How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat On A Kayak: Safety Tips

by Jason | Last Updated:   October 8th, 2022
How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat On A Kayak: Safety Tips

When you’re kayaking on open water, there’s a good chance you will come into contact with a fishing boat.

And this is why the question “how should you pass a fishing boat?” is so important. Here’s the thing:

Like on our roads, there are rules for our waterways that you need to pay attention to if you want a safe trip.

And when you think about it, it’s understandable why they have these rules. Could you imagine how many crashes there would be without them?

So, in this article, we will discuss the hierarchy of open waters and how you can stay safe as a kayaker on the open ocean.

Let’s take a look:

How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat: Everything Explained

How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat

As I mentioned, knowing how to pass a boat when encountering one is very important, especially considering you’re a much smaller object.

So, in this section, I’m going to be explaining how to pass the boat and the precautions you should take to help avoid a collision with a huge fishing boat:

What Should You Do To Avoid Colliding With Another Boat?

Understanding how to avoid a collision is an important skill to have, especially when you’re on a smaller boat. And when it comes down to it, you have 8 things you need to think about:

  1. Follow the navigation rules
  2. Pay attention to navigation aids
  3. Pay attention
  4. Keep to safe speed (more on this later)
  5. Make sure you look in all directions before you make a turn
  6. Operate with caution when you’re moving towards the suns glare
  7. Never operate your kayak if you’re tired or have consumed alcohol
  8. Watch out for debris in the water
  9. Give other boats plenty of space

Navigation rules are one of the most important things you need to learn when you’re kayaking on open water.

You must remember; that you will be on the open water with captains experienced in navigation rules. So, understanding how they operate in the water will help you avoid collisions.

Who Is Responsible For Avoiding A Collision Between Two Boats?

If you’re wondering whose responsibility it is to avoid collisions between two fishing boats, it’s pretty simple. The captains of both ships are responsible; it doesn’t matter how big the boats are; they both share a duty to avoid collisions.

It doesn’t matter if you’re in inland water, international waters, or lakes. The law clearly states that both parties are responsible for avoiding collisions.

In 2020 alone, there were many boating accidents:

  • 767 deaths
  • 3,191 injuries 
  • And 5265 accidents

And it is thought the majority of accidents and deaths came down to people not listening to instructions, improper instruction, or the operator not paying attention or being inexperienced.

What Side Do You Pass A Boat On?

How Should You Pass A Fishing Boat

To avoid collisions, you must know how to safely pass oncoming boats. And luckily for you, it’s pretty simple. And that’s what I’m going to explain in this section:

According to the US Coast Guard rules (check them out here), the idea is to steer to the right (starboard side), so you both pass each other on the left side (port side). 

But here’s the thing:

There might be a few times when you’re not going to be able to pass on the port side of the boat. Let me explain:

You might encounter a boat running fishing lines on the port side, limiting your chances of passing the ship.

So, in this case, you should pass from the other side of the fishing vessel. You need to communicate this with the other boat so they know what you’re doing.

In a typical boat, you need to signal the other ship by sounding your horn and waiting for a reply. But, in a kayak, you’re not going to have a horn, which means you need to get their attention differently.

Again, if you’re in a motored boat, you must pass the boat slowly to maintain a minimum wake, which is not only a courtesy but a safety thing.

If you’re in a kayak, you don’t have to worry about creating a minimum wake; you’re not big enough or fast enough to make a large wake.

How To Pass A Boat At Night?

Kayaking at night can be extremely dangerous, so you need to know how to do it safely, especially when other vessels are in the water with you.

The trick is to make sure you’re visible to other fishing boats that might be in the water with you so you don’t collide with anyone. 

The way to do this is by placing a green light on the right side and a red light on your lift side to help indicate which direction you’re moving in.

And the great thing about doing this is other fishing boats will be doing it too.

And you can use these lights to indicate which direction the other boat is going. If you’re looking at a boat in front of you and you see red to the left and green to the right, you know it’s heading in the same direction as you.


If the red light is on the right and the green light is on the left, it’s heading towards you, so you need to move to the right to help avoid the boat.

Make sure you pay attention to the lights, so you know which way you need to move to avoid any collisions.

What Determines If A Speed Is Safe For Your Boat?

I’ve spoken a little about maintaining a safe speed when passing fishing boats. But, what determines a safe speed? 

A safe speed is a speed that’s less than the maximum speed of the vessel. It should also allow the operator to have complete control to avoid collisions and stop within a reasonable distance.

Of course, this will heavily depend on things like:

  • Visibility
  • Wind/sea conditions 
  • Traffic density 
  • Your ability to turn
  • Other hazards 
  • And much more

Is A Kayak Considered A Boat?

I get asked many questions about whether a kayak is considered a boat. And there’s no simple answer to this.

In some states, a kayak must be registered and licensed like a powered boat, while others don’t require it to be registered or licensed. 

And if you’re in a state that doesn’t require registered recreational boats, adding a motor to the kayak will undoubtedly change that.

And while you’re in the kayak in open water, you still need to comply with the navigation rules, just like any other boat.

So, while some may claim that a kayak can’t be considered a boat, I like to think of it the other way.

For me, a kayak should always be considered a boat… Although some people will not agree! 

But, thinking of your kayak as a legitimate boat will help you stay safe while on the open water and avoid any collisions with bigger-powered boats.

Kayak VS Boat: Fishing Decisions

If money isn’t an issue, you might wonder whether you should go for a fishing kayak or a full-on boat. 

And as you can imagine, it’s a big decision to make, so, in this section, we’re going to be breaking down the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Let’s take a look:

Boat Advantages

As you can imagine, there are a fair few benefits that come with owning a fishing boat over a kayak, and we’re going to discuss them here:

Provides More Comfort

I suppose one of the biggest benefits you might find with a fishing boat is that they are a lot more comfortable than kayaks.

It’s no secret that kayaks often feel cramped and don’t come with the best kayak seats, restricting the comfort of your kayak.

But with fishing boats, you don’t have this problem. Instead, you have ample open space, can walk around, and much improved seats. Of course, the boat’s space will depend on how much money you spend.

You Can Travel Further

Another great advantage of owning a fishing boat is that you can travel much further with less effort.

Of course, you can get kayaks with onboard motors and pedal kayaks, but nothing quite compares to the ease of a fishing boat.

And this really comes down to the bigger motor and the ability to carry extra fuel on your journey.

You Can Take More Gear

Thanks to all the extra space a fishing boat provides, you have the opportunity to take a lot more gear with you.

And it’s not just the extra space!

Kayaks have a relatively low maximum weight, but you’ll have a much higher maximum weight with a fishing boat.

Boat Disadvantages

Okay, as you can see, there are a few good advantages of owning a fishing boat over a kayak, but there are also a few disadvantages we need to mention:

Fewer Options Of Use

One of the downsides of owning a fishing boat is it can actually provide you with fewer options of use. There will be some places where you can’t use your fishing boat, which can be an actual buzz kill.

Harder To Transport

Not only do you have fewer options on where you can use your boat, but they’re also much harder to transport and store. And this is mainly down to the sheer size of your boat.

Transporting a boat requires a big trailer and the know-how to get your boat out of the water. To make things worse:

If you have a huge boat, you’ll have to pay for mooring your craft unless you have a mooring at home. But that just means you will be stuck on the same river or lake.

You Probably Need a License 

Depending on your state, there’s going to be a chance that you’ll need to acquire a license before you get on the water. It will also depend on which age you’re allowed to drive a boat, for example:

You can get your license in Texas at 13, while you must be 14 years old in Florida. If you want to check out the complete state-by-state guide, you can check it out here.

Kayak Advantages 

I’ve spoken a bit about the advantages of owning a fishing boat, but what about a kayak?

Let’s check it out:

Costs Less Money

One of the most significant advantages of purchasing a kayak is it’s a lot cheaper than buying a boat, which makes it an excellent option for people on a budget.

And it’s not just the cost of the kayak that’s cheaper. You must remember you’ll have to run maintenance on your boat, pay for insurance, fuel, registration, docking, and much more.

This can add up to a fortune compared to a kayak, which is why so many people would rather take a kayak over a boat. 

Lightweight & Easy To Transport

As I mentioned earlier, fishing boats aren’t easy to transport, especially when compared to a kayak. 

Kayaks are smaller and lighter, requiring less effort to move from one lake to another. 

Yes, you might need to purchase a small trailer or a roof rack, but it’s nothing compared to what you need to move a boat.

More Location Options

One of the great things about kayaks is the ability to paddle in waters that an average boat wouldn’t be able to navigate. 

With a kayak, you only need a few feet of water to be able to paddle. And not only that, but some lakes don’t allow motorized vessels on the water.

Kayak Disadvantages 

Okay, then, kayaks have some pretty good advantages over a fishing boat but also have some disadvantages.

Let’s take a look:

It Takes Effort To Paddle & Fish

One of the biggest learning barriers and frustrations people have with kayaking and fishing is doing them together. There’s nothing worse than catching fish in a place you’re struggling to control the kayak.

You Have Less Room

Kayaks are known for not having a lot of space inside, which means you might be unable to take all the gear you want with you. And this can be pretty annoying if you have a pretty hefty gear bag.

Provides Less Comfort

The last disadvantage is that a kayak is often less comfortable than a fishing boat. Yes, you can add a different kayak seat to it, but it will never compare to the comfort and space provided by a boat.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Knowing how to pass a fishing boat during the day or night is a skill everyone should learn if they plan on spending time on the water… even if you’re a kayaker.

The last thing you want to do is be part of a collision or the cause of a crash. And that’s why I put this article together.

The main takeaway is always to ensure you’re passing another boat on the portside, unless you’ve contacted and had a response from the boat’s captain allowing you to do otherwise.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need A Boating License For A Kayak?

No states in America require you to have a boating license to operate a kayak on any type of waterway. That being said, you may still have to register your kayak in certain situations, so it’s worth checking out.

What Is The Correct Side To Pass A Boat?

If you ever meet a boat head to head, you need to make sure you pass the boat on the correct side. Each of you should be passing each other on the port side (left side) of the boat, similar to passing people in the school corridor.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.