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VDWS International

Rules and rights of way


Even though catsailing is just a hobby, we still form part of the water traffic. Water traffic is ruled by regulations that vary according to the area of jurisdiction.

The International Collision Regulations
(ICR) are applicable when offshore. On German coastal waters the ICR are supplemented by the German Collision Regulations (SeeSchStrO), which are applicable within three nautical miles of the shore (or 12 nautical miles in the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania) and at navigable river mouths. On inland waters the Inland Waterways Regulations (BinSchStrO), partly supplemented by international agreements for cross-border waters, apply – as well as the regulations of the individual state and regional authorities for state waters.


No official licence is required for catsailing in Germany, with the exception of Berlin waters. Nonetheless, certificates of qualification are required on a number of inland waters. In Germany, sport vessels usually also have to be registered with the authorities. The Basic Catamaran Licence enables you to prove that you have basic knowledge in catsailing and that you have passed an appropriate exam. Find out which regulations are applicable for sailing vessels in the waters in which you intend to sail.


As with road traffic, there is also a general obligation to sail carefully in water traffic: Each water-user must behave in such a way that ensures that the safety and flow of traffic is guaranteed, and that no other users are damaged, endangered, obstructed or pestered more than is absolutely necessary. On the water there are no rules of priority, only a right of way. Unlike with road traffic, both parties are always liable on the water. One party always has the duty to give way, while the other is always obliged to keep course. Water vessels are not able to brake as abruptly as cars, for example. This is why all water vessels whose paths cross (collision course), or who overtake each other, must adjust their course and speed to the situation at hand.


Windward vessel gives way to leeward vessel
If both vessels have the sail on the same side, i.e. they are sailing on the same tack, the windward boat must give way to the leeward boat, which must keep its course.

Keeping clear
Overtaking vessels must ensure there is sufficient space for the manoeuvre. The safety distance for catsailors when overtaking is at least two mast lengths.

Port tack gives way to starboard tack

If two sailing vessels are sailing on different tacks, the vessel on the port tack, i.e. the one receiving the wind from the lefthand side, must give way. The other vessel is obliged to keep its course.


Motor vessels with gears must make way to sailing vessels. Particulary, in enforced areas, under the collision preventions rules, windsurfers are seen as sport equipment and not as water vessels. Here you must give right of way to motorboats and sailing boats. Traffic It is always complicated in a situation. Giving way in time, and allowing enough room for motorboats, that decrease their speed, can prevent a collision occuring. Also, when encountering catamarans and other windsurfers you should keep the way clear.


Keep your course despite given warning signals from a vessel. You should not be forced to make a manouever. Set yourself a new course at the last moment. 

If you manoeuver from your course or change your speed to give wayyou should

  • make it in time
  • make it clearly and
  • with determination