When you are out on the open waters, there are many things you definitely do not want to happen. You don’t want to run into a storm, you do not want to get lost out at sea, and you do not want to end up colliding with another boat.
Avoiding collisions on the water and minimizing the risk of any boating accidents is the first priority of any skipper.
As the captain, you are responsible for the safety of your crew and anyone else on board, as well as any surrounding vessels and the environment in which you are boating. With that responsibility comes a need to have at least a basic level of knowledge and good situational awareness.
So, what are the ingredients to preventing a boat collision from happening when you are out on the ocean? Today, we will go over some top tips to help you ensure that you do not end up in a boating collision when you are out on the water.
Avoiding Collisions- Top Tips
There are many ways you should be able to keep yourself safe from boating accidents, but there is no one ingredient, there are many things that you should do to prevent a boating collision from happening.
Pay attention to these top tips and ensure you transfer them into your boating life, and you will be as safe as possible when out on the open waters.
Know Your Boat: Understand Port, Starboard, And Stern
First of all, you need to make sure you have the basic boating knowledge, understanding the differences between port, starboard, and stern. The port is left, starboard is right and stern is the rear of your vessel.
This is something you need to know before you even step on a boat, and acknowledging these will help you to understand how to avoid collisions when approaching from each angle.
When you are approaching from the stern, note that going left or right, around the boat, is the way to avoid a collision (this means the boat you might collide with is in front of you).
However, if you have a boat behind you, then keep your speed and direction constant and do not make any sudden turns as this is a risky thing to do if the boat behind is looking to pass.
If a boat approaches from the starboard, stay well out of its way and stay consistent in speed and direction, so they may pass. If approaching from port, give way to the vessel, contain your direction and speed to avoid a possible collision.
Always Keep Watch
Remember to always stay watchful, too. Someone abroad must always be on lookout, watching for other boats, navigation aids, people in the water or hazards. Standing watching is also absolutely imperative around any times when there may be reduced visibility.
Be extra watchful when heading into the sun, the glare on the water can increase your risk of collisions with another vessel.
If you are boating on lakes or rivers, or in coastal areas, also remember that a debris field usually forms after heavy rainfall or storms and so be on the lookout for any floating debris and other hazards.
Ensure that you check your course and speed and slow when encountering any traffic and give way to larger vessels.
How To Give Way
When you encounter another vessel, you are either the stand-on vessel or the give-way vessel. The stand on is the vessel that should maintain course and speed, and the give way vessel is the one that should take action to maneuver in order to avoid the other.
If your boat is approaching another from the starboard side you are the stand-on vessel, and if your boat approaches another from its port side then you need to give way.
Remember that if you need to overtake another boat, although it is not often advised, then you are the give-way vessel, you need to take early and substantial action to avoid the stand-on vessel, you can overtake the stand-on vessel at either side.
Keep Clear Of Shipping Lanes
Large ships and cruise liners take a long time to stop, and if they do spot your tiny boat out on the water, they may not be able to change course in time to avoid you. If you do encounter a large ship, give way if you cannot shun it.
If you do have to pass any of these massive seafaring vessels, do so at a 90-degree angle. Avoid overtaking these vessels too, even if you have the fastest boat in the world, you should always give way to large vessels like these.
You should also never anchor, drive, or fish in shipping lanes. Be cautious of their sound signals, including their right of way in shipping lanes, and always stay on your starboard side relative to the ship.
Speed Is Not Everything
A power driven boat may look like it is far away from you at first, but if the vessel is traveling at an average speed of 30 knots, it can be in front of you within minutes.
Maintain a safe speed whenever you are boating, so if another vessel does cross your path you are safe, and if another vessel does cross your path avoid slamming the throttle to outrun it.
If you do not know if you can cross the other boats’ path without colliding, then slow down and steer the craft at the other vessel’s stern.
Make Sure You Are Always Visible
In open waters, any boat will look like a spec in the distance, which can make them hard to spot in certain conditions, such as in foggy or windy days and at night.
This is why you must always have your lights running from dusk until dawn. Anchored boats also need to display the correct light schemes too.
We also advise using a radar reflector, thus improving your radar signature to other vessels, if it has an AIS (automatic identification system) then that is even better.
Keep A Radio On You
You should always keep a VHF radio on you whenever you are moving. Keep it turned to the distress and hailing frequency in case any other vessel is calling.
Remember, no one knows who you are, and you should always switch to another working frequency when you have established a contact and want to continue communication.
Always Expect The Unexpected
As it goes for many things, expect the unexpected when you are boating, no matter when you are boating, be it early morning, noon, or late afternoon.
If there is a glare on the water from the sun lying low, move slowly and stay vigilant. Remember on lakes, rivers, and other coastal areas, debris increases after a storm or significant rainfall tool.
There are many rules of navigation that you need to follow and observe to avoid a collision. You should always steer on the starboard side of the water channel.
There will also be markers on the water that will signal where port side and starboard side are, without markers staying on the starboard side of any waterway.
Always pay attention to the rules of the waterway, just like you pay attention to the rules of the highway in your car. Being vigilant of these rules can be the difference between having a crash and not.
Learn the use and interpretations of sound signals, i.e. one quick short blast means you intend to pass a vessel on port side, two quick blasts means you intend to pass a vessel on starboard side, three says you intend to reverse your boat, and five short blasts indicates imminent danger. Ensure you know, understand, and use these correctly.
Transfer Your Road Wariness To The Water
When we learn to drive, or even when we are children, and we learn how to cross a street, we learn safety. The same goes for boats, and many of the things we learn in these areas of our lives are transferable to boating.
An example of this is that it is ideal to look in every direction before you make any changes in your boats’ direction, if you see another boat, give way. Much like how you look around you before you cross the street.
Much like when we learn to drive, they tell us to treat everyone else as an idiot, so we expect the unexpected, we do this while boating too. Assume other boaters are not as skilled as you, so you keep your distance and expect any unexpected possibilities.
We stay wary and vigilant on the roads, and we can and should do the same when we drive a boat, too. Just because it is not as busy or streamlined as roads does not mean we can let our guard down.
As aware and focused as we are on roads, we should be on the water. Treat the water with the same caution that you treat the roads.