Driving a boat is a big responsibility - you are responsible for keeping the passengers on your boat and others on the water safe. In order to ensure that your crew as well as those around you can enjoy their time on the water and stay safe, it is important to know the basics of boating etiquette. Some of these rules are required to follow by law, while others are not but are highly recommended.
Passing a Boat
It is extremely important to respect the proper procedures when it comes to boating right of way - the rules exist to keep you and others safe. There are quite a few things to think about when it comes to boating right of way. A few general guidelines to follow include:
- Always try to keep as much space as possible between you and the other boat
- If you are passing a boat that is anchored/stopped, slow down to reduce your wake
- If another boat is overtaking yours, reduce your speed
- If you come head on with another boat, each should turn starboard to pass on their port sides when possible, otherwise the drivers should signal to each other to avoid collision
- A non-powered vessel always has the right of way before a powerboat
- You should always do your best to avoid collisions, even if the other boat does not have the right of way
When considering boating etiquette, anchoring often gets overlooked. However, having proper boat etiquette includes anchoring as well. The first thing to remember is to enter the anchoring area slowly and reduce your wake. Another important tip for anchoring is to not anchor in a channel. Channels are busy with boaters trying to get through, so it is not a good place to anchor your boat. You should also allow plenty of space between you and the other boats in the anchoring area in case of wind or unexpected wake. Maintaining your boating etiquette is essential while anchoring to avoid collisions and keep everyone safe and happy.
Boat Fueling Etiquette
Another area that tends to be overlooked when considering boating etiquette is fueling. There are some key things to remember when it comes time to fuel up. The main thing to keep in mind is that the fuel dock only offers a small amount of space and other boats are most likely waiting to get into your spot. You should always fuel up as quickly as possible and then move out of the way. If you see someone you know and want to socialize or eat at the marina or grab something from the shop, you should move to a designated parking spot rather than keeping your boat at the fuel dock. Always be sure to be respectful to any workers helping you and it is a common courtesy to tip them.
It is also important to remember etiquette at the boat launch or ramp. Try to get your boat in or out as quickly as possible to open it up for others, because it is most likely busy and others are waiting to use the launch or ramp. Some things that you can do in order to help this process move smoothly and quickly are having all of your equipment and accessories ready to go before you arrive at the ramp, having someone else there to help you and to be able to pull the boat away while you park the trailer, and trying to limit your socializing while using the ramp.
Another important thing to remember is to reduce your wake and go slowly through the marina - there are usually speed limit signs, and you should comply with them. Always be respectful of others - offer them help if they seem in need, and thank those who offer to help you, even if you don't need their help. Be sure to keep your area in the slip clean. This will help ensure that the slip area is safe for you and others.
Controlling Your Wake
There are several situations when you should reduce your wake while out on the water. Slowing down and reducing your wake is not only out of courtesy and respect, but is also essential for your safety and others safety. You should aim to stay at least 200 feet away from shoreline and other boaters as a general rule of thumb.
Some common scenarios where you should slow down and reduce your wake include:
- At marinas/fueling docks - there are usually speed limit and no wake buoys to remind you
- When passing another boat that is parked or picking up a rider
- Going by another boat who is pulling a rider
- Passing fisherman or water workers
- Passing people swimming, kayaking, or paddle boarding
- Passing a spot where boats are anchored
Knowing the Rules
Every waterway has buoys that indicate important information such as a channel, shallow water, wake zones, speed limits, and more. It is your responsibility to know and understand the meanings of your waterway's buoys and to follow them. Each state and local government can set different rules for boaters and their waterways, so you should be sure you are up to date with your local rules in order to comply with them to create a safe environment for your passengers and others on the water.
Having a VHF radio onboard is a great idea in case of an emergency. They are very helpful but must be used properly. You should know some basic boating terminology and lingo if you have a VHF radio onboard to ensure you can understand what others are saying and be able to effectively communicate with them. The most important thing to remember is that you should only use it for emergencies so that the line is open for others if they need it. You must speak clearly and calmly into the radio so that others can understand you and identify yourself by saying your boat name or information. Never interrupt a conversation that is already taking place, and get permission before using someone else's channel. Using your VHF radio correctly will help ensure help in emergency situations for you and others on the water.
General Boating Etiquette
Besides boating right of way and anchoring or fueling, there are some general things to keep in mind when it comes to boating etiquette.
- If you see another boat pulling a rider, reduce your wake and keep as much space as possible between your boat and theirs/their rider
- Consider the effects of what you are doing on the boats around you
- If you see someone who looks like they need help, offer them help
- When around any other boat, especially if they are stopped, reduce your wake
- Don't throw your trash overboard - this can mess up other boats and people don't want to be swimming around in your leftovers
- Never dump sewage into the water if your boat has a bathroom system
- If you accidentally spill oil or gas in the water you should notify the U.S. Coast Guard's response team
- Keep your music volume down - noise travels on the water and amplifies
- Inform your passengers on safety precautions and boat etiquette - you are responsible for your passengers and their actions
- Give a wave to others on the water that you are going past - everyone is out there for an enjoyable time and it's nice to see some friendly faces
While it may seem like there are a lot of things to remember, they will start to come naturally after some practice. Following proper boating etiquette helps ensure you and others stay safe and have an enjoyable time. Staying alert and respectful will make your time on the water much more relaxing and fun for all involved!