Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

There’s an etiquette to boarding a vessel, and there are several practicality factors as well. Here’s a quickie guide to put your best boat shoe forward.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

Before You Board

When you are heading down to the boat, you should pay attention in the parking lot to the material upon which you are walking – sand, rocks, gravel, or messy substances like paint or oil.

As you arrive at the boat, either check your soles thoroughly, or take off your shoes because you might track onto the boat.

If you accidentally pick up a rock and walk all over wood decks or teak soles below, you might pit the wood every time you step. This would be an expensive disaster.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

When You Board

Make note if the deck is wet or dry – it could be slippery if it is wet. Also, if you are not removing your shoes and the deck is wet, you might make some footprints.

A small towel is good for wiping this up because many boaters try to limit the amount of single-use items like paper towels consumed on board, also due to the constraints of a very small trash can.

If the boat is very small and lightweight, it might rock as you step aboard. That is why you announce, “Coming aboard,” so everyone has a chance to brace themselves and not spill their beverage or drop expensive boat equipment.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

Boarding as a Guest

While it might sound odd and old-fashioned, “permission to come aboard” is perfectly acceptable. It’s the equivalent of knocking on a door on land.

While you may not receive a formal “permission granted,” you will probably hear something more like, “welcome aboard!” The host will give you an indication of where to board – at the stern, amidships, or at the stanchions.

What to do With Your Shoes

Your host probably will indicate if you should remove your shoes. Or, you can look to see what everyone else is doing, or, simply ask. It’s a good idea, before you leave home, to check that you have clean-looking socks without holes since they might be on display shortly.

Next is to figure out where you shoes should be left; in a dock box, somewhere in the cockpit, or maybe below. Just ask.

Once invited, come aboard! Then make yourself small. Just kidding. Ask where to put your bag, ask how you can help, or offer to help get the boat ready.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

What to Wear

Wear something comfortable, not too tight to move around in, and layers are good. Temperatures often drop once away from the dock, or drop in late afternoon and you’ll want to have a light jacket.

If weather is predicted, bring foul weather gear that can double as a jacket. That saves on space. Here’s how to choose a good one at Choosing Foul Weather Gear for Coastal Sailing.

Wear a hat that does not blow off easily. A visor or ball cap is good. If you tend to lose those, use a leash. On a light wind day, you can even wear a wide-brimmed straw hat like the one here: In Search of the Best Sailing Hat Ever.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

Sunscreen Awareness

For wearing spray sunscreen, make sure to apply it on the dock downwind of the boat. If it gets carried onto the boat, it can make the boat slippery as well as discolor the fiberglass.

Aerosols are not great for the environment, so best to use a mineral based, non-nano reef-safe version like Stream2Sea. Even the bottles are environmentally friendly; totally biodegradable. Stream2Sea has generously given me a discount code “KimW” for you to use at the checkout at checkout to save 10%.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest
White-soled shoes are best!

No Kidding About Dark-Soled Shoes

Some things to not wear are dark-soled shoes. The funny thing is, some dark-soled shoes are sold as “non-marking,” but might still mark or make the captain and crew nervous. Some shoes with lighter-colored soles leave marks as well.

Just pay attention, and if you notice you are making marks, take them off right away and clean up the marks. They should come off easily with a damp rag. All of our boats have suffered at one time or another from dark-soled shoes. If it’s safer to let someone keep them on, we do, and clean up the mess later.

What to Not Wear

If you are going boating for the day, it’s a good idea to make sure your pants do not have metal buttons on the back pockets; these can scratch gelcoat. This is no joke. One of our day sailors got all gouged up by someone’s metal shorts pocket buttons!

In Summer, you might not want to show up with all black shirt and heavy jeans. During the Winter, remember how the temperature can be cooler once you get on the water; make sure to wear full-length pants and shirts, and be ready to don socks, gloves and a hat. Really, just pay attention to the weather in the area for that day.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

What to Bring the Captain

Bring something for the host or hostess, just like on land.

You can’t go wrong with a bag of ice, or maybe some of the house beverage, whether alcoholic or non. Something consumable is good. How about reef-safe sunscreen from Stream2Sea to share! Even the bottles are environmentally friendly; totally biodegradable.  

Some other ideas are snacks in a plastic lidded container. Pick one that don’t need refrigeration or plates to share with everyone. Something that can be eaten with your fingers and does not make a mess or melt when left in the sun.

Another option is nautical cocktail napkins, and ecoconscious biodegradable paper plates. Bring anything needing chilling in a soft cooler. Sometimes it’s hard to stow a hard cooler anywhere on a boat with scratching surfaces. You can use frozen water bottles for ice, and drink them as they thaw to save on space.

What to Not Bring

Don’t bring candles, flowers, or decorative items as there is not much room on boats for these.

Space is limited; flowers might topple, and there’s not a lot of room for decorative pieces with no use. Unless it’s a yacht. Then anything goes, right?

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

Items You Might Need

Also, bring your sunscreen and sunglasses. A reef- and coral-safe sunscreen in biodegradable container like Stream2Sea will impress your host or hostess, especially when you mention the importance of protecting the ocean.

If you bring a refillable water bottle, check to see if a metal one is going to damage the fiberglass, and if there is somewhere safe to stow it. Plastic ones generally won’t scratch. This one from Hydrapak folds up to a hockey puck-size.

Bring as compact and small a bag as you can, keep the cockpit clear of clutter, and don’t spread out. Space is limited.

You can always ask in advance, “What should I bring?” and the captain can let you know of any particulars.

Where to Put My Trash

As you generate personal trash while you are on board – candy wrapper, wrapped candy wrapper, tissue, the easiest thing is to just stuff it in your pocket and not inconvenience anyone else. Sometimes everyone is busy and has their hands full and does not have time to run your trash below to a trash can.

Smoking on Board

As far as cigarettes go, if everyone else is non-smokers, you might have to wait until you get back to shore to smoke. Some people do not allow it on their boat.

Other people might allow it, however, it does seem to make some people feel ill, so unless the rest of the crowd are smokers; you might want to wait until you’re back at the dock.

No matter what, when fuel is being handled, extinguish your smoking materials.

, Etiquette for Boarding a Vessel // How to be the Perfect Boating Guest

Ladies and Privacy

Ladies; be prepared. Sometimes there’s not a lot of privacy on a boat, and, often, the head is so small that you sit on the toilet when you take a shower. That means there probably is not a trashcan in the head.

Either come prepared to wrap your personal supplies in toilet paper and either have a plan to stow it back in your bag, or carry it through the boat to a trashcan.

An even better option for women gets you 12 hours guaranteed coverage – even if you go for a swim. No leaking, dripping or changing it out.

That’s the Diva Cup. Nothing to bring or leave or carry around. It’s the perfect solution, and, incredibly ecoconscious since you’re not filling the landfill with disposable single-use personal items.

What to Read Next

How to Dispose of Toxic Sunscreen Banned in Several Vacation Destinations

5 Things to Check Before Backing Your Boat Out of a Slip


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