What is a Safe Boating Speed?

What speed is safe on your boat in open water without a speed limit? It’s a largely subjective question, and maritime regulations leave a lot of room for interpretation. 

Safe boating speed

Let’s start with a little backstory. Back in 1977, an international maritime convention established what were called COLREGS, meaning Collision Regulations. These regulations offer some hard-and-fast rules outlined on maritime charts, but they also leave a lot up to the captain of the boat. 

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Mainly, the regulations say boaters should maintain a speed that allows the operator to avoid a collision and a stopping distance in line with the boating environment. 

One other part of the regulations outline that if boaters assess that there’s any risk of collision, they must take steps to avoid that collision no matter how minor the risk. And this is less of a regulation than just, “Hey, use good sense when you’re boating in less-than-wide-open-waters.”

Safe boating speed two boats

So what’s really a safe boating speed? Lots of things dictate that: the type of boat; the operator’s abilities; the water and weather conditions; surrounding traffic and obstacles; and any local regulations. In many situations, the boat’s available performance will far exceed how fast it should be going. The bottom line: be safe. If there are risks, err on the side of caution.

What are safe boating speeds



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