With all the recent opening days being held at the various yacht clubs throughout our beautiful harbor, it occurred to me that while many of us have been boating for years and know the drill when it comes to boat etiquette, this is the time of year when guests are invited who may not be as comfortable, or understand the unique protocol surrounding nautical excursions.
Having been a boat owner for many years, I can vouch for some pretty raunchy behavior (thankfully observed mostly on other people’s vessels!), the worst offenses usually along the lines of items being tossed overboard by naïve guests, or women showing up in black-soled boots or worse, spike heels.
They say that having a friend who owns a boat is the next best thing to owning one yourself, so if that’s true, boating manners are as important as any you can master, especially if you expect to be invited back for a day on the water. So, apropos of the season, here are a few tips to make the experience better for everyone.
Before boarding any vessel, always ask the Captain (or owner) for permission to board. This is not only polite, it enables the Captain to remove any tools, close any open hatches, or secure other hazards before guests come aboard. Just like you wouldn’t walk in to a host’s home without knocking, this rule is golden.
Remember that the Captain (or owner) is solely responsible for the vessel, crew and guests. What he or she says while you are onboard goes. No ifs, ands or buts.
Show up on time. If you are running late, phone the Captain. There’s nothing worse than having a boatload of people waiting for latecomers. This is especially true if the boat is chartered for a certain time frame.
Check and come prepared for the predicted weather, but remember once out on the water, climate can change fast. Dress in layers and be sure to bring a windbreaker, just in case. If you have a tendency to get sea sick, be sure and pack some Dramamine or other motion sickness remedy. I rarely get seasick, but if the water looks rough I pop one as insurance.
Scrubbing black skid marks off fiberglass is no fun, nor is finding a bunch of small pocks in teak decks, from high heels. Always wear non-marking, non-skid, soft, white-soled shoes. This not only protects the decks, it protects a guest from a nasty slip or fall.
Get instructions for use of the head (toilet). I used to have a sign over mine that read “Nothing that hasn’t been eaten first should be put in to this head.” Unlike standard toilets, heads vary in their mechanisms. In the case of my old boat, we had a macerator, and while I don’t want to get too graphic, let me tell you, I was not a happy camper the first time a woman tried to flush a tampon and it completely burned out the pump.
Safety is the top priority on board any vessel, large or small. Before leaving the dock, the Skipper should always inform guests about where the floatation devices and other emergency equipment like fire extinguishers are stowed.
If bringing food to share, make sure it is appropriate for a boat. Finger foods are best, and use plastic serving dishes to avoid glass breakage if the boat pitches. While on the water, never throw anything – even food and especially trash, overboard.
It should go without saying, but do not bring illegal drugs or firearms on board.
Even if you are an experienced boater, always ask the Skipper what help he/she expects of you during, and at the conclusion of your voyage. Don’t assume they want you to untie any deck lines or hoist any jibs, and always offer to help clean up back at the dock. It is polite to thank the Skipper when you disembark.
And finally, if there is something you feel uncomfortable with or do not understand, never be afraid to ask the Captain. There are never any dumb questions out on the water!
Columnist Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Find more etiquette tips on her “Manners Matter” page at OCSocialScene.com.