The Captain's Blog

Don’t Rock the Boat: Etiquette on Board

May 14, 2018 by Michael Kiel

There is a lot to learn about boating. And while no captain invites you on an afternoon cruise expecting you to know a scupper from a skeg, there are certain courtesies you should understand and follow. These are mostly there for your safety and enjoyment, and the safety and enjoyment of others on board.

For example, by asking the captain if he or she is ready for passengers to board, you reduce the risk of serving as a human fender caught between the dock and the boat. On smaller vessels, like dinghies and canoes, boarding at the right time can avoid capsizing the craft.

Most of the etiquette shared between captain and guests on boats of all sizes can be traced to lessons learned through experience, often the hard way. And the niceties work both ways. For the captain, explaining to each guest how to operate your boat’s head before they use it can prevent an embarrassing (and not fun to clean up) situation.

boating etiquette group on boat
Here are some ground rules for both the captain and passengers to make days on the boat more mannerly and less manic.

As captain, you should:

1. Arrive early to get the boat ready and make sure everything is in working order. No one wants to stand around and watch the caption check the oil.

2. Unless you know otherwise, assume that your guests have no boating experience and know nothing about onboard safety and explain accordingly.

3. Let your guests know when you are ready for them to board and direct them to where you wish them to sit until you are ready to get underway.

4. Explain where you will be going, how long you anticipate the cruise to last, and what activities you plan to engage in, such as fishing, tubing, swimming, etc. Confirm that your guests are comfortable with that schedule.

5. Offer each guest a lifejacket and explain how to put it on. If they decline to wear one, show everyone where the lifejackets are kept on the boat.

6. Let your guests know where they can sit or stand while the boat is underway, the importance of staying seated when the boat is moving, and where they can place any items they have brought aboard (such as rain gear, coolers, fishing tackle, and the like).  

7. Show guests where the head is located and how to operate it. If your boat does not have a head, let them know how much advance notice you will need to get them to one.

8. Let guests know any rules you may have for consuming alcohol and smoking on board.

9. Do your best to end the day on the water at the designated time.

As a passenger, you should:

1. Ask what time you should show up for the cruise and what you should bring along in terms of outerwear, watersports, food, or drinks — and whether just for you or for the whole boat.

cooler of drinks on boat boating etiquette
2. Do not be afraid to ask about anything that appears unclear or may be a concern, from what you should be while docking to where to throw up if you start feeling queasy.

3. Wear the proper clothing. Layers are key. Yes, bring your swimsuit but also bring coverups and long sleeve options so you do not freeze while cruising or once the sun goes down.

4. The proper clothing includes footwear, specifically rubber-soled shoes that offer secure footing and do not leave scuff marks. If you see a basket on the dock next to the boarding ladder or ramp, it is for depositing any footwear that may be suspect.    

5. Arrive early to allow time to stow your gear.

6. Do not show up with anyone other than those who were invited, unless you cleared the additional guests ahead of time. That goes especially for children and pets!

7. While entering, exiting, or walking around the boat, avoid stepping on the seats. If you must step on top of a seat to get from one location to another, remove your shoes or place a towel down to protect the surface you will be stepping on.

8. Apply sunscreen before you board the boat. Overspray and excessive lotion can create slick surfaces and stains on boat decks and upholstery. If you must reapply sunscreen once on board, try to keep the SPF where it belongs.

9. Do not crack a beer or light up a smoke without clearing it with the captain. Everyone has different rules about what is allowed on board their boat, and these may differ from what they allow in their home. Do not assume.

Basically, don’t be “That Guy.”

We’d love to hear your boating etiquette tips and tricks. Even better share your tales of onboard etiquette fails — by hosts and guests. Photos welcome!

Michael Kiel