17 Tips for Proper Boating Etiquette

17 Important Pieces of Boating Etiquette to Know

There are some laws you’ll need to follow while boating, and some important safety tips to keep your passengers safe. For example, depending on where you’re boating, you may be required to have a captain’s license, or you may be required to have a lifejacket on board for every passenger on your ship. It’s important to know and follow these rules if you want to be compliant with local regulations – and keep everyone on your vessel safe.

But there are also less formal rules you should follow if you want to be a helpful, polite, and admirable boating enthusiast. These practices of “boating etiquette” can help you have a better time on the water – and be more pleasant to the people around you.

Tips for Boating Etiquette

These are some of the most important rules of boating etiquette to consider and follow:

  1. If approaching a boat directly, turn to starboard. This way, you can pass port side to port side. It’s not a strict legal necessity, but it does help avoid confusion. You don’t want to awkwardly shift from side to side trying to figure out what the other boat is doing; this is stressful and could lead to a collision in extreme cases.
  2. The less power a boat has, the more it has the right of way. Right of way is difficult to determine in some boating situations, but generally speaking, more powerful vessels should respect and yield to less powerful vessels. For example, powered boats should respect sailboats and sailboats should respect human-powered vessels like kayaks and rowboats. A general exception to this rule is with respect to commercial vessels; as a pleasure boater, keep out of their way so they can get on with their job. Also bear in mind that large commercial vessels may not be as maneuverable so they might not even be able to give way to less powered vessels.
  3. Keep consistent if you’re being passed. If you notice another boat is attempting to pass you, your best course of action is to remain consistent in both your speed and your direction. This makes you the “stand-on” vessel. Remaining predictable and consistent will allow the other vessel to accommodate you easily and limit the possibility of a surprising interaction.
  4. A restricted vessel should be considered stand-on. If you notice a vessel is restricted in its movement, like if it’s underpowered, consider it to be stand-on and work to accommodate it. More maneuverable vessels are easier to control and adjust.
  5. Fuel quickly and efficiently. When stopping to fuel, try to work quickly and efficiently, especially if other boaters are waiting for an opportunity to fuel up. This isn’t a good time to clean the interior of your boat, buy bait, and handle other matters. If you have other things to take care of, dock elsewhere and take care of it then.
  6. Follow the practices of other boat owners at a dock. When docking, look to see what other boaters are doing and attempt to follow suit. It keeps things orderly and in some cases, can prevent a collision.
  7. Keep music at a reasonable level. If you’re at the dock or surrounded by others, keep your music at a reasonable volume. You don’t want to bother others with excessive noise.
  8. Don’t make excessive noise late at night or early in the morning. Similarly, it’s important to keep things quiet late at night and early in the morning. Don’t run your generator or do other loud activities when other people may be trying to sleep or relax.
  9. Remain slow wherever there are other people or boats. This should go without saying, but if there are people swimming or other humans around, keep your boat slow and steady to avoid the possibility of collision.
  10. Observe and control your wake. Pay attention to your wake and try not to disturb smaller vessels with it. This isn’t always preventable, but your awareness can mitigate damage.
  11. Know and respect speed limits – even informal ones. Remain under the speed limit and maintain the same speed as people around you (even if it’s not legally required to do so).
  12. Control your trash. It’s permissible to throw some kinds of organic waste (like fish guts) into the water if you’re far enough out. But you should never dispose of plastics and other damaging forms of trash in the water.
  13. Offer help. If there’s a vessel that’s in distress, it’s your legal obligation to help them (in most situations). Even if it’s not an emergency, it’s good manners to stop and offer help to others.
  14. Don’t insist on help to those who don’t want it. That said, if someone waves you away and doesn’t need your help, respect their decision and don’t insist on it.
  15. Don’t chat over VHF channel 16. This channel is designated for distress signals and hailing purposes only. It’s not to be used for casual chatting. If you connect with another boater and need to talk more things through, move to a different frequency.
  16. Understand what constitutes an emergency. A mayday call allows you to request assistance in an emergency. But what constitutes an emergency? Generally, if someone’s life, health, property, or environment is in immediate risk, that’s an emergency. Don’t use a distress signal otherwise.
  17. Respect the captain. If you’re on someone else’s boat and someone else is acting as captain, respect their requests and judgments when possible.

Variation and Inconsistency

In boating, as with other areas of life, etiquette is somewhat subjective. There’s no central authority that dictates these rules, and you’re not going to go to jail if you break them (for the most part). You may also run into considerable disagreement or inconsistency in how and when these etiquette rules are applied; for example, they may not be as important in another country or even at a different dock. Similarly, there may be additional etiquette rules worth learning. Keep this in mind as you continue enjoying your favorite hobby.

Boating etiquette isn’t much concern to you until you have a boat of your own. And these days, there are almost limitless options to choose from. Take a look at our wide selection of boats for sale, and find the perfect vessel for your needs!

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