Boating Common Sense, Common Courtesies, and Common No-No’s

By: Richard Crowder


Mans Hakansson / Unsplash

Pleasure boating is meant to be a relaxing, enjoyable past-time and recreation. It can only remain so when annoyances and frustrations are kept to a minimum. The essence of pleasure boating is the mutual enjoyment of the vast and varied waterways of this great country. A few reckless and thoughtless individuals can ruin the enjoyment of many in a very short time. Often these individual’s actions are unintentional and they don’t even realize they are causing frustration, resentment, and anger. So let’s all work together to keep boating enjoyable for everyone.

One of the greatest annoyances, both to other boaters and to those on shore, is the action and even physical damage caused by a passing boat’s wake. The boat operator often has no idea that the wake from his/her boat is annoying or causing a problem, and there are two reasons for this: One is that the boat operator is looking ahead and yet the wake is often far behind when it affects another boat or the shoreline. The second reason is that by far the greatest percentage of modern pleasure boats have deep or modified vee planing hulls.

The wake when going fast on plane is less than when the boat is going slower, and especially when it is just slightly above idle speed, i.e. around 1,200 to 2,000 RPM, where the size of the wake is greatest. As the boat slows down and starts coming off plane, this process of slowing down will cause a huge and possibly damaging wake – even a long distance away.

Yet from the perspective of the boat operator, he/she will feel like they are going dead slow when they have just come down off plane when they are in this critical RPM range due to the huge relative change in speed. A deep or modified vee planing hull boat must be below roughly 1,200 or 1,000 RPM (and each boat and design is different) in order to minimize wake.

The key here is to always look behind you many times when coming off plane and check the size of the wake you are leaving. And please, please, when leaving a slow zone or harbour, please always wait until you are well clear before pushing the throttle(s) ahead to get up onto plane. And for displacement boats, dead slow idle is the key to minimizing wake. This also applies to personal watercraft which cause disproportional size wakes at anything above idle until they are up on plane.

Keep in mind that you as the boat operator are responsible for your wake and any damage caused by it, and boaters have been known to pay exorbitant damage claims as a result of their damaging wake. But the point here is that wake is one of the most annoying and frustrating factors to everyone wanting to enjoy our waterways. Always be cognizant of and watch your wake at all times and who and what it is affecting. Don’t be impatient. Just slow right down.

With regard to tying up at a transient facility like a town dock or restaurant, a park dock, or even a transient dock at a private marina, whether for an hour, a day, or overnight, always respect the owner of the facility and their rules as well as other boaters using the facility. Always obtain direction from the facility as to where to tie up before you do so. There may be unforeseen reasons why you may be requested to tie up in a certain place or not to tie up in another place.

Never move another boat or untie the lines of another boat without first obtaining that owner’s permission (unless in an emergency). You know how you would feel if someone did that to your boat. Always tie up as reasonably close to other boats as possible to leave room for as many boats as possible at a transient dock. Never steal someone else’s spot. You may also be asked to leave a certain space vacant for a boating friend of the person asking. Always be as accommodating as possible.

Never reserve a particular transient spot for a boating friend unless you are absolutely sure that friend will show up. Always offer docking assistance to any incoming boaters and if assistance is requested, always be prepared to have mooring lines thrown or heaved at you from a distance, whether you like it or not. Always be sure of your footing, be prepared to protect yourself, and never accept any risks to your personal safety.

At a fuel or pump-out dock, always be as efficient as possible with space and time, especially in busy times. These docks and the services they provide are often in high demand. Always tie up in such a manner as to allow as many other boats as possible to also tie up. Unless specifically permitted by staff, never tie up at this dock one moment longer than it takes to fuel up or pump-out. That means no shopping; no long washroom or shower breaks; no chatting with friends, etc.

When docking for a season at a private or public marina, you are generally “living” in fairly close quarters with many others, some of whom you may have chosen to be close to but as often as not, your neighbours start out as total strangers. Living in harmony with your fellow boaters is the key to everyone’s enjoyment of a season’s boating. This means, while not necessarily sacrificing your own principles and idiosyncrasies, not doing things that will infringe upon your neighbour’s boating enjoyment either.

There are two prime factors within your control that are considered prime annoyances to others; noise and pollution. What is considered normal and acceptable to you can be annoying noise to someone else. If other boats are within earshot, never have your entertainment any louder than you absolutely have to have it to be enjoyed only within the confines of your boat. No, your neighbours probably do not enjoy the same music or entertainment you do.

Always turn your entertainment down in volume in the evening too. Your neighbour’s choice of evening entertainment may be reading or listening to the crickets or other of nature’s offerings and that is impossible with your entertainment turned up to be heard beyond the confines of your boat. Once you have set your volume where you think it is okay, always get off your boat and go to the nearest neighbour’s boat to check to see whether the volume on your boat is indeed low enough. Remember that any noise, including your voice, is amplified considerably as it crosses open stretches of water. Always be considerate of your noise and how it may be perceived by other boaters.

Pollution can be many different things to different people. Along with pollution of our environment, there is visual and noise and olfactory (offensive smells) pollution. We have dealt with noise pollution above. Visual pollution can include the outward appearance, condition, and maintenance of your boat which is docked so closely beside other boats. Always try to keep your boat in acceptably reasonable condition on the exterior and if you can’t do the basic cleanup of spiders, bird droppings, mold, moss, and dirt, then please arrange for someone else to do it for you periodically.

Always keep your dock area clean and garbage free. Keep your lines, fenders, electrical cords, and water hoses organized and out of common areas. Keep dock boxes and your personal belongings including chairs, tables, barbeques, kids toys, etc. in presentable condition and out of common areas. Cleanliness and tidiness are keys to enjoyable mutual co-habitation. Always be cognisant of and eliminate olfactory pollution that may emanate from your boat; from your engine(s) or fuel, your toilet(s) or holding tank(s), your garbage, or just generally from your lack of maintenance or cleanliness.

When operating at close quarters, always remember that closeness and speed are inter-related situations to avoid. As you approach other stationary boats, persons, or docks, cut your speed proportionately and smoothly so that you will be at dead slow idle by the time you are at least several boat lengths away. People get nervous seeing you approach at speed especially when they do not know your capabilities or your boat’s. Always relieve their concerns by operating within practical safety margins.

Following another boat too closely is also most nerve wracking for the operator and passengers of the boat you are following. Following too closely does not allow the boat you are following to take emergency action and to operate safely to avoid potential hazards that you might not see if you are following too closely. Always remember that you have no brakes as such and any sudden action on your part to avoid a collision could cause injury to your own passengers. Always leave a safe distance of several boat lengths between you and any boat you are following and if possible, follow off to one side, not directly behind so you have an opportunity to see further ahead.

This closeness also applies to passing situations. When you are approaching and overtaking a boat from behind, always time your passing manoeuvre so that you can give the other boat lots of time and room to react. In other words, always hold off from passing until the channel, river, lake, or bay widens enough so that your passing absolutely minimizes the disturbance, distress, and surprise of the boat being passed. Always pass as far away from the boat being passed as absolutely possible so that your wake causes minimal disturbance.

Solitary boaters at anchor are generally in search of solitude, peace, quiet, and tranquility and generally despise anyone who disrupts these objectives. If you plan to anchor out it is always wise to do it with tranquility in mind. Otherwise, go to a secluded spot where no one else can hear you or stay tied up at a commercial facility where your choice of music or entertainment is welcome.

Always choose a spot to anchor as far removed from other existing anchored boats as reasonably possible to honour this principle of seclusion. Always choose a spot where anchor rodes will not cross or tangle even if all boats had to swing a full circle on their anchors. Always choose a spot where any of your shore lines or stern anchor rodes are not likely to cross those of other boats at anchor.

If you must run a generator or air conditioning/heating, always choose a spot where your generator exhaust and water discharges will be facing the opposite direction from the most number of other boats. Always try not to run any of these items before dawn or after dusk.

Always remember that voices, even soft ones, as well as other noises will carry extremely well within the confines of an anchorage, no matter how big the area. Therefore always get in the habit of speaking as softly as possible and very close to the person you are addressing while facing them. Never yell to others unless in an emergency.

Always clean up any mess and garbage onshore at an anchorage. Always take your garbage with you unless specific facilities for garbage are provided. If you use a fire pit always leave fresh, dry kindling and firewood for the next boater under protective rocks or brush nearby. Always ensure that you have sufficiently doused your fire so that you can place your bare hand within the remaining coals. If you use provided washroom facilities, then always thoroughly clean up after you and always ensure there is toilet paper left for the next person.

Personal watercraft, and to a different extent, waterski/wakeboard/wakesurf boats, have unfortunately become a source of moderate to intense irritation to many cottagers, permanent residents, boaters, and others sharing our waterways. The irritation stems not only from the incessant “buzzing” noise, akin to a buzzing mosquito that emanates from these machines but also the wake they leave when operating close to shore or to other boaters, swimmers, etc. Too loud, too long, too often, and too close is always a recipe for annoyance. Always try to realize what affect the operation of your favourite motorized water toy has on others and adjust your usage accordingly.

Wakeboarding and especially wakesurfing require specific and sometimes extra large wake heights and volume to be effective. When this occurs close to shore or close to any others sharing our waterways, the resulting wake can be most annoying to them. Always consider your wake when enjoying these watersports and who and what it is affecting and for how long and at what time of day. Always be cognizant of your wake and its effect on others. Never hot-dog on the water. Never show off on the water. Never dare-devil or take up dares.

Always be a safe and responsible boater and always be aware of how your behavior can negatively affect others sharing our incredible waterways. Canada has more navigable waters than any other country in the world. There is lots of it so let’s use it and enjoy it in ways that are inoffensive to others.


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