A few weeks back I penned an article on Kayaks and the Navigation Rules for the group.  I focused largely on lights in that write up.  I want to take things a step further here.

I have been consuming volumes of information in my new position as the Recreational Boating Safety Program Manager for the 8th Coast Guard District.  In doing so I have stumbled upon some downright bad information coming from a variety of sources, some of which are fairly “official.”

How many of you have ever heard that paddle craft (vessels under oars according to the Navigation Rules) have the right of way?  I have heard that a number of times and have even read it in many places.  There is NO basis for that in the Navigation Rules.  It isn’t written explicitly, and it is not implied anywhere.  It is a myth and a potentially dangerous one at that.

There are essentially three different navigational situations boaters find themselves in.  Overtaking situations, head on (meeting) situations and crossing situations.  Let’s examine the rules and see how they apply to us paddlers (vessels under oars in the Navigation Rules) in each of those situations.  You may remember from the previous post that I mentioned vessels under oars being singled out only once in the Navigation Rules, and that is in the lighting requirements.  Otherwise we are simply “vessels” with all the attendant responsibilities.

Overtaking (passing) situations are easy.  The vessel being overtaken is the most privileged vessel on the water.  It is always the “stand-on” vessel and the vessel doing the overtaking is always the “give-way” vessel.  Paddlers are the stand-on vessel when being overtaken.  I don’t think we find ourselves doing the overtaking often, not even those of us with Revolutions.  When being overtaken, we have a responsibility to maintain course and speed.  If you launch at Hopedale Marina and paddle along the right edge of (or out of) the channel as required, check over your left shoulder before you cut left to travel northwesterly in the MRGO.  If anyone is overtaking you, you have a duty to maintain course and speed.

What about meeting and crossing scenarios?  Vessels under oars are not specifically mentioned in the meeting and crossing rules (14 and 15) or in rule 18 where the hierarchy is established.  There are rules for all the other categories of vessels but us paddlers.  We are covered in Rule 2 which very generally says to use good judgement based on the whole of the situation.  With that in mind there is no reason why in meeting situations port to port passings won’t work well and in crossing situations that the vessel which is to the right of the other shouldn’t be the stand on vessel.

If you are paddling across Hopedale lagoon and a power boat is approaching you head on, make an early and apparent course change (that’s Rule 8 a and b) to starboard.  That sends a clear message to the approaching vessel that you want a port to port passing.

That’s a quick and easy rundown of the rules as they apply to our interactions with motorboats.  It is vital that we don’t erroneously assume that the rules imbue us with any special privileged status as vessels under oars.


Paul Barnard of U.S. Coast Guard