Understanding Virginia’s Boating Safety Right-of-Way Rules

Aug 10, 2023 | Blog

Virginia Boating Safety

Unlike paved roads, there are no clear signs about navigating the water to steer clear of collisions. By understanding basic right-of-way rules to avoid collision, boat operators can handle potentially dangerous situations with grace and safety. 

What to Do When Approaching Another Vessel Head-On 

When two boats are headed toward each other, and there’s a potential risk of a head-on collision situation, Virginia boating safety rules dictate that each vessel should alter its course to starboard in order to pass to the port side of the other boat.

If obstacles or other factors make this maneuver impossible, the boat operator should make a series of two short sounds and then proceed to port. In acknowledgment, the other vessel should respond with the same sounds to indicate understanding.  

Crossing and Overtaking Situations 

Because boats travel in various directions and at different speeds, crossing, and overtaking situations are relatively common, especially during peak seasons and holidays. 

Overtaking another vessel happens when a boat travels at a higher speed and must pass around the other vessel. This maneuver requires early action to avoid unnecessary risk and to maintain adequate clearance between itself and the boat that is being overtaken.

To alert the other boat of your intent to overtake, sound a horn. The number of horn blasts depends on whether you are passing port or starboard. For passing to port, use two horn blasts. Use a single horn blast to indicate passing to starboard. 

Passing Vessels 

When two boats are approaching each other at (or near) right angles, the boat that can see the port side of the other boat is the give-way vessel and has the duty to move out of the way of the stand-on vessel. The ideal position is to pass behind the other boat at the stern at a consistent speed. 

If, however, maintaining a consistent speed and direction would result in or increase the risk of a collision, the give-way vessel may need to slow down, stop, or change direction. 

Approaching a Non-Powered Craft

If a motorized vessel approaches a sailboat or canoe without motorized power, the non-powered craft has the right of way. This means the motorized craft must maneuver out of the course of the other boat.

Other Virginia Boating Safety Rules

In addition to following right-of-way rules, there are other safety rules that boat operators should be aware of. For example, federal regulations regarding life jacket safety require a working and appropriately sized life jacket on board for each passenger. 

Further, anyone under 13 years old must wear a life jacket while on the water. An exception is when the boat is anchored or docked. 

Another pertinent rule includes the prohibition of personal watercraft (PWC) operation before sunrise or after sundown when there is no longer any daylight.

Finally, there should be proper lighting for vessels along with appropriate audible devices, including an alarm, whistle, bell, or horn. The specific rules vary based on whether the vessel is motorized or non-powered. The colored lights required for motorized craft help other boaters determine which side of the boat is port and starboard when visibility is low.

Contact an Experienced Boat Accident Attorney Today 

Regardless of whether your boat technically has the right-of-way, it’s important to be vigilant and ready for anything – especially if the other vessel does not know the rules or isn’t following them.

At Geoff McDonald & Associates, our personal injury law firm has more than 25 years of experience helping accident victims, and there is no fee unless we win. Call us now to schedule a free consultation.

Geoff McDonald and Associates: 804-888-8888.


No Fees Unless We Win

    Is There a Cap on Damages in Virginia Truck Accident Cases?

    The impact of a truck accident lasts long after you leave the scene. If your car collided with a truck, you likely suffered life-altering injuries. These injuries may impact your ability to work and live as you once did. Similarly, if you lost a loved one to an...

    How Can You Prove Driver Fatigue in a Virginia Truck Accident?

    When tragedies like an accident involving a commercial truck happen, you want answers. While there is a long list of reasons truck accidents occur, one common cause is driver fatigue.  Truck drivers may not realize they are too tired to drive until it’s too late. As...

    How Are Damages Calculated After a Virginia Truck Accident?

    No one expects to be the victim of a truck accident. You could set out on your normal route, follow every traffic law to the letter, and still collide with a commercial truck. Injuries from a truck accident are life-altering. Trucks can be 30 times the size of the...

    What to Do If I Was Injured on the Job in Virginia?

    Federal laws state that employers must maintain a safe working environment, but not everyone abides by these rules. Shoddy scaffolding, weak ladders, and chemical spills all contribute to dangerous on-the-job accidents, especially in risky professions such as...

    I Was in a Boating Accident in Virginia, What Should I Do?

    Few things are better than drifting along the water in your boat on a warm, sunny summer’s day. But that pleasant afternoon cruise can quickly become a nightmare if you’re injured in a boating accident. Many people don’t realize it, but boating accidents can be just...

    Our Case Results

    Industrial Plant Accident

    Attorneys for the Plaintiff: Jeffrey A. Breit and Justin M. Sheldon Our client was killed in an industrial accident when an unauthorized worker was operating an overhead crane and pinned our client between…

    Rear-End Crash

    Our client suffered a traumatic brain injury, facial trauma, a dislocated hip and severe abdominal trauma when she was rear-ended at a traffic light by a tractor trailer. Suit was commenced shortly after…

    Assault of Log Truck Driver

    Attorneys for the Plaintiff: Geoffrey R. McDonald, Frank H. Hupfl, Justin M. Sheldon.
    Our client suffered a traumatic brain injury after being assaulted and knocked to the ground while fueling his logging…

    Drunk Driving Crash

    Our client suffered neck/head trauma and a broken wrist after his vehicle was struck by a drunk driver while he was stopped at a traffic light. Upon rejection of a settlement offer of $325,000, our litigation…

    Rear-End Collision

    Attorneys for the Plaintiff: Justin M. Sheldon and Geoff R. McDonald, Richmond
    GMA’s client was injured as a result of a rear-end collision in the greater Richmond area. The crash occurred a little after…

    Client Reviews

    Cheryl and Rich were wonderful and patient with me throughout the case. All of my questions were answered. They really helped me through this tough time and made sure to let me know what was going on. I really thank Geoff…

    Troy Saxby

    My experience with GMA staff was first rate. They always represented in a professional way and made sure I had everything as far as paperwork. Kara and Theo made sure to answer all my questions, was always available and so…

    Shirley Brown

    Geoff McDonald & Associates is the team that you want on the field if you’re in need of top notch legal defense! Mr. Taj Henley demonstrated true customer service skills and his expertise made me feel comfortable throughout the…

    Julian Reeves

    Geoff McDonald & Associates: Thank you Taj Henley for all of your hard work and dedication! Very expeditious in my case and I was very satisfied with my settlement. Will recommend to all my friends and family!

    Shareema Williams

    Geoff is number one in my book and I especially appreciate the support of Mr Henley

    Ebony Conwell

    I was so pleased with the knowledge and support from Mr. Taj Henley

    Kideem Frierson

    Thank you Geoff McDonald &Associates. A special thank you to Mr. Taj Henley

    Denise Conwell

    Mr. Taj Henley displays exceptional professionalism for Geoff McDonald & Associates, along with commendable communication skills and customer service. By his work ethic and commitment to the people he serves his value to any…

    Justin Fitzgerald