Responsible sailing in Midsummer: only sail when sober, wear a lifejacket and remember the give-way rules

Many people will head out onto the water to celebrate Finnish Midsummer. The Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom and Finntrafic wish to remind both new and experienced sailors of the basics of safe sailing: don’t drink and sail, the lifejacket only helps if you are wearing it and there are no rights of way on the water, only give-way obligations.

“You should only head out onto the water when sober. An accident can happen anywhere, and even a low alcohol level may affect one’s ability to function. Wear a lifejacket and ensure that your loved ones do the same,” says Head of Team Suvi Toppari of Traficom.

An increase in vessel traffic means that there are more new enthusiasts on the water. New boaters should always prepare themselves for heading out onto the water and keep calm. 

“Ensure that you know your boat and that your boat is intact and safe and that its equipment is in order. Check the boating conditions before departure. Bring updated nautical charts if your trip requires route planning. The most important thing to remember is to ensure that you do not cause harm to others or the environment when sailing,” Toppari says.

There are no rights of way on the water, only give-way obligations

In order to make traffic and encounters as safe as possible, every master should confidently know their give-way obligations and observe them diligently. This is particularly important in narrow fairways that are heavily used by the merchant navy in addition to recreational boaters.

“As we enter the boating season, every master should confidently know the give-way rules to ensure safe and smooth-flowing vessel traffic From the perspective of those on the bridge of a merchant ship, it’s particularly important to maintain good distances. Merchant vessels sail in narrow fairways along very precisely defined routes. Due to their deep draught and slow manoeuvrability, they have little chance of swerving to avoid fast-moving recreational craft or a personal watercraft, for example,” says Hanna Linjos-Maunula, the manager of Fintraffic’s Finland Vessel Traffic Centre.

Study the give-way rules for motorboats:

  • Are you going to overtake another motorboat? You should overtake on the side that you consider to be safest. Although the custom on the road is to overtake on the left, no such rule exists on the water. When you are overtaking, it is a good idea to consider the impact that your wake will have on the other boat. A boat that has just been overtaken will often have to change its course due to the waves caused by the overtaking boat. Waves coming in from the side may violently rock a boat.
  • Are you approaching another oncoming motorboat? When two motorboats are approaching each other from opposite directions, both boats should bear to the right. It is usually a good idea to sail along the right-hand side of the fairway. This will enable you to encounter oncoming vessels safely and smoothly.
  • When the courses of two motorboats are set to cross, the boat approaching from the left should give way. In other words, you should follow the same rules as you would on the road. If possible, the boat approaching from the left should give way by steering behind the stern of the boat approaching from the right. You can give way by, for example, altering the speed and course of your boat.
  • Are you in a motorboat approaching a sailboat? A motorboat should give way to a sailboat regardless of which direction the vessels are coming from. When a sailboat is sailing under engine power, it is considered a motorboat and will no longer have any priorities over other vessels.

Also remember the following:

  • Give-way rules for sailboats. Sailboats give way to each other according to the wind. If the sailboats have the wind on the same side, the windward boat should give way. If the sailboats have the wind on different sides, the boat on port tack (wind on the left-hand side) must give way.
  • When a ship and a boat meet in a narrow fairway. A boat, including a sailboat, must give way to a ship whose safe course is limited by its deep draught. A boater should always avoid getting too close to ships. A ship may not be able to make rapid evasive manoeuvres or quick alterations in speed, and this can easily lead to dangerous situations.

For additional information, please contact

Traficom: Head of Team Suvi Toppari, tel. +358 29 534 5412, suvi.toppari@traficom.fi, Twitter: @SuviToppari

Tips on safe sailing: “Näytä vesimerkkiä” website (External link)

Fintraffic’s Vessel Traffic Centre: Manager Linjos-Maunula, tel. +358 40 526 0925, hanna.linjos-maunula@fintraffic.fi