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Underway, or Under Way is a nautical term describing the state of a vessel. "Way" arises when there is sufficient water flow past the rudder of a vessel that it can be steered. A vessel is said to be underway if it meets the following criteria:

  • It is not aground
  • It is not at anchor
  • It is not drifting
  • It has not been made fast to a dock, the shore, or other stationary object.

If a vessel is adrift and not being propelled by any instrument or device, it is said to be underway, not making way. The concept of whether a vessel is or is not underway has important legal ramifications. For example, in many jurisdictions a child must be wearing a personal flotation device at the time the vessel is underway.

A frequent error is the use of the term "weigh" as in "under weigh." To weigh is to lift or hang (classically weighing scales were suspended balance beams.) One "weighs anchor," i.e., lifts the anchor by pulling it up - but this "weigh" is not the same as the "way" in underway


  • "Maloney, Elbert S. Chapman Piloting And Seamanship. 65th Ed. New York: Hearst Books, 2006."