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How Does Right-of-Way Work When Boating?

Boating season is upon us. Oklahoma boasts more than 200 lakes, making it a great state for enjoying a day on the water. But whether you’re on a pleasure cruise, towing wakeboarders, or just heading to your favorite fishing spot, it’s important to know how to drive a boat while near other vessels on the water.

Just like on land, right-of-way exists on Oklahoma’s waterways. Although many of the state’s bodies of water seem like wide-open spaces where you have plenty of room to do what and go where you want, it’s important to understand how right-of-way works to avoid a collision.

Whether you’re on a speedboat, a pontoon boat, or even a jet ski, here’s what you need to know about right-of-way on the water. 

Which Watercraft Has Right-of-Way?

In every encounter between two watercrafts, there’s a stand-on vessel and a give-way vessel. The stand-on vessel is the watercraft that has right-of-way and is supposed to maintain its course and speed, while the give-way vessel should stop, slow down, or change course to defer to the stand-on vessel.

 What to Do in Different Types of Encounters

If you’re approaching another vessel head-on, keep these guidelines from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety in mind:

  • Powered watercraft meeting another powered watercraft—This is the most common right-of-way situation on Oklahoma’s lakes, and it’s also the simplest. Stick to the right side of the water when passing, just as you would on the road.
  • Powered watercraft meeting a sailboat or non-powered watercraft—In this situation, the powered vessel is the give-way vessel, while the sailboat or non-powered watercraft is the stand-on vessel.

If you’re crossing another vessel, follow these rules:

  • Powered watercraft crossing another powered watercraft—A vessel on your left side is the give-way vessel in this situation, while a vessel on your right side is the stand-on vessel.
  • Powered watercraft crossing a sailboat or non-powered watercraft—Just as when meeting head-on, the powered vessel is the give-way vessel in a crossing situation, while the sailboat or non-powered watercraft is the stand-on vessel.

If you’re overtaking another vessel, remember these rules:

  • Powered watercraft overtaking another powered watercraft—The watercraft overtaking another watercraft is the give-way vessel, while the watercraft being overtaken is the stand-on vessel.
  • Powered watercraft overtaking a sailboat or non-powered watercraft—As above, the watercraft overtaking another watercraft is the give-way vessel, while the watercraft being overtaken is the stand-on vessel.

If you’re unsure of what to do, you should:

  • Stick to the right—The “lanes of traffic” on the water work the same way that they do on land. That means that if you stick to the right side of a waterway, you’ll be much less likely to run into dangerous right-of-way situations.
  • Maintain a reasonable speed—It’s much easier to handle potential right-of-way situations when you’re traveling at a reasonable speed. If you’re pushing your vessel to the limit, it’s more difficult to slow down, stop, or change direction to avoid a collision.
  • Don’t drink and boat—Alcohol is strongly associated with summer boat days, but drinking and boating is just as dangerous as drinking and driving a vehicle. If you’re intoxicated, you’ll be less likely to be able to operate a boat safely or to correctly follow right-of-way rules on the water.
  • Pay attention to channel markers—Boat-friendly lakes are filled with buoys that provide information to boaters, including the location of fuel sources, no-wake zones, swim areas, and more. For right-of-way purposes, channel markers indicate where to navigate your vessel, with red buoys indicating the right side of the channel when heading upstream and green buoys indicating the left side of the channel.

Injured by a Negligent Boater? We’re Here to Help.

One of the quickest ways to turn a fun-filled day on the water into a tragic event is to ignore right-of-way rules. Following right-of-way guidelines helps ensure that you stay well out of harm’s way when approaching and passing other watercraft, but not all boaters keep these important guidelines in mind.

If you or someone you love is injured by a negligent boater this summer, you may be eligible to get compensation for your accident-related expenses. Boating accidents often cause serious and disabling injuries, and it’s our goal to help the victims get the money they’re owed for their medical bills and lost wages.

Contact the Oklahoma boat accident lawyers at Parrish DeVaughn Injury Lawyers today for a free consultation. We have helped many injured boaters get full compensation, and we can help you and your loved ones, too.