Captain's Tips

Boat Etiquette 101: How to Be a Good Crew


So, you are invited on a boat trip or charter! First there’s jubilation, then a little trepidation, especially if you’re new to boating. You might wonder what are the rules afloat? How do you as a new crew member know the dos and don’ts on a particular boat? Here are some tips on how to be good guest onboard and avoid being a floating faux pas.


Captain Greg | Credit Greg Burke

Experienced captains make boating look easy, but smoothly navigating the seas requires lots of concentration and attention to details and safety rules. To help ensure a successful cruise, consider the following:

- Follow the leader, because there’s only one captain. If it’s not you, then do as the captain does or as he or she tells you. Observe the captain’s behavior and follow that tempo and protocol so that you are in sync. Be attentive and helpful when asked, then follow instructions.

- Ask your host, the captain, about the duration and destination of the voyage. Be positive and flexible, as plans on the water often change along with weather and tides. Itineraries are dynamic, so go with the flow and be cooperative.

- Be honest about your yachting experience or complete lack thereof, so the captain knows your comfort level or your phobias before you go far out to sea. If you know you’re prone to sea sickness, now’s the time to politely decline.

- Stay out of the way in docking situations, coming about and maneuvering unless you are asked to handle a specific task. Don’t impede the captain’s view by standing next to or in front of the captain. Keen awareness makes for a cool competent boater.

- Admit immediately if something breaks or goes wrong on your watch. Stuff happens on a boat, and the sooner you report something like a clogged head, a dropped fender or a broken winch, the more easily remedied or fixed.


There’s something about being out on the water that makes everything taste better. Whether you’re out for a quick cruise or a more extensive trip, these suggestions can ensure that everyone enjoys dining onboard, from a simple snack to a hearty feast:

- When you offer to provision, be sure to do so generously. Volunteer in advance to bring snacks, a picnic or a meal. Ask the captain or boat owners’ preferences and if they have food allergies or aversions, and favorite drinks.

- Try to pick up the tab when dining in port or out for cocktails at a beach bar. Trust me, this simple generosity is cheaper than owning the boat or filling the fuel tank.

- Hydrate often and offer water to the captain and crew, too. Be careful not to over-booze on your cruise. You don’t want to know what they do with a drunken sailor.

- Sea sickness happens; admit it, then suffer silently. Look to the horizon, stay above board and toss your cookies overboard if needed (counterintuitively, it gets worse below deck). Power through and know that this too shall pass.


Credit Greg Burke

Regardless of the size of the boat, space will be limited and co-existing in close quarters requires thoughtful behavior. These tips can help:

- Dress efficiently and appropriately for changing weather, with waterproof layers and non-marking sole boat shoes. Street shoes and black-soled boat shoes with non-marking soles are not “non-skid” and should be removed.

- Don’t bring a ton of stuff; boat quarters are compact, and you should be, too. Tote your belongings in non-marking soft bags and soft coolers, if possible.

- Be tidy; boat clutter on decks can cause accidents. Stow your gear so as not to interfere. Once underway, you’ll be glad you secured your belongings and beverages. If you’re on a sleep-aboard, keep heads and beds neat and clean.

- Learn your lingo. Boating comes with its own jaunty nauti vernacular: bow and aft, port and starboard, galley and head. Don’t be a landlubber loggerhead by clogging the companionway (look it up if you don’t know). You garner extra points when you impress the crew by tying a bowline like a bosun.

- If kids or pets are on board, be sure that they wear the appropriate personal floatation device and that you always supervise their whereabouts.

- Give praise and be grateful to be on the water (read: no complaining). Use your manners — please and thank you — and be useful when you can. If not, be cheerful and appreciative, fetch drinks from the galley, tidy up, offer sunscreen.

The better crew you are, the more likely you’ll be asked on board again. Enjoy the journey; you’re on a boat!

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