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VOL. 12 NO. 8
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Boating etiquette 101

Be mindful of your wake

Boating etiquette 101

The Rules of the Road dictate how you operate your vessel while underway to prevent collision. But what if no risk of collision exists? Are you free to do whatever you want when operating near other vessels? Of course not. Look, listen, and note the surrounding conditions; be aware of yourself and others in the vicinity. Above all, remember you are responsible for your wake and any damage caused by it.

When overtaking a slower vessel in open water, do so with as much room as depth conditions allow. Slow your speed, if necessary, to avoid rocking the other vessel. Whenever you drive your motor vehicle on the road, use the rules you have learned, and practice positioning and passing. There’s nothing worse than being below deck in a slow cruiser or sailboat, cooking breakfast, and being suddenly overtaken in close quarters by a loud, wake-throwing, go-fast boater, especially if the wake causes hot eggs, bacon and coffee to be thrown around the galley.

When overtaking other vessels, they may sometimes move slightly one way or the other, letting you know where they would prefer you to pass. Slow down, and look for such signals before making a decision. Remember that sometimes the boat being overtaken may need to slow its speed to accommodate the passing vessel. If you’re proceeding at a comfortable pace and see an overtaking vessel approach, be aware that the passing boat should slow to just enough speed difference to pass you successfully without disruption to your or their vessel. However, if the passing vessel underestimates your speed and is moving at an excessive speed, the passing vessel may throw an uncomfortable wake, so be prepared to make corrections to your course and speed as conditions and depth allow to make this comfortable for you, your passengers and the passing vessel. You may need to slow your vessel to allow the passing vessel to pass at a slower speed as well, which allows for a much smaller wake.

If you’re overtaking a vessel under sail, pass it well to leeward (downwind) or pass astern (behind) in a crossing situation so as to not block the vessel’s wind. Keep in mind that a vessel under sail is not as readily maneuverable as a vessel under power, and is more susceptible to water and wave conditions.

Always remember: You are responsible for your wake and any damage done by it.
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