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Rules of the Road

These rules of the road are the traffic laws of Montana's waterways. Like other traffic laws, they are legally binding on vessel operators. The rules dictate who has the right of way when vessels meet in open water and in crowded anchorages.

Sailboats and manually powered vessels have the right of way over motorized boats in nearly all situations. Motorboats generally should stay clear of sailboats and manually powered vessels and not create a wake which may cause them trouble or to be swamped.

Overtaking another vessel

Overtaking another vessel

When overtaking another vessel, the boat being overtaken has the right of way and must hold course and speed. The passing boat is required to stay clear.

Meeting another vessel head on

Meeting another vessel head on

When meeting head on, keep to the right. Boats going downstream have the right of way over boats going upstream.

Crossing another vessel

Crossing another vessel

When two boats are meeting at right angles, the boat on the right (the privileged vessel) has the right of way. The give-way vessel on the left must slow down and permit the privileged vessel to pass.

Always operate a vessel at a safe speed so that you are able to stop within the assured visible distance ahead or take proper and effective action to avoid collision.

Refer to Rules for Operating a Boat in Montana.