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Understanding Proper Boating Etiquette for Passing Fishing Boats

When using a boat on a busy waterway it is important to navigate safely when in close proximity to other vessels. Along with the safety aspect, one always wants to be courteous and practice good boating etiquette. So how should you pass a fishing boat?

Let’s take a look at how to safely pass other boats on the water along with other safety considerations and practices, and we will even dive into some fishing and boating courtesy practices.

Passing Another Boat

a boat passing

When passing another boat on the water, you should always try to pass on the starboard side of the boat which is the right side. Passing starboard means that both boats will pass on each other’s left side.

You will encounter situations where passing on the starboard side is not possible. These instances occur if you are in a narrow channel and they are fishing close to the banks, or are casting or fishing on the right side in areas that are too shallow or treacherous for you to enter.

In cases where you can’t pass on the right side, passing on the left side is fine, just be sure that you have enough room and no other boats are heading in your direction, and be sure that the boat you are passing is aware of your presence.

Minimum Wake

When passing other boats at a close distance be sure to keep your wake to a minimum. Your wake can rock boats and kayaks causing people to lose their balance and fall out of the boat, for kayak users and canoes, wakes can be very detrimental, and cause capsizing.

The regulations set for wake and distance from other boats vary by state and can be anywhere from 100 to 200 feet depending on location.

For instance, in Wisconsin, you cannot create a wake if you are within 200 feet from shore or within 100 feet of another watercraft.

Author Note: The 100-foot rule is in place for many states but not all states, in New Mexico and Minnesota the rule is 150 feet, in Oklahoma, the rule is 50 feet.

Be sure to know the boating regulations for your state to ensure you are not breaking boating laws.

Boating Etiquette

If you are on the water and encounter a fishing vessel that is 100 feet from you, it is still considered common courtesy to either take a wider berth around them than the regulated distance, and it is also good boating etiquette to not pass by them in the area in which they are casting and fishing.

Passing close by the boat in the area they are actively casting to will scare away any fish that may be there, and you will undoubtedly get unfriendly looks and gestures.

If you are fishing, it’s very poor manners to pull up and stop near a boat that is actively fishing and fish alongside them. Crowding another angler is frowned upon in the fishing community, as there are plenty of spots for everyone.


boat in a river

If you are on a medium to small river systems, there simply isn’t enough room to abide by the distance rules, and in many states, these rules do not apply to river systems.

While you should still try to slow down and minimize wake if it is possible on a river, depending on the depth in the area you encounter another boat you might not be able to if your boat is full planed out and at cruising speed, in these cases, it’s best to proceed at the maximum distance from the boat, otherwise, you may hit the bottom of the riverbed with you boat motors lower unit and prop, damaging in catastrophically.

In river situations, you should know the depths of the river throughout before you decide to slow down and come off plane as a courtesy.

These courtesy guidelines may seem like common sense to many of us as being the right thing to do, but if you have spent enough time on the water, you will know that there are people that have little regard for angling courtesy.

Same Direction Encounters

There are times on the water when you will encounter a boat going faster than you and approaching from your rear.

In these situations where you are being overtaken, it is your responsibility to maintain a straight heading and constant speed to avoid collisions or forcing the faster vessel into an unsafe area.

Author Note: The boat which is overtaking you has the responsibility of passing you safely as well, and they need to ensure that they are not putting themselves into a position that endangers themselves or you.

Engine Powered and Human powered Vessels

Boats with engines have the right of way on the water, vessels such as kayaks, canoes, and even sailboats need to ensure they are in a position that does not inhibit a motorized vessel from safely navigating.

This part of boating etiquette is due to the inability of motorized boats at speed being unable to stop in a short distance in the event a kayaker or sailboat is blocking an approach.

The only time this rule changes is if a sailboat is under sail, if the sailboat is operating by using its engine, the rules of a standard motorboat apply to it.

Boat Launch Etiquette

truck launching a boat

Want some entertainment? Go to a busy boat launch on a hot summer afternoon, grab a lawn chair and watch the hilarity that ensues when people who can’t back up boat trailers attempt to do so, it’s quite the scene.

In all seriousness, one place that I see a blatant lack of common courtesy is at a boat launch, people seem to show a complete disregard for other boaters attempting to either take their boat out of the water or to launch it.

When you are waiting in line for your turn to launch your boat, you should ensure that everything is ready. Your drain plug is in, your trailer straps are removed, your winch is set to unwind, along with any other things to ensure when you launch your boat is in the water and docked or beached in the fastest amount of time possible.

The same applies to loading your boat back onto a trailer. Load your boat on the trailer, securely the winch, and immediately pull away to all the next trucks and trailers to proceed.

Too often we see people get their boat on a trailer, pull up ten feet, and then proceed to secure fishing gear, drain the boat, or do other things while blocking access to the line of vehicles and boats waiting to use the boat ramp.

Don’t be that person, be sure that you launch or load your boat in the fastest most efficient way possible and be courteous to the other boaters around you.

Assisting Other Boaters

I have seen some interesting things in my time on the water. In one instance I saw a boat with 6 anglers flying across the lake at around 60 miles per hour, with the trolling motor not stowed, the trolling motor was bashing into the fiberglass hull with the contact of every wave.

I waved them down and yelled as they passed, but only received negative looks and gestures as they flew by. About 30 minutes later they passed again with no trolling motor on the front of the boat and panic on their faces as they look at me with the realization that I was trying to help.

With that one incident aside, you may encounter boaters who are having engine troubles or an issue that prevents them from operating the vessel.

Be on the lookout for a boater waving you down, or sitting idle with engine covers removed. If you see this, slowly approach their vessel and see if they need assistance, which usually results in you towing them to their dock or a launch with a rope.

Author Note: Helping stranded boaters has resulted in a free 6 pack of cold beer in my boat on more than one occasion. Woohoo!

Final Thoughts

If you are new to operating a boat, mistakes are sure to happen, but with experience on the water you will become proficient in launching and loading your boat quickly, and you will know what to do in all boating situations that involve safety and courtesy.



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