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Bay SafetyVessels & Traffic

Boats, Ships & Rights of Way

When navigating waters in a boat, you are bound to follow COLREGS – the internationally recognized rules for avoiding collisions at sea. These rules are quite comprehensive, but they’re not always intuitive, and they are actually a little unclear when it comes to rowboats and paddlecraft.

COLREGS are worth knowing about, but as a rower, or paddler of a small boat, you’ll generally find motor boats on the Bay will try to give you space, and you in turn should try and avoid getting in their way.

Make it easy for others to avoid you:

  • Be Visible – wear bright clothing.
  • Be Predictable – Maintain steady course and speed in areas of traffic.
  • Be Smart – Avoid areas with lots of boat traffic.

Common sense and courtesy are your best tools when rowing and paddling.

Ferries and power vessels in open water are faster and more maneuverable than you and will probably give you room. But, if you do find yourself in a crossing situation, you should give way to vessels coming from your starboard (right)side (Rowers that means you give way to boats that are over your left shoulder). Boats coming from other directions should try and avoid you.  

Sailboats will probably sail around you too, but do your best to avoid getting in their way. Avoid large inflated buoys which may be marks for a race. If a large fleet of sailboats is heading for you, either stop well before they get to you, or row/paddle in a consistent speed and direction so they can work around you.

While you’re at it, avoid non-Dolphin swims, and other marine events

Ships & Traffic Lanes

It is particularly important to keep clear of commercial traffic in shipping lanes which can move surprisingly fast.

The most prominent channel to be aware of is the one-way eastbound lane between Aquatic Park and Alcatraz. Ships often travel in the Bay at up to 15kts – which means that a ship passing under the Golden Gate bridge, can be passing Aquatic Park just 10mins later!

You are required to avoid commercial traffic in these lanes. Avoid crossing to or from Alcatraz if you can see a ship coming in from the ocean. Wait until it passes.

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