Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

Here’s a quick guide to help you put your best boat shoe forward from being on time to leaving the vessel how you found her. There’s an etiquette to accepting an invitation and boarding a vessel, and there are several practicality factors as well. A few things you might not have considered might be on this list!

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

Be On Time

First, make sure you are on time.

“Fashionably late” does not work for boating etiquette, as this party plans to leave the dock.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

Boarding as a Guest

While it might sound odd and old-fashioned, “permission to come aboard” is perfectly acceptable boating etiquette. 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.

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

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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 stepping on because many boaters try to limit the amount of single-use items like paper towels consumed on board, due to constraints of a very small trash can.

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.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

What to do With Your Shoes, Socks, Toes

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.

Ladies, a good sturdy gel pedicure is not a bad idea for a boating outing.

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

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

Sunscreen Awareness

For wearing spray sunscreen, make sure to apply it on the dock and also 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%.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

No Kidding About Dark-Soled Shoes

A huge aspect of boating etiquette is 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 your shoes 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 we just clean up the mess later. But we’re not pleased.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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.

If you are packing several items, it’s best to have them in a soft-sided tote or duffle bag. Don’t plan to bring along a huge purse in addition; sometimes there’s just not that much room.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

What to Bring the Captain or Owner

Bring something for the host or hostess, just like on land to thank them for inviting you. Boating etiquette is much like manners 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. Fruit or vegetables are good options.

Another option is nautical cocktail napkins, and ecoconscious biodegradable paper plates. Bring anything that needs 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.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

What to Not Bring

Don’t bring candles, flowers, or decorative items as there is not much room on boats for these and open flames goes far beyond boating etiquette on vessels with multiple sources of fuel and gases.

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?

Be aware that you might not have somewhere to plug in to charge your electronics. Arrive charged. Many boats do not have 110 or 220 outlets.

Cell phones in waterproof cases are a good idea.

Anything illegal is a very bad idea; the vessel can be seized and license lost. Zero tolerance.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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. Consider a rain jacket, too.

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

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

Smoking on Board

If everyone else is a non-smoker, you might have to wait until you get back to shore to smoke. Some people do not allow smoking on their boat.

Other people might allow smoking on their boat, 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 to be fully in line with boating etiquette.

At least make sure to smoke downwind.

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

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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 or back in your bag 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.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

Captain and Crew

Treating the captain and crew to dinner or drinks on shore is generous and optional; don’t be offended if they decline. They might still need to ready the boat for the next day.

For a charter, a gratuity between five and 15% of the charter fee is customary depending on your satisfaction with the service.

boating etiquette, Recreational Boating Yacht Etiquette

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.

Boating etiquette requires you 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.


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