Beyond the Standard “Right – of – Way Rules”

– Some Addendums and Exceptions –

The right-of-way rules which govern our flying combine the international rules and the less-structured, but just as important, principles of common etiquette. The rules in and of themselves are fairly basic, but to make soaring with other pilots safer we need clear and thorough definitions, otherwise misunderstandings may create potential danger The following is intended to clarify and better define the intended purpose of these rules.



If these rules had equal precedence, there would be conflicts all the time. In ridge soaring, “give way to the right” is the rule that should take precedence. In a situation in which a glider with its right wing to the ridge is approaching another glider that is slightly lower, with its left wing to the hill, who has the right-of-way? I have always taught that the rule “low man has the right-of-way” includes the addendum “when flying in the same direction”. This takes care of situations in which there could be a problem resulting from the overlapping of these two rules. Restated, give way to the right takes precedence over low man has right-of-way.

Common courtesy should still be a factor. If the pilot who is lower, with his left wing to the hill, is in jeopardy of sinking out if he moves away from the ridge, sometimes the pilot with the right-of-way (right wing toward the hill) will veer away from the ridge as courtesy. This is an invitation to the other pilot to stay along the ridge and essentially invokes the “unless well clear rule”. I feel that this is an acceptable courtesy as long as there are only two gliders in the vicinity at the time of the encounter. If other gliders are nearby it is best to stick to the standard right-of-way protocol (give way to the right), because of the potential confusion and chaos that not doing so might cause.

In common situations while thermal flying the standard rule is low man has right-of-way. When a glider is coming up beneath you in a thermal, never forget that the pilot cannot see you! It is your duty to move aside and avoid the lower glider, except when the two gliders are approaching head on. In a head on situation, pilots must give way to the right, as this takes precedence.


There is an exception to the “give way to the right” rules that occurs when one glider is just behind another – for example, on a west-facing ridge with two gliders heading south. If there is not enough room for the lead glider to complete a reversing turn and be on the give-way-to-the-right side, then he must stay out from the ridge until it is clear for him to reassume the ridge.

This means that if there are two gliders directly behind the lead pilot, the lead pilot will pass (give way to the left of both gliders) before returning to the ridge. If there is clearly enough room to complete a reversing turn, the lead pilot should complete his turn in the usual fashion and pass on the normal give-way-to-the-right side.

It is the grey area, medium distance situation that requires better communication. This is one of the trickier situations with which we regularly deal in ridge soaring. The lead pilot should always try to be very clear as to his intentions. If he feels that there is enough room to complete a turn safely before the approaching pilot arrives at the turnpoint, the lead pilot should indicate this by initiating clearly sharper reversing turn. If the lead pilot feels that there is not sufficient room and thus wants to invoke the exemption, he should indicate this by executing a clearly wider and shallower turn reversal.

The trailing pilot should watch the lead pilot closely to anticipate his intentions. If you are the trailing pilot and see that there is definitely room for the lead pilot to complete a turn reversal, then begin giving way to your right as early as possible to allow for even more turn completion time. If you are the trailing pilot and see that the lead pilot is executing a wide turn, stay along the ridge. On occasion I have encountered lead pilots who are not clear as to their intentions. In this situation I have found that the best solution is to clearly indicate my intentions through my actions, and if the other pilot’s response is still unclear, to clear a turn and reverse direction myself to avoid the other pilot altogether.


This is a disclaimer of sorts that we use in a variety of situations in which there is an obvious and well understood lack of conflict (enough distance so that the applicable rules can be set aside). For instance: Two pilots are soaring a large cliff on a good day with a very wide lift band. Because the lift band is so wide, neither pilot is making passes just in front of the ridge (they are well away from it). These pilots might pass in opposite directions in violation of the give way to the right rule. As long as there is a safe distance between the gliders this situation falls under the unless well clear disclaimer. The key here is that the situation is unambiguous and both pilots are aware that the exception is being invoked.


rightofway2This is the commonly accepted rule when passing another glider on a ridge. You must make sure that there is a safe distance between you and the glider you are overtaking, the ridge and any potential rotor activity. You also need to be wary about flying into the other glider’s wake turbulence. In addition, you should watch out for the other pilot moving closer to the ridge in preparation for a reversing turn. Using a whistle or shouting to make the other pilot aware of your intentions is a good idea. If you come up behind a glider that is flying slower than your glider will fly, and there is not sufficient room for you to safely overtake it, you will need to clear turn behind you and make a safe reversing turn. This situation should be planned for before you are on the lead pilots heels.


rightofway3You must circle in the same direction as the other pilots when entering a thermal with gliders already in it. If there is another glider that has entered a thermal below you, and that is circling in the opposite direction, you have a couple of options. If you are absolutely certain that you and the other guy are the only two pilots in the thermal, the simple solution is to change direction and circle with the pilot below. If there are other gliders circling in your direction you should leave the thermal if the incorrectly circling pilot is close to your altitude. It isn’t worth it. Once again, the lower glider has the right-of-way as he comes up underneath you. It is your duty to get out of his way, even if he is circling the wrong way.

rightofway4Sometimes thermals are next to each other. In this situation things get tricky. If possible, try to circle in the same direction as the glider in thermal next to you. Close-together thermals sometimes merge as they rise, and this will ensure that there will not be conflicts.

The basic rules, in and of themselves, are fairly clear and simple. If you are uncertain about a special situation that has not been covered here, ask some experience pilots to find out what the conventional wisdom is. The key to all of these rules is quite simple: keep your eyes open at all times, be aware of the location of other pilots, an keep the rules in mind that apply to the situation in which you find yourself.



Clear your turns and go out and fly with these rules, good job.

Before you go out and fly, you need to review these rules!  Try again soon.

#1 Which of the following best describes “clearing a turn”??Put the horse in front of the cart!

Uh-Oh – possible mid-air!

#2 While ridge soaring, we say that the glider with the right wing to the ridge has right of way, why??Give the other guy the room to fly along the ridge when possible.

Give way to the right is the key.

#3 In thermal flying, which of the following are relevant “right of way” rules?

#4 If you are away from the mountain or ridge and have a glider approaching from your right, who has the right of way??Knowing what to do is important. Never insist on the right of way at the cost of an mid-air as well as knowing who should have the right of way.

Uh-Oh, go back over da rules.  There are two correct answers, so choose the one that has both of them answer 4 or 5?

#5 Is it acceptable to pass someone while ridge flying?