Florida Sailing and Cruising School
Basic Boat Etiquette

The following information, representative of boating etiquette that seems not to be widely followed, is taken from Sailing Fundamentals by Gary Jobson, former head sailing coach at the U.S. Naval Academy who has conducted sailing clinics across the country. The book is published by Simon & Schuster, New York

  • Do not throw garbage overboard.
  • Arranging your mooring before landing is more easily done by a phone call before setting sail than by hailing people on shore.
  • Do not tie up to government buoys or navigational aids. This is the law.
  • Anchor in areas that are clear of traffic and away from narrow channels. Many harbors have specific anchorage areas marked by special buoys. Stay clear of other anchored boats.
  • Follow the right-of-way rules and stay clear to avoid confusion. Stay clear of boats with fishing lines or boats that are sailing in races.
  • Ask permission from the owner or skipper before boarding another boat.
  • Always offer assistance to a boat in distress.

A sailboat is only defined as a sailboat under the Rules of the Road when propelled by the wind alone. If the engine is running and in gear, the vessel is considered a powerboat and must follow the powerboat rules. The three basic right-of-way situations for powerboats are:

  1. Two powerboats approaching each other should pass port side to port side (give way to the right), just like two cars on the highway.
  2. When two powerboats are crossing, the vessel that has the other vessel to its starboard side (righthand side of the boat) is to keep clear. When getting out of the way, the helmsman of the vessel giving way must not attempt to cross ahead of the other vessel by speeding up. The best action is to alter course and pass astern or to slow down and wait for the other vessel to pass.
  3. When one boat is overtaking another, the overtaking vessel shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken. Thus, for example, a sailboat operating under sail alone is required to keep out of the way of any vessel it is overtaking.

Whistle (horn) signals are also required in meeting, crossing, and overtaking situations between powerboats in sight of one another. Although the precise meaning of these horn signals differs depending upon whether Inland or International Navigation Rules apply, the rules are generally similar. Briefly, for Inland Rules:

One short (1 second) blast should be sounded to indicate that you intend to pass port-to-port.

Two short blasts should be sounded to indicate that you intend to pass starboard-to-starboard.

Three short blasts should be sounded to indicate that you are operating in reverse.

For complete rules of the road under power, and other essential information, obtain a copy of Sailing Fundamentals from a book store, marine book store or from Blue Water Books by calling 1 (800) 942-2583.


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Florida Sailing & Cruising School
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Marinatown Marina 26° 38.5'N 81° 53.0'W
Burnt Store Marina 26° 45.71' N 82° 04.20'W

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