Chapter 12 - Obey the "Rules of the Road"

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The Collision Regulations govern marine traffic behaviour and patterns to reduce the risk of collisions at sea. These regulations are the "rules of road." They set out the rules between vessels underway and for vessels meeting head-on, crossing and overtaking when in sight of one another and when visibility is restricted.

The Collision Regulations apply to all vessels, from small boats up to large freighters, on all navigable waters in Canada and, with some modifications, are the same as international requirements.

This guide covers general rules of navigation for common situations in good visibility that all small vessel operators must know and remember22. To learn what to do in other situations, such as when you cannot see other vessels because of rain or fog, refer directly to the Collision Regulations, Schedule 1, Part B.

Constant Lookout

Operators must maintain a constant all-around lookout by sight and hearing. You must use every available means, including radar and radio (if equipped), to determine whether there is any risk of collision with another vessel.


Safe Speed

You must always operate your vessel at a safe speed so that you can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and stop within a proper distance for the circumstances and conditions.

In the Canadian waters of a roadstead (a partly sheltered anchorage), harbour, river, lake or inland waterway, every vessel passing another vessel or work that includes a dredge, tow, grounded vessel or wreck must proceed with caution at a speed that will not adversely affect the vessel or work being passed and comply with relevant content of any Notice to Mariners or Notice to Shipping.

A general speed limit of 10 km/h within 30 metres of shore is in force23 for all power-driven vessels on:

  • the waters of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta;
  • the lakes and rivers of Nova Scotia and British Columbia;
  • Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia, inland of a line drawn from Coffin Head and Red Head in Great Bras d'Or Channel and the inland end of St. Peters Canal; and
  • Nitinat Lake and Nitinat River, upstream of Nitinat Bar, in British Columbia

unless the river is less than 100 metres wide, or the vessel is travelling in canals or buoyed channels, or another speed limit is in effect.

Power-Driven Vessels

A power-driven vessel is any vessel propelled by machinery.

Crossing Situation in Sight of One Another

Figure 12-1 Crossing Situation


Figure 12-2 Head-on Approach


If a power-driven vessel approaches your power-driven vessel from your port side and poses a risk of collision, you are the "stand-on" vessel. Maintain your course and speed unless you see that the "give-way"vessel is not taking appropriate action. The other vessel is the "give-way" vessel and is required to keep out of your way (see Figure 12-1).

If a power-driven vessel approaches your power-driven vessel from your starboard side and poses a risk of collision, you are the “give-way” vessel. You must keep out of the way and avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel. The other vessel is the "stand-on" vessel and will maintain its course and speed.

Meeting or Head-On Situation in Sight of One Another

If a power-driven vessel approaches your power-driven vessel head-on or nearly head-on, where there is a possible risk of collision, you should alter your course to starboard so that the other vessel will pass on your port side. The other vessel must take the same action, so that you will pass on its port side (see Figure 12-2).

Figure 12-3 Sectors of a Vessel


Passing or Overtaking

If you are approaching another vessel to pass, you must keep out of its way. A vessel is considered to be overtaking another vessel if it approaches from a direction within the stern sector (see Figure 12-3).

Keeping out of the Way

Power-driven vessels must keep out of the way of sailing vessels, vessels engaged in fishing, vessels that are not able to manoeuvre, as well as rowing boats and other craft with restricted handling.You must take early action to keep clear of these vessels unless being overtaken by one of them.

Vessels less than 20 metres long and fishing vessels must not get in the way of larger vessels within a narrow channel.

When changing course or speed to keep out of the way of another vessel, make it clearly visible to the stand-on vessel that you have taken appropriate action.

If you are not sure what another vessel is going to do, give 5 short blasts on your whistle. If the vessel doesn't make a clear change in course, change your course to get out of its way.

Take it with you: You can order a free, waterproof quick reference card that explains the basic rules of the road from the Transport Canada website. Search for Rules of the Road ( TP 14352).

More Information

To consult your local Transport Canada Centre, see Appendix 2.



22. IMPORTANT: The information provided here highlights only some of the rules of the road. It is the duty of the vessel owner and operator to be aware of the complete Collision Regulations requirements relating to their vessel. ^
23. Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations. ^



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