• Home
  • Learn
  • Tips To Navigating Boat Traffic When Paddling In A Foreign Country

Tips To Navigating Boat Traffic When Paddling In A Foreign Country

Even though kayaks, canoes, and SUP boards don’t take up much space, they still need to follow the rules of the water. This means yielding to most boats as well as similarly-sized vessels coming from certain directions. By following the same rules other boats obey you keep the waterways organized and free of chaos. If you are planning a trip to a foreign land you might wonder if the same rules apply, and if not, how you should navigate these unfamiliar waters.

When paddling in a foreign country, following the same general right-of-way guidelines will help keep you safe. Yield to larger and faster boats and all motor and sailboats. Also yield to boats approaching from the right. Stay out of busy channels, and instead stay along the shallow coastline when possible. Ask local experts about local practices, and consider taking a guided tour to learn more.

When it comes to navigating waters with heavy boat traffic, remaining patient, calm, and alert are all important. Regardless of where you are, showing common courtesy and common sense will help you get through most hairy situations in busy waters. If you are traveling to a foreign destination any time soon, keep reading to learn some top tips on navigating boat traffic while abroad.

Rules Of ‘Right Of Way’ Every Kayaker Should Know

1. Always Yield To Larger Vessels

One rule that every paddler should know is that he or she must always yield to larger vessels. Therefore, regardless of your position, speed, or trajectory, if there is a bigger boat coming into your path - you must yield.

This is a practice you should always perform when paddling, and it is particularly important to follow this rule when paddling abroad. If you yield to larger boats and leave plenty of space, then you will avoid any potential collision, and you won’t anger any locals.

2. Anything With A Sail Or Motor Has The Right Of Way

In addition to the size of the boat, you should also consider the type of boat that is coming into your space. As a rule, sailboats have the right of way in most situations. This is because they rely on the wind, and are more difficult to steer.

You should also yield to power boats, even if they are smaller than you. This is because they are most likely going significantly faster than you. So it is smarter to yield to a fast-moving vessel, as they will clear your path quickly, rather than forcing a motor boat to slow down and wait for you.

4. Stay Out Of the Boating Lanes

An unwritten but important rule for paddlers to follow whenever possible is to stay out of boat lanes and channels whenever possible. One of the greatest benefits of a paddling vessel is you can paddle in a foot or two of water. Almost no other boats can do this. Therefore it is best to use this space so you never have to compete for your place in the water.

Channels and boat lanes can get quite crowded, and larger boats that draw a lot of water need to use them so they don’t hit the bottom. Therefore, a small paddling boat blocking the passage of one of these boats is bound to lead to some frustration and possibly a honk from a boat captain.

5. Yield To Those On The Right

If you are paddling around canoers, kayakers, and SUP boarders - boats the same size as yours - you should always yield to those coming from the right. If a boat is approaching you from the left, you should have the right away. If it is coming from your right, allow them to pass.

This is the general rule, especially in the U.S., when it comes to the right of way for all boats. It can be different in other countries, so inquire before paddling into busy waters.

6. Keep To Shallow Areas Where Boat Traffic Can’t Go

As mentioned, most larger boats need to stick to the designated channels to avoid a collision with the bottom. As a paddler, you can hug the shoreline. This might mean some extra distance, but it will provide you with increased safety and is bound to be a less stressful paddle.

Furthermore, hugging the coastline often provides you with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, and is usually a more interesting experience.

7. Cross Busy Channels When No Boats Are Approaching You

Sometimes you have no choice but to cross a channel or waterway that is commonly used by large boats. If this is the case, timing is everything. It is similar to walking across a street with fast-moving cars and no stop light.

Take your time, and don’t rush. If you see a boat approaching, even if it looks far away, wait it out. It is best to proceed across when there is no one approaching from either direction. After all, many channels have currents that can make paddling more difficult, which in turn will cause you to take longer to cross this busy zone.

Do Maritime Rules Of Right Of Way Vary In Different Countries?

If you travel and like to paddle at different iconic paddling destinations worldwide, you might wonder if the rules of the sea vary based on your location. This is a complicated answer, but generally speaking the common sense rules listed above should always be followed.

If you follow these guidelines then you are keeping yourself in a safe position, regardless of how the rules of right of way apply in different countries.

There are many countries where there seem to be no rules at all, just instinct and reaction. If you have ever kayaked in Southern Thailand, you have likely seen hundreds of long-tail boats narrowly colliding with one other as kayakers try to bob and weave around them.

It is best to avoid these congested and dangerous situations, especially when you don’t know how other boaters and paddlers will act on the water. It’s similar to renting a car in a foreign country, it is best not to start things off by jumping into rush hour traffic in a major metropolitan area.

Seven Tips To Help You Safely Navigate Boat Traffic Abroad

1. Go With A Tour On Your First Paddle

When you aren’t certain about paddling rules and etiquette in a new place, it’s best to travel with someone who is. Traveling with a guide or on a tour is a great way to learn the “rules of the road” in these new waters.

A guide can tell you all about the area, and give you tips on what areas are crowded, and which are mellow. You can ask your guide all the questions you might have about paddling safety in the area. Additionally, guided tours are a great way to get a lot of information about an area quickly.

2. Consult A Local Professional

If guided tours aren’t your style, or if hiring a guide is out of your budget, you can still ask a local expert for some tips. If you are renting gear in a new place you can usually get helpful tips for the person who runs the shop.

It’s a good idea to read reviews before renting paddling gear, and when doing so try to find a shop that is known to have helpful employees. Sometimes a few questions and a quick rundown of the area are all a paddler needs to safely navigate waters abroad.

3. Do Your Research

Don’t simply rely on the kindness of strangers. Make sure you research the area where you are paddling. Look to see if there is motorboat traffic, and if so, how much. Check the tides and see how low tide affects the channels. Doing this research will prevent you from having to make difficult and spontaneous decisions while you are vulnerable in your paddling vessel.

4. Stay Away from Busy Bays And Harbors

As a kayaker, it is always a good idea to avoid any busy port. This is especially true if large ships are going in and out. The bigger the ship, the bigger its wake. Also, some large ships might have trouble noticing you, and they can’t adjust their course easily.

Try to find a calmer launching point. If you can’t, make sure you choose the least busy time of day, and paddle close to the shoreline.

5. Make Sure Can See Clearly

When you are navigating new waters, your eyes are your most important tool. You need to make sure you can see the bottom, and see everything around you. This means a good hat and even better sunglasses. Use UV filtered sunglasses that are also polarized. Sunglasses that can see clearly into the water (a quality set of polarized lenses should do) are essential when you are paddling along an unfamiliar coastline.

6. Make Yourself Visible

You also need to make sure you can be seen easily. There are many ways you can increase your visibility, from the color kayak you choose, to the type of clothing you wear. Wear bright colors and some reflective materials when possible. If you plan to return near dusk it’s always a good idea to have several light sources.

7. Cary A Communication Or Signal Device

Just like a car has a horn to alert other drivers, every paddler needs a sound device. A whistle or horn is a paddling essential, especially when you plan to navigate around lots of boats in a new country. The best way to avoid a collision is to see others and be seen by others.

Summing Up Navigating Your Paddling Vessel In Foreign Waters

If you plan to paddle in a foreign country and are wondering what the rules of right of way are, remember that yielding to larger and faster vehicles is universal. It is also always a good idea to stay out of boat lanes and busy channels, no matter what country you are in. Instead, stay in shallow waters where most boat traffic can’t go. If you are nervous to paddle on your own in a new country, consider joining a group tour, or getting some advice from company you rent your gear from.

Related Articles

A follow up with a discussion from Kayak Hipster on these two very useful maneuvers, and some background…

Kayak Hipster demonstrates 3 things to try next time you're working on your forward stroke. The forward…

For a long time I wondered about kayak fishing. It’s not like I needed any more reasons to get on the…

Curious what the most popular kayaks of 2020 have been? Now that the year is wrapping up, we can finally…