As captain, you’re responsible for your passengers’ safety, so here are tips for communicating boat etiquette for guests.
The unwritten rules of boating
These are the most important safety tips for sharing a boat with friends:
1. Provide a list of what guests should bring and how they should dress. For example, ask them to dress in layers to stay comfortable and dry in changing temperatures if you’ll be out all day. Tell them to bring sunscreen, glasses, hats, jackets and towels if needed. Advise them to bring seasickness medicine even if they don’t know whether they are susceptible to motion sickness.
2. Create a rough itinerary for the trip or the day and share it with your guests so they know what to expect.
3. Once aboard, walk guests through the boat and point out the location of key equipment and how to use it in case of an emergency. This includes using fire extinguishers, wearing PFDs properly, and understanding where the first aid kit is and what’s in it.
4. Show guests how to use the head if there is one, how to stop the boat in case you as the captain are unable to, and how to use the VHF radio to call for help (Channel 16 for hailing and distress calls). It’s helpful to write down directions for these procedures and let guests know where they’re kept.
5. Explain how to board, leave the boat, and how to move around while steadying themselves while the boat is still at the dock. Stress the importance of staying seated while the boat is underway and how to stow items, so they don’t shift underway or go overboard in a breeze.
6. Explain the importance of keeping the boat stable by distributing passenger and equipment weight evenly.
7. Teach guests basic boating 101 vocabulary that will help orient them: forward, aft, port, starboard, dock line, fender, Mayday.
8. If you plan to have your guests assist you, teach them how to secure or release dock lines, where and how to fix fenders to the boat, and how to fend off a dock or another vessel safely.
9. Explain that you’ll need to preserve night vision if you’ll be out after dark so no one should shine lights or cellphones near the driver at night.
10. Encourage guests to ask questions and be ready to repeat instructions if necessary. Ask them if they swim because those who don’t may experience heightened anxiety. Never push anyone beyond their comfort zone and be mindful of everyone’s physical limitations.
Prepare the boat and plan for every outing
Before inviting guests, ensure your boat is in good working order and ready for an outing. Make sure the engine(s) and electronics work, check that the bilge is dry and the bilge pump is working, and ensure that you have plenty of fuel and water on board. You’ll need a lifejacket for everyone and that includes specially sized PFDs for children. Make sure you have a first aid kit, all required fire extinguishers and flares, and plenty of drinking water.
File an official float plan with an on-water towing assistance organization or at least let someone on shore know where you’re going, with whom and what time you plan to return. Check the weather forecast.
Spending a day on the water may be familiar to you but it’s all new to non-boaters so place yourself in their shoes and be patient. Also remember that organization, planning and forethought will give you the confidence you need to be a responsible captain.