Navigating the busy ports and waterways of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) requires a keen understanding of boat sound signals. These audible signals are crucial for safely sharing the water with larger boats and avoiding collisions.

Sound Signals and Their Meanings

  • One Short Horn: If you hear one short horn, it means the boat approaching you and sounding the horn is going to turn to starboard (right). You will also have to turn to starboard to avoid a collision.
  • Two Short Horns: This signal indicates that the boat approaching you is going to turn to port (left), requiring you to turn to port as well.
  • Three Short Horns: This signal means the approaching boat is slowing or stopping, usually by putting its engines into reverse. Treat the boat making the sound signal as an obstacle and set your course around it.
  • Five Short Horns: This is a critical signal. It means the skipper is unsure about your actions. Make a clear change in your course to show that you are attempting to get out of the way.
  • One Long Horn: This signal is common in inland waterways with snaking rivers. It is used to warn boats coming the other way about oncoming traffic when approaching a river bend.

Sound Signals in Fog

In a complete white-out, power boats should give a single long blast of a horn at regular, short intervals of no more than two minutes. Sailboats should make one long blast followed by two short blasts to indicate powered boats need to give way.

Devices for Making Sound Signals

A whistle is the simplest form of sound signal. Marine environment-friendly whistles, pealess whistles, air horns, and electric horns are all effective handheld solutions. Smarter VHF radios with a PA function can also make sound signals or automatically broadcast a foghorn at regular intervals.

Maintaining Safe Distance

In the UAE, the minimum distance that boats can pass without having to slow to 5.0 knots varies depending on the location. Check local rules and regulations. Be extra careful around navy vessels and maintain a distance of at least 60 metres from the side and 200 metres clear of the bow while it is underway.


Understanding and responding to boat sound signals is crucial for safe navigation in the UAE waters. Familiarize yourself with these signals and the devices used to make them to ensure a safe and enjoyable boating experience.