BY Anna Cummins on 30 May 2023

First time you've been invited aboard? Check out these boat passenger etiquette tips to keep those invites coming

Boat Guest Etiquette

Embarking on a boat adventure offers an escape from the ordinary, but it’s essential to ensure everyone’s safety and enjoyment.

Whether you’re a seasoned sailor or a first-time passenger, adhering to a few essential rules of boat passenger etiquette will help make your journey a breeze. And, if you’re new to the rules of the boating world, it’s important to know some of the biggest dos and don’ts to ensure you’re invited back again next time.

From donning a life jacket to respecting your boat captain’s expertise, we present a guide to ensure an unforgettable experience on the high seas.

1. Respect the Captain: Listen, Learn, and Observe

Your boat captain is your guide through the open waters, so it’s vital to respect their knowledge and authority. Once you’ve accepted an invite on board, the captain is in charge. Listen attentively to their instructions, follow safety briefings closely, and adhere to any guidelines provided. Their expertise ensures a smooth journey and enhances your understanding of the boat’s operations and protocols. Never touch any buttons at the helm, or try and interfere with navigation. 

Boat Passenger Etiquette

2. Safety First: Don Your Life Jacket

No matter how confident you are in your swimming abilities, wearing a life jacket is paramount. It serves as your personal floatation device, offering peace of mind in case of unexpected emergencies. Your life jacket should fit snugly and be appropriately secured. 

It’s a good idea to ensure you know who to call in case of an emergency. Take a moment to jot down any local emergency numbers, including the coastguard. Spend a few minutes at the start of the cruise familiarising yourself with any safety equipment on board, such as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, flares and liferafts.

3. Seasickness Solutions: Stay Ahead of the Waves

For those susceptible to seasickness, proactive measures can make a world of difference. If you’re drinking, don’t drink too much too quickly, and ensure you’ve got some preventative medication on hand if necessary. Avoid heavy or greasy meals before setting sail, and focus your gaze on the horizon to help steady your equilibrium. With a little preparation, seasickness need not dampen your experience. If you do start to feel ill, don’t be embarrassed — it’s always a good idea to tell the captain or another passenger as soon as possible. 

4. Mind Your Balance and Move Carefully

Navigating a boat involves understanding the principles of balance and motion. It’s good boat passenger etiquette to be mindful of your movements on board, particularly when the boat is in motion. Avoid sudden shifts in weight or unnecessary movements that could upset the boat’s equilibrium. While you may wish to sit on the bow of the vessel to enjoy the view, never do this  — bow riding is incredibly dangerous. 

It’s also critical to avoid propeller injuries and vessel strikes while in the water. Avoid swimming zones and stay a safe distance away from dive flags, and ensure the engine is off and the propeller is still before boarding or disembarking the vessel. Never go near the propellor, even when it is still, as the sharp blades can cause injury. 

Boat Guest Etiquette

5. Stow It Securely: Keep Your Belongings Shipshape

As a considerate boat passenger, maintaining a clutter-free environment is crucial. Securely stow your personal items in designated areas to prevent them from becoming hazards or causing damage. Clear pathways and communal spaces to ensure easy access and a comfortable experience for all passengers.

6. Be Aware of the ‘Bare Feet’ Rule

Many yachts have a ‘bare feet’ rule that dictates shoes stay outside the cabin. Other vessels may ask that no shoes be worn on deck, to avoid damaging the wood or fibreglass. Make sure you ask and understand the boat’s rules on this matter before stepping foot on board. 

Boat Passenger Etiquette

7. Environmental Stewardship: Preserve Our Oceans

Being on a boat offers a unique opportunity to connect with the beauty of the ocean. Take this chance to be an environmental steward by respecting marine life and habitats. Avoid throwing any waste overboard, including cigarette butts or organic waste like food, and adhere to eco-friendly practices such as recycling and responsible disposal. 

If possible, pack ocean-friendly or coral-friendly sunscreen to avoid damaging ecosystems while you’re swimming in the sea. While peeing in the sea is generally considered ‘okay’, it’s not advised to urinate in the ocean near reefs, as this can damage them. 

8. Enjoy Yourself!

All these rules can seem overwhelming at first. But at the end of the day, boating is one of life’s great pleasures, and you’ve been invited to share in the fun. Relax and remember your friends will want you to feel as comfortable as possible. 

Discover Boating, a marketing platform powered by trade associations the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and Marine Retailers Association of the Americas (MRAA) has produced a short video on boat passenger etiquette, which can be viewed above. 

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