In Areas Of Heavy Boat Traffic, How Can The Operator Reduce The Chances Of A Collision?

Recreational boating is a rewarding hobby. It allows operators and their passengers to venture into foreign, unexplored territories that would otherwise be off-limits. But, with pros come cons.

For example, boat upkeep is time-consuming and expensive. If you set your mind to it, the downsides with be outweighed by all the wonderful benefits. In Areas Of Heavy Boat Traffic, How Can The Operator Reduce The Chances Of A Collision?

Being an operator of a vessel comes with many responsibilities. One such responsibility that comes to mind is nautical safety. When you get behind a vessel wheel, you agree to take your passengers’ safety into your own hands.

While you are behind the wheel, you will be faced with many challenges. Boat operator challenges vary from one minute to the next, depending on location, visibility, weather, boat traffic congestion, and water conditions.

As you are building your boating skills, these challenges will become less noticeable. Even so, you need to stay focused and prepared to make slight shift changes without a moment’s notice.

Staying Safe In Congested Waters

Navigating in congested water takes skill, patience, and precision to avoid accidents. You must be fully prepared to turn the wheel and shift at all times, this is especially true in heavy boat traffic areas. It will help if you are familiar with expert boat maneuvering tips and tricks.

No matter how hard you try, there will come a day when you are faced with the decision to shift into reverse or forward and turn the wheel from the left to the right or vice versa.

Just imagine, you look up and see a large tanker facing you right in the face. If your reaction is inappropriate, a head-on collision is inevitable. Your responsibility is to get your vessel and passengers out of harm’s way to avoid a collision.

What Operators Should Do To Minimize The odds Of A Collision

In Areas Of Heavy Boat Traffic, How Can The Operator Reduce The Chances Of A Collision?

Observation Post – Situate yourself where you have clear visibility of your surroundings. Frequently observe your surroundings, taking note of both oncoming and incoming vessels, and nautical obstacles (buoys, rocks, and bridge pillars), and anchored vessels.

Stay Clear – If you ask veteran skippers about unsafe areas on the water, they will all have the same response “narrow channels.” These areas pose a danger for all watercraft and their passengers because they are so restricted.

While newbie operators should never venture into narrow channels “fairways,” if you have no choice, experts recommend keeping to the starboard (right) side.

Recommended: What Should You Do To Avoid Colliding With Another Vessel?

Maintain Proper Distance

Unlike highway vehicles, water vessels are not equipped with an Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS). It is a complex process to determine a vehicle’s stopping distance.

From the time your vehicle begins to slow down until it comes to a complete stop relies on the braking system, road conditions, condition of tires, and your response time.

The average stopping distance for a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour is 20 feet from the second the operator engaged the braking system.

Bringing a vessel to a complete stop is much more complex, with no braking system to factor into the equation. There is basically only one way to bring a boat to a stop.

This method requires the use of the boat throttle, which has one or two levers. The gears are self-explanatory, so there are no surprises.

To utilize the one-lever throttle to bring the vessel to a halt, you must slowly shift from forward to reverse or pull the lever back. And then forward to the neutral position.

The two-lever throttle is slightly more complicated. Instead of starting in the forward position, the lever must be in the neutral position (straight up).

When transitioning from forward to reverse, the engine must be idle in advance. Pulling the throttle lever back will gradually lower the speed.

Last, but not least, you have the hand-grip throttle. This is a very unique setup, as it utilizes a “twisting” motion to control the throttle. To increase and decrease your speed, you simply twist the handgrip in one direction followed by the opposite direction.

Maintaining a safe distance between your vessel and the vessel you are trailing is key to staying safe. Experts recommend at least 50 feet from one vessel to another vessel, individual, PWC, or shoreline.

Keeping a safe distance at all times will minimize the need to manually engage the throttle, which has been shown to put a lot of stress on a boat motor.

Monitor Your Speed At All Times

It is very easy to get caught up in the moment when you are having fun. It is important to enjoy yourself on the water, but it is more important to focus on the task at hand. This especially applies to heavy boat traffic areas and large vessels.

The speed limit changes from one area to another. It is crucial to know the speed limits in restricted areas before getting on the water. If necessary, you can reach out to the US Coast Guard (USCG).

Maintaining proper speed while on the water will not only help you avoid collisions in heavy boat traffic areas but also minimize your odds of getting fined for surpassing the speed limit.

More Lighting In Poor Visibility Conditions

It is just as crucial for other operators to see your vessel, as it is for you to see their vessels. Poor visibility due to darkness, rain, and fog can take its toll on boat operators over time.

There should be no second-guessing when it comes to boat safety in areas with poor visibility. Fortunately, most vessels are equipped with multiple light fixtures that can play a major role in keeping you and your passengers safe.

Before you hit the water, it is crucial to assess your vessel from top to bottom. During your inspection, assess the boat’s navigation lights, which should be free of obstacles, dirt, and debris.

Test the navigation lights to verify they are working properly. These lighting systems generally rely on 18-watt LEDs, with three levels of brightness:

  • Low Brightness – 100 Lumens
  • Medium Brightness – 500 Lumens
  • High Brightness – 1,000 Lumens

Do not hesitate to invest in a spotlight, flare, flashlight, and other marine lighting systems that will prove handy in low-light conditions.

Keep other operators and their passengers in mine when utilizing off-market marine lights. Do not direct the light toward other vessels because it could obscure the operator’s vision.

Keep An Eye Out For Navigational Light Systems

When you are in the open water at night, you may never cross paths with another vessel for hours. Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about high boat traffic and visibility-restricted areas.

Commercial vessels, Personal Watercraft (PWC), and aircraft rely on navigation lights “running lights” to communicate with other vessels without actually holding a conversation.

Navigation lights have proven helpful in low-light conditions and reduced visibility areas. Most navigation lighting systems are comprised of green and red sidelights “combination lights.”

A red sidelight represents a boat’s port or left side. The green sidelight, on the other hand, represents a boat’s starboard side or right side.

Another marine lighting system to be on the lookout for are tow lights, which are more commonly utilized by tugboats.

The tow lights are only utilized when the tugboat is towing damaged or malfunctioning vessels, and pulling or pushing heavy barges. The tugboat tow lights are installed on the stern and bow.

If you come upon red/green sidelights, you may be too close for comfort. Immediately increase your speed and move out of the way.

Audible Warning Signals

Marine vessels also utilize audible signals to communicate with other vessels, individuals, and aircraft. All watercraft less than 39.4 feet long are required to carry a device that generates an extremely loud noise. Some examples include a whistle, air horn, and bell.

Vessels between 39.4 and 65.6 feet long are required to carry both a bell and whistle. Other vessels must be able to hear the whistle ½ nautical mile away. To meet the USCG’s guidelines, the bell mouth must have a diameter of 7.86 inches or larger.

The USCG refers to sound alarms as “blasts”. The agency recognizes two sound blasts – prolonged and short. The prolonged sound blast must last between 4 and 6 seconds. The short blast must last at least 1 second.

One short blast relays the vessel operator’s intention to leave the other vessel on the port (left) side. When the boat following behind you is preparing to pass, a short blast represents the operator’s intention of passing you on the starboard (right) side.

Marine VHF Radio

When all else fails, boat operators will reach out to other operators via a marine Very High Frequency (VHF) radio. It is crucial to be familiar with the most commonly utilized frequencies – CH-9, CH-13, and CH-16.

Each frequency is unique with one main purpose. For example, the CH-9 frequency is utilized for non-emergency situations. It is more commonly utilized by operators of compact vessels.

The CH-13 frequency is utilized to schedule passing and meetings between ships, PWCs, and other vessels.

Boat When Rested

Remember that being tired can reduce your reaction time. If you’re tired, you may make mistakes that lead to bigger problems. You’ll want to avoid operating a boat when you’re tired.

It is also a good idea to avoid boating after having a few drinks. Keep a clear head so you can deal with any problems that come your way. Do that and you’ll be ready for anything.


When operating a boat, it is pertinent to proceed with caution when approaching heavy traffic. Otherwise, you may hit another vessel. To avoid problems, you need to slow down, watch your surroundings, and use lights.

Make sure that you pay close attention to your environment. Also, don’t be afraid to communicate with other boats. Staying active and being aggressive can help reduce the likelihood that you’re going to experience issues.

Read Also: Motorboat And A PWC Are Approaching Head-On, What Action Should Be Taken?

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