To understand the rules of the road as they pertain to sailboats, you must know a little more sailing terminology.

What does port tack mean in sailing?

Port tack - when the wind is coming over the port side of the sailboat.

Starboard tack - when the wind is coming over the starboard side of the sailboat.

Port Tack - Starboard Tack - Sailing

What does it mean for a sailboat to give-way or stand-on?

When a sailboat approach another sailboat, the "give-way" sailboat must stay clear of the "stand-on" sailboat. The following rules determine which sailboat is the "give-way" and must yield the right-of-way in any situation where the danger of collision exists.

Which sailboat has the right of way, port vs starboard?

If the sailboats are on opposite tacks, the sailboat on the port tack gives-way to the sailboat on the starboard tack.

Sailboat - give-way - stand-on

What does being windward mean in sailing?

A windward sailboat refers to one that is upwind of another sailboat.

What does being leeward mean in sailing?

Leeward vessel refers to the sailboat that is downwind of the other sailboat.

windward vs leeward


If the boats are on the same tack, the boat to windward must keep out of the way of the boat to leeward. In other words the boat farthest from the direction from which the wind is blowing has the right-of-way.

windward and leeward rule sailboat

Generally, sailboats have the right-of-way over power boats unless the sailboat is overtaking another boat. In that case, the sailboat becomes the "give-way" boat. Additionally, if a sailboat has mechanical propulsion and it is being used the sailboat, even while still under sail, is suddenly a power boat and must obey the same rules as other power boats.

Even though a sailboat may have the right of way over a power boat, some common sense must be used. For instance, you should not impede the passage of large power boats and you should not change course when approaching power boats. Changing course only makes it harder for the power boat to pass safely.

sailboat - motorboat rules
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