Started Sailing

Right of Way

by Karen
(Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

This was not a race, just pleasure sailing on an inland midwestern US lake. Two boats were running on a parallel port tack about 20 ft apart. The windward boat started to come about, but didn't complete, and was aimed directly at the middle of the downwind boat(mine). When they were about to collide, a person on the turning boat yelled "starboard tack has the right of way". We avoided a collision, but the question is, was this an appropriate turn and/or was I on the downwind boat expected to get out of their way after they made what I considered a braindead move?

Yes, they were on a starboard tack by then, but what about the prudence of the turn?

The guys on the turning boat are way senior to me; they've probably competed for years while I simply sail for fun; I understand that all of us make mistakes, but I'm feeling that if you mess up (as most of us do), you apologize instead of defending your blundering.

Comments, corrections?

Thank you,


Hi Karen,

From what I understand (and I had to draw a diagram to visualise the question), you were going downwind, but windward of these two boats. Then one of them tried to tack, in front of you and then called starboard.

Forgive me, but I do believe it was your fault, forgetting the fact that they were on starboard, but because you were windward to them. So even though they tacked in front of you, you would have known that they had rights, even before they tacked onto starboard, and that you would have to keep clear. Also when they started tacking, you should have made space for them. Although, they should give you time and warning to keep clear if they are going to tack.

Since this isn't a race, it does seem that such a dangerous manoeuvre of tacking infront of a downwind boat was unrequired.

It was a dirty move and as I said not needed in a non-racing situation, but this is a good experience for you to make sure you watch all the boats around you and respond to any sudden changes in any situation.

Thank you for asking your question on this site and I hope I have somewhat resolved it!

Best Regards,

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