Rules to Live By: Boating EtiquetteThere are formal rules and laws regarding boating (think Coast Guard regulations), and there are the informal, unwritten rules that are learned through experience. This article covers some of the expectations boaters have for etiquette while out on the water. If you know how to be polite when using your boat, it will smooth the waters with your fellow boaters and make for a better trip.  

Do Not Linger at the Fuel Dock

The fuel dock is not most boater’s favorite place. Depending on the size of the boat, it is time consuming (a 30-foot boat may hold 200 gallons of fuel) and expensive. Often, there is a line of boaters waiting to fuel up. Don’t start cleaning your boat, run into the store to get provisions, or even make phone calls while others are waiting to gas up. It is common courtesy to get in and out of the fuel dock as quickly as possible to allow your fellow boaters to do the same.

The Wake of the Boat

Watch your wake. There are few speed limits on most waterways—the exception is 5 miles per hour “no wake” zones which are usually clearly marked. Still, you are responsible for the impact of your wake at all times. This unwritten rule must be qualified by the location of the anchored boat. If a boat is anchored in a major shipping channel, it is unreasonable to expect every boat in transit to slow down. However, in a quiet anchorage, it is expected that you will reduce your wake when passing.

Help Others

Lend a hand. When you are  at a marina and another boat is preparing to dock, it is a nice gesture let the skipper know you are willing to grab a line and help the boat dock smoothly. Docking a boat can be tricky even for the most experienced captain, and a little help is always appreciated.

Respect Fellow Boaters and Their Boats

Avoid partisan squabbles. If you hear someone refer to a boat as a “stink pot,” it is usually a sailor talking about a powerboat. If you hear someone call a boat a “rag bagger,” it is a powerboater talking about a sailboat. All boaters can and should be able to get along. Sailors love the purity of powerless propulsion. Powerboaters like speed. However, remember that if you are in a powerboat, all sailboats, when at sail (e.g., not when they are motoring with sails down) have the right of way. That is a written rule!

Give Other Boaters Space

Create space. When you are passing a slower boat, give it as much room as possible, as much as depth and other conditions allow. Few boats have rearview mirrors meaning that another captain may not realize you are overtaking his or her boat. They will appreciate it if they have some time to assess your speed and wake to adjust their course accordingly. Additionally, when anchoring, it is nice (and safe) to give nearby boats at anchor plenty of room. It is also a safety consideration as boats will swing with the tide, wind, and current.  You need to be far enough away from other boats to avoid a potential collision. This is especially important when anchoring overnight; you do not want to wake up to the sound of boats colliding.

Brief Your Passengers

Give your guests a briefing before you embark. If you have guests on your boat that are not frequent boaters, a little orientation goes a long way towards ensuring a pleasant experience. Inform them of where the life jackets are located, in case of an emergency. Teach them how to use the head if you have one. Show them where they can help themselves to drinks and refreshments. Make sure they are seated before you accelerate the boat, and warn them when you are going to absorb a large wake from another boat. Help your guests how to be comfortable and safe while on the water. 

As in most aspects of life, respect and courtesy go a long way when boating. When you know the common expectations that have developed over centuries of boating, it will help make your rental experience a positive one for everyone on board. You do not need to be perfect – just nice, happy, and safe!