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What is a Safe Speed to Drive? – A Guide for Boaters

Fact checked by William Hart

what is a safe speed to drive

If there are speed limits on land, is there a speed limit, or a safe speed, on the water as well? The answer is yes!

So, what is a safe speed? A safe speed is a speed that has yet to reach maximum; it allows the vessel to stop or turn directions in time to avoid collisions with other vessels. To know more about the safe speed of a boat, read on!

Table of Contents

Definition of a Safe Speed


First thing first, let’s talk about the definition. What defines a safe speed?

According to Rule 6 of the COLREGs, all vessels must maintain a safe speed when traveling on the water.

Operating your vessel at a safe speed allows you (the skipper) to have enough time and distance to take proper action to avoid collision when there appears to be a risk of collision (Rule 7).

Nonetheless, going at a very slow speed in these situations doesn’t equal a safe speed. If there is turbulence, chances are that your vessel will drift onto another vessel. Conversely, going too fast won’t give you enough time to stop the vessel or safely maneuver the vessel to give way.

Factors to Consider When Determining Safe Speed

Consider the factors below to help determine if a speed is safe.

1. Visibility


When boating in foggy or hefty overcast, the skipper must be even more mindful of the surroundings to take adequate precautions. Avoid boating at night if you can since this is the time when visibility is most restricted even with navigation lights on.

2. Weather


Double-check the weather forecast before heading out to the water; avoid boating on stormy days (howling winds, strong currents, etc). However, if you find yourself in these inclement situations, try to take it calmly and slowly.

3. Traffic Density


In areas where traffic is dense like channels or fairways, it’s best to just take everything slow. Things are more breathable when you’re cruising on a lake or a calm bay. A general recommendation is to keep at least a boat length away from other vessels for ensured safety.

4. Vessel Responsiveness

Depending on the size and type of engine, vessels may respond differently to the stopping distance and turning radius. It takes more time for a bigger vessel to fully stop even after the skipper has stopped the engine; the momentum can even go on for another mile.

5. Water Depth

The deeper the water, the easier it is to increase speed. Going at a faster pace in shallow waters poses a risk of your vessel going aground or getting stuck.

When your vessel runs aground, going too fast can add fuel to the fire by turning minor damage into a much more significant one.

6. Navigation Hazards


In areas with navigation hazards, you’ll usually find marks or buoys indicating such obstacles. Maintain a safe speed to avoid damaging your boat with rocks or markers.

Always keep a lookout for potential marks and buoys in the surroundings.



What Is The Speed Limit On The Water?

There is no unification threshold when it comes to speeds on the water. As each state may have a different speed limit, make sure to check with your local boating regulations before going out to the water.

Nonetheless, the speed limit ranges from 5-30 miles per hour (or 8-48.3 kilometers per hour).

More specifically, vessels of 43 feet (Canadian zones) and 65 feet (U.S. zones) must abide by the law to have a speed limit of 10 knots (about 11.5 mph) in all active restriction zones.

What Is The Maximum Speed Of A Vessel?

Modern vessels are capable of reaching up to 30 knots (34.5 mph). Of course, just because they can, it doesn’t mean you should go flat-out whenever.

Again, always keep an eye out for potential dangers when you’re out and about on the water; maintaining a safe speed is paramount at all times.


What is a safe speed on the water?

Here’s a tip to know whether you’re going at a safe speed: if you can stop in time of a collision, you’re maintaining a safe speed. Also, be mindful of the wake you’re creating when accelerating to avoid unnecessary damage to other boaters.

Speeding incidents happen more often than you think, and a number of them are fatal. You can’t always trust a speed to be guaranteed at all times; a speed being safe at one point can be dangerous at another.

Always drive to the conditions!

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