Rules to Live by: Boating Etiquette

Rules to Live by: Boating Etiquette

Rules to Live by: Boating Etiquette

There’s nothing like the freedom of having your own boat. Whether it’s a small, sail-powered dinghy that you simply use to take you fishing, or a top of the line passenger yacht that’s basically a B&B on the water, boating truly is a pastime everyone can enjoy. However, boating, as with all activities, comes with its own rules and etiquette, and sometimes the things you learn in a general boating course don’t always coincide with what actually passes between different boat owners.

My husband and I recently took the Virginia Boater Education Course (there are links to the online courses for other states as well) and let me tell you – it was HARD. Understanding the unwritten rules of boating is much easier, but you need to know both.

Understanding the unwritten rules of boating is one of the most important parts of owning a boat, especially for first-time owners. Fortunately, because everyone wants to be able to enjoy the sea, those rules are none too difficult to learn, and any other boat owner is happy to share them with you.

Rule #1: This is Not the Road

The first thing new boat owners should do when first launching their new vessel is to disregard entirely what they know from driving a car. In case it wasn’t immediately obvious by the fact that they two are completely different vehicles, cars differ a great deal from boats. Likewise, sailing differs a great deal from driving, and thus so do the rules and procedures surrounding the two.

One thing you’ll need to remember is that the medium on which you’re travelling – the water – is not static. As you move, the water around your boat churns and moves too. Thus one of the things you need to learn to watch out for is your disturbance of the water, called a “wake.” You’re already familiar with this term with the saying “Everything in their wake.” Basically, you’re responsible for it any damage you cause with it too. So if you churn up the water near another boat and your wake causes damage to it, you’re liable for the damages caused. Keep that in mind when boating.

Rule #2: Be Always Mindful of Your Safety (and Others)

This actually underlines a major theme regarding boating etiquette, and that’s being conscious of not just your own safety but the safety of other boats in the water around you. You are, after all, piloting a large hunk of metal that weighs several tons and that’s very difficult to control. You can’t make sudden stops, you can’t turn on the dime, and sometimes you’ll be lucky to stop or turn at all. Thus, you really do need to be aware.

One major instance of this is knowing to give way. While boating courses may say that X boat should have privilege during Y situation, the truth of the matter is that it comes down to common sense. If a boat comes at you and looks as though it may collide, it’s always better to be the more responsible pilot and give way first. It’s safer and shows more responsible boating etiquette.

Another situation involves boats trying to overtake you. Usually when exiting or entering a marina, boats sail in single file. However, if there’s room, a boat may well try to overtake you. In such a situation, do not speed up yourself. Doing so may only encourage the second boat to speed up as well, and that increases the chances of collisions or destructive wakes. Just make things easier for everyone, and slow down to let them overtake. Boating is not a race, and you’ll still have your spot on the marina.

Rule #3: Be Neighborly

While many people may associate boating and marinas with rich snobs who don’t think of other people, you can be surprised by the amount of community spirit that inhabits such a place. As you dock in a marina, do not be surprised to find people helping you tie up your boat, guide you in, or even walking onto your boat with toolboxes in hand to help you with your engine trouble. If you’re ever stuck still in the middle of the water, expect other curious boaters to sail past to make sure you’ve not run out of gas or suffered engine failure.

Some of this boating etiquette is actual legally mandated.  The law stipulates that should you encounter a boat that appears to be in trouble, you must go and render assistance. The rest of it is just good-natured community spirit. If you want to keep benefiting from it, make sure you’re neighborly in return. Always offer to help someone come in to dock by holding their docking line or tying them down, and always make sure you have an extra can of gas handy for people who may be out of fuel when on the water.

Rule #4: Respect your Neighbors

Of course, another aspect of neighborly boating etiquette is making sure you respect your neighbors while out on the water. Just as you’d like neighbors to help you dock and help fix your boat, you’d also like them to not play loud music, leave garbage everywhere or other such irritants.

If on the water, make sure you keep downwind to prevent any noise you’re making from travelling too far. Same for smoke if you have an on-board grill. When on the marina, make sure you keep the area around your dock tidy and mess free, and always put all your garbage into a suitable trash can. Likewise, make sure the walkways on a marina are clear to prevent any accidents. This goes a long way to making you well-liked and respected among other boat owners on the marina.

By following these simple rules, you can ensure a safe and successful trip out on the water. One thing to remember, that doesn’t fall under an etiquette “rule”, but always make sure there are several life preservers on board. Also, be sure to pack some waters and food, which can be kept in a waterproof bag, such as the ones at Adventure Lion, in the unfortunate event that you become stranded.

About the Author
Christian Mills is a family man and boat owner who enjoys spending the weekends with his family out on the water. Though, he knows that proper etiquette and safety procedures are all part of the fun! If you would like to learn more about Christian, you can check out his Google+ profile.

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Jennifer Hiles

Wow, I had no idea, especially about things like being responsible for how your wake affects another boat or how your noise or odors would affect people down wind. I don't own a boat and have only been on one a few times so I guess I've never really thought much about these things.