must pass a fishing vessel with as little wake as possible while avoiding its fishing lines.

Signal the Captain

The rules also state that you must signal the captain of the fishing boat and get a response back before passing. You can alert the captain in two ways:

  • If you’re on the right side of the fishing boat, you should only need a single blast to pass.
  • If you’re on the left side of the fishing boat, you should pass with two blasts.

Keep Your Focus and Have a Proper Lookout

As a passing boat, you must keep full focus and maintain a thorough watch while passing. Doing so will avoid any unexpected obstructions that may surface on the water as your boat passes.

Passengers of the passing boat must also keep an eye out for any swimmers and incoming boats so they can provide timely alerts to the captain.

The most important objective, though, is to prevent a collision. The captain should apply common sense to avoid such a mishap that might harm the passengers on both vessels. If certain rules put you in a risky situation, you can resort to disregarding them if it means avoiding an accident.

Etiquette of Passing Fishing Boats

Observing boating etiquette is important. Boating etiquette is not only focused on social norms, but also on safety.

In some instances, this etiquette dictates when a boat should turn left or right. It states that a vessel must always be steered on the starboard of a waterway. Each boat shifts its course to the starboard and passes to the port.

In such a manner, the boat coming from your right side (starboard) should always have the right of way. You should consider that this setup or requirement applies at all times.


How do you pass a boat?

To put it simply, if another vessel approaches your boat from the port (left side), you have the right of way. Therefore, you must keep your speed and route. A boat has the right of way if it is attempting to cross your route and is on your starboard (right side).

What should you do if your boat gets swamped far from shore?

If your boat gets swamped away from the shore, you must remain on board and call for help.

Which way do you pass an oncoming boat?

You must respond quickly and decisively to remain safely clear of the other boat by changing your speed and direction. Keeping a safe distance from the other boat’s port (left) or starboard (right) side is also necessary. If there is a safe route, you must always try to pass the boat on the right side.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful in understanding how to manuever your boat by applying the rules on the water. Both the captains of the passing and the fishing vessels must follow certain protocols to help you safely navigate the water. Good luck!

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