How Should You Pass a Fishing Boat? | How to Pass a Fishing Boat

How To (Properly) Pass a Fishing Boat

It takes a lot of time and practice to become a master boater. One of the things you need to learn on that journey is how to pass a fishing boat. This isn't just for politeness and courtesy, although those are important. Improperly passing a fishing boat can cause an accident, which could lead to civil or criminal penalties against you. Here's a look at how you should pass a fishing boat safely.

Understanding the Basics of Waterway Navigation

There are two key terms to know when it comes to passing another vessel. These are the "give way" vessel, which in this case is the fishing boat that you're going to pass, and the "stand-on" vessel, which is you, the passer. Both the giveaway and stand-on vessels must communicate their intentions to one another to prevent an accident.

There's also a “right-of-way” hierarchy on the water when it comes to different types of vessels. Fishing vessels with lines or nets on the water are very high up in this hierarchy, so they will have the right-of-way in most situations. Vessels that are lower on this list must yield the right-of-way to vessels that are higher:

  • Vessel being passed by another (top priority)
  • Unmanned vessels
  • Vessels restricted in ability to maneuver
  • Vessels constrained by a heavy draft, such as a cargo ship
  • Fishing vessels with gear or nets deployed
  • Sailing vessels
  • Powerboats and other powered recreational craft

As you can see, an active fishing boat will have the right-of-way over most recreational craft like sailboats and powerboats. The only exception to this is when a fishing vessel is simply trolling, in which case it is treated as a powerboat.

Pre-Pass Considerations

Before making a pass, assess the environment around you first. Is there a lot of other traffic in the area? Is the weather calm? How choppy is the water? Where does the fishing boat have lines or nets in the water? Assessing these things first can give you a sense of how much space you need to give the other vessel. It's important to maintain a safe distance and avoid getting tangled in the fishing boat's lines or nets.

Communicating Your Intent

Communication is key when it comes to safely passing a fishing boat. There are two main ways to communicate with another boat when passing: VHF-FM radio or honking the horn.

The radio is the easiest method. All vessels are supposed to constantly monitor Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) when underway. This channel is reserved in the US for distress calls and ship-to-ship communications. Hail the other vessel by name and let them know you want to pass them. If Channel 16 is too congested, recreational boats are also allowed to use Channel 09.

If one of the vessels doesn't have a radio for some reason, or if the fishing boat is not responding, it's fine to honk at the other boat. One honk signals that you intend to pass on the port side of the fishing boat (most common). Two honks signal that you intend to pass them on the starboard side. You must wait for the fishing boat to respond. They'll respond with one honk when you can pass on the port side, or two honks for starboard.

Executing the Pass

1. Approaching the Fishing Boat

Both vessels have a responsibility to communicate with each other in a passing situation, to avoid an accident or collision. In this scenario, the fishing boat is the "give way" vessel that has to yield right-of-way to you. Your boat is the "stand on." Communicate with the other vessel by VHF-FM radio or by honking. Wait for them to give the all-clear by giving you the go-ahead or honking.

2. During the Pass

You should always try to pass on the left-hand (port) side of the other boat. Steer to starboard and when passing the fishing boat, the port side of each boat should be facing one another. Take it slow and easy, and take care not to produce a wake.

In some situations, it might not be possible to pass the fishing boat on the port side. There might not be enough room between the boat and the shore, or the fishing boat might have nets in the water on the port side. In that case, use two honks to signal that you intend to pass on the starboard side. Wait for two honks from the fishing boat in response before proceeding.

3. After the Pass

Even after you have passed the fishing boat, keep it slow until you are a safe distance away. Producing a big wake when too close could be dangerous for the other boat or could even toss someone overboard. Passing a fishing boat should always be a slow process.

Other Considerations

When passing in a narrow channel or with restricted visibility, make sure to check the depth of the water before making your pass. Good communication is really the key in all situations when passing a fishing boat. If the fishing vessel is actively engaged in fishing, it most likely has right-of-way until it gives you the all-clear.

If you're dealing with multiple fishing boats, you should try to be in communication with both of them. If the two boats are parallel, you should try to go around the outside of one or the other, preferably on the port side. Take your time and pass them one at a time.

Also, be aware that local regulations can vary depending on where you're boating. If you're in the Gulf of Mexico or one of the Great Lakes here in the US, the rules are likely to be very similar. If you're in the waters of another country, the rules might be different. Check first!

Stay Safe on the Water

Now you know the steps for how to pass a fishing boat properly: clear communication, pass on the port side if possible, and don't make a big wake. We're dedicated to the boating lifestyle here at Gemlux and want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable time on the water.