Sailing Navigation Secrets - Do You Know Your Sailing Right-of-Way Rules?

You are sailing on port tack and see another sailboat ahead just off your starboard bow. Should you pass him to port or to starboard? If you are anything like me, those crazy rules when two sailboats meet each other can confuse even the saltiest sailor.

Open up a copy of the Navigation Rules (nautical rules of the road), and you will find specific rules that show sailboats how to maneuver to avoid colliding with one another. How you maneuver will be based on:

* Which tack you are on (or the side of the boat that the wind blows over; i.e. port side = port tack).
* Whether you are upwind or downwind (to windward or to leeward) of the other sailboat.
* When you overtake another sailboat (irrelevant of tack or wind relationship).

Many of these rules were written long ago when big square rigged ships needed lots of space to maneuver. In some cases, a bigger sailing ship could block the wind of a smaller ship. This could cause the smaller ship to go aground. Modern sloops and cutters are much more maneuverable today, but you are still stuck with the older rules.

Make it a lot easier to remember any sailing rule with this simple silly phrase: PORT-WIND-O. Use this memory aid anytime you approach another sailboat when day sailing, cruising or racing. This memory key always shows which sailboat has to stay out of the way of the other sailboat. Break it down into three easy parts like this...


When both sailboats are on opposite tacks (one has the wind on the port side and the other has the wind on the starboard side), the PORT tack vessel has to stay out of the way of the other sailboat.


When both sailboats have the wind on the same side, the sailboat to WIND-ward has to stay out of the way of the sailboat to leeward.


When one sailboat O-vertakes another sailboat from behind the beam, it has to stay out of the way of the other sailboat. This applies to vessels under sail or under power.


Use this simple, easy-to-remember mnemonic to know just what you need to do when you approach another small cruising or racing sailboat. You will boost your sailing navigation skipper-skills and be able to maneuver with confidence wherever you choose to sail.

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