Boating Collision Regulations

An important part of being a smart boater is realizing your right-of-way when you’re out on the water. The Collision Regulations govern the rules that prevent collisions on oceans and inland waterways. These rules apply to all vessels and to all waters in Canada. The Collision Regulations govern the following:

  • Navigation
  • Right-of-way rules
  • Look-out rules

Boater Responsibilities

As a Canadian boater, ‘you must use all available means, appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions, to make a full appraisal of navigation situations and determine if the risk of collision exists.’ This means that you must know, understand and abide by Canada’s navigation rules at all times. You must also use good judgment and remain alert in case the operators of other boats are not abiding by the navigation rules. Don’t presume the actions of others and always proceed with caution.

Determining Right-of-Way

Before determining your right-of-way, it will be helpful to familiarize yourself with important right-of-way terminology:

Stand-on craft: Boats with the right-of-way are called ‘stand-on craft’. Stand-on craft are able to maintain speed and direction when approaching other vessels.

Give-way craft: Boats that do not have the right-of-way are called ‘give-way craft’. Give-way craft must take early action to steer clear of stand-on craft, altering speed and direction to avoid a collision.

Several factors determine which craft has the right-of-way:

  1. The type of craft you’re operating
  2. The type of craft you’re approaching
  3. The position and direction from which other craft are approaching
  4. The type of waterway you’re on

Type of Boat

The type of watercraft determines which operator has the right-of-way:

  • Emergency craft always have the right-of-way and all pleasure craft operators should steer clear and yield to emergency craft
  • Never pass between a tug and its tow (it may be using a submerged towline)
  • Keep clear of docked ferries, ferries in transit and cable ferries which operate with a submerged tow cable from the bow and stern (listen for large ship horns blasting one prolonged blast, which indicates departing a dock)
  • Both powerboats and sailboats must take early and substantial action to keep clear of vessels engaged in fishing activities (those vessels operating with fishing nets and trawls)
  • Power-driven vessels must keep out of the way of any vessel that is not under command
  • Non-powered craft including sailboats, canoes, paddleboats, sailboards and racing shells generally have the right-of-way over power-driven pleasure craft
  • All motorized boats and sailboats under 20 m in length must steer clear of larger, less maneuverable vessels
  • Sport fishing boats and waterski boats are considered maneuverable craft and operators of these must follow the same rules as all pleasure boats

Right of way regulations by boat type

Approaching Non-Powered Boats

When approaching a non-powered craft, such as a sailboat or canoe, you are the give-way craft and do not have the right-of-way. You must take early and substantial action to keep clear of non-powered craft. You should alter your speed and course, and approach non-powered craft with caution.

Approaching Power-Driven Boats

Position & Direction

Power-driven vessels approaching each other establish right-of-way by determining each boat’s position relative to the other. To properly understand right-of-way, you must be able to recognize the ‘sectors’ of navigation, including the port sector, starboard sector and stern sector. You should reference these sectors relative to other boat traffic in order to determine who has the right-of-way.

Operating Rules – Keeping it Simple

Port: If a power-driven boat approaches your boat from the port sector, maintain your course and speed with caution. You are the stand-on craft.
Starboard: If any vessel approaches your boat from the starboard sector, you must keep out of its way. You are the give-way craft.
Stern: If any vessel approaches your boat from the stern (from behind your boat) you should maintain your speed and course with caution. You are the stand-on craft.

Sectors of Navigation for Boat Operators

The Danger Zone–GiveWay Zone

Your starboard sector (the sector defined by your green starboard sidelight) is the ‘Danger’ or Give-Way Zone. When another boater sees your green light, he or she has the right-of-way. In this situation you will see the port side of the other boat and its red port sidelight. You must take early and substantial action to avoid a collision.

The Danger Zone or Give Way Zone