1.2.3 Vessel Operation

Vessel Operation

From the time it leaves the shore to when it returns, every vessel is generally in one of the following states:


At Anchor 


The vessel is anchored and stationary. Other vessels should maintain sufficient distance from vessels at anchor to avoid presenting a hazard, either through collision or excessive wake (the disturbed column of water around and behind a moving vessel that is set into motion by the passage of another vessel).




The vessel is actively navigating through the water. This is also referred to as making way or operating the vessel, depending on the method of propulsion. For example, being under power, under sail, or propelled by human power, such as oars.


When two vessels approach each other, one of the vessels (the give-way vessel) is required to keep out of the way of the other vessel (the stand-on vessel). The rules that govern which vessel assumes each role are covered in Chapter 4.


The weather has an enormous impact on vessel operation. Restricted visibility resulting from darkness, fog, or rain significantly increases the risk of collision, requiring operators to reduce speed, use navigation lights, and post a look-out.


The impact and effects of wind on vessel operation and safety can be dramatic and severe. Speed on the water (including wind speed) is usually expressed in units called knots which stand for nautical miles per hour. A nautical mile is slightly longer than a standard mile (1 nautical mile equals 1.15 standard miles). This means that a knot is slightly faster than a mile per hour.


Sustained wind speeds are classified into the following categories:

  • Light winds are less than 15 knots
  • Moderate winds are between 15 and 19 knots
  • Strong winds are between 20 and 33 knots
  • Gale winds are between 34 and 47 knots
  • Storm winds are between 48 and 63 knots


Environment Canada issues warnings whenever their forecasts indicate strong, gale, or storm force winds. High winds can create extremely dangerous conditions, so operators should know the weather forecast for their trip and be prepared to recognize and react to unexpected changes in weather.