Practicing nautical safety and good seamanship will make your sailing experience safer and more pleasurable. The ocean may seem like a big place, but accidents still occur. Maritime travelers have established some basic rules to help prevent unnecessary collisions.
The first rule is that the boat that is more maneuverable must give way to the boat that is harder to maneuver. This means a powerboat must give way to a sailboat, and a boat that is moving must give way to a boat that is stopped. This rule does not apply in a narrow channel, where smaller boats (power or sail) must give way to ships, ferryboats and larger vessels that have little room to maneuver.
Rule number two is that any boat overtaking another boat must give way to the leader. This even applies to sailboats overtaking powerboats. Nautical safety rules define overtaking another boat as being able to see the other boat's stern. If you can see their stern, the crew on that other boat will have difficulty seeing your boat. You may pass, but keep your distance.
Boats that are of similar types also have specific rules for nautical safety. When two sailboats are approaching each other the port-tack boat must give way to the starboard-tack boat. If the boats are on the same tack, the windward boat, or the boat upwind of the other, must give way to the leeward boat.
Powerboats, and sailboats under power have a specific rule known as the crossing rule. This rule states that when boats under power are crossing, the stand-on vessel or the boat that does not alter course, is the one on the other boat's starboard side. The give-way vessel is the one on the other boat's side side. The give-way vessel must cross astern, not ahead of the other boat.
Two other less formal rules for nautical safety have helped prevent mishaps and embarrassments. The clear visibility rule implies that if you do not think the crew of the other boat can see you due to weather or whatever reason, give way regardless of who is technically responsible. The gross tonnage rule means give way to vessels that are much larger than yours, for obvious reasons.
Proper boat maintenance, effective floatation devices and knowledge of signals are also important to the boating experience. Be aware of the weather. Fog can hide other boats. Keep your cool and follow the rules.