Don’t be a dick – and other boating etiquette

According to my friend Vaughan, there are three golden rules of sailing.

These rules have nothing to do with COLREGS… nor will you find them in the international racing rules of sailing, however if you really want to be a sailor, then it is good to learn and apply these rules at all times…

Rule #1 – Always Look Good

Even if you don’t have any idea what you are doing, you had better at least try to look as if you do. This is especially difficult after not having a shower for at least three days.

Below we will discuss this rule in more detail, how to ‘not be a dick’, other general boating etiquette and many of the common ways that people break this rule on a regular basis. 

Rule #2 – Shit Will Happen

Yes – we have all been there…! Crazy stuff always happens on boats. Whether it is getting your spinnaker in a tangle, running aground, or any of the other million things that could go wrong. If this happens:

Rule #3 – Always refer back to rule #1

Yep – that’s it! Even if everything is going completely wrong, you can make it look like a super stylish manoeuvre by applying rule #1 at all times…


Ha ha – yes of course we aim to sail to rule #1 at all times (and occasionally achieve this). Generally if you are cruising along on your own then this can be easy, but enter yourself in a yacht race, or come in to a marina or a crowded anchorage, you can be sure that everyone is going to be watching you like a hawk! This is where the rules come in to play – big time!

We were recently at a fuel dock in New Caledonia. A large yacht from Malta with just two people came along. With a strong cross wind there was a very high possibility of Rule #2 occuring. They made one pass at the dock, and didn’t quite get it right, so they very calmly spun around for a second attempt. Of course we were all watching closely – as one does in these situations. However they came back around and motored perfectly alongside. All their lines were ready to go. Not a word of communication between them, just hand signals from the bow. Very classy – they were a perfect example of Rule #1.

OK let’s look at the rules and other boating etiquette in more detail…

While Sailing

Fenders – don’t sail along with your fenders out… trust me on this one, if you want to apply rule #1 – do not sail along with your fenders out. Unless you are in a canal or about to come alongside a wharf, as soon as you are in clear water then you need to get those fenders in and stowed away.

IMG_7745.JPGHow to break rule #1 

In a Marina

Berthing – if you are leaving your boat on a visitors wharf, try and berth it considerately – i.e down one end or the other – Don’t be a dick and leave it right in the middle. Consider all the other boats that might like to come along and berth there later on and position your boat accordingly to make it easy for others to come alongside too.

Also on this note – if you are at a launching ramp and leaving your boat tied to the wharf alongside – leave as much room as you can near the ramp itself, to allow others to launch and retrieve their boats easily without your boat blocking its way.

Same at dinghy docks – don’t tie up super tightly beside the ladder or jetty and make it difficult for anyone else to come alongside as well…

Its bad etiquette to berth inconsiderately. But if you do come across a boat berthed by a dick, then it is equally bad manners to move it – as we found out recently when we got told off for carefully moving a little fizz boat that was tied up in a most inconsiderate way on the public wharf… According to popular opinion of the people on a Facebook group I queried on this topic, it is extremely bad manners to touch anyone’s boat. We should have asked the marina people to do it for us.

Yes ok I get it – I wouldn’t want anyone moving my boat either – but hey – I wouldn’t have berthed like a dick in the first place – rule #1! And the owner of the boat in question was actually watching us at the time – wouldn’t you think they would come over to assist?

It’s bad manners to leave all your stuff scattered about on the marina fingers too. Keep the walkways clear for others to get past.

At the marina laundry – if you leave your washing on and disappear, it is acceptable for someone else to take your laundry out of the machine when it’s finished. If you don’t want someone handling your knickers – then don’t leave them hanging around when the machine has finished!

IMG_7732Naomi & Andrew demonstrating rule #1 in New Caledonia

In an Anchorage

You might be anchored in a beautiful bay all on your own, another boat comes along, and drops their anchor right on top of yours! This is bad manners, dangerous and breaks rule #1. Give people some space!

It is bad etiquette (and illegal in most places) to zoom around moored boats making a wake. You might spill the drinks! And this means you definitely won’t get invited over to partake in drinks later on…

If you are invited over, you should bring your own drinks, and something to eat and share as well. Boaties are usually cruising around with limited supplies and so it is good etiquette to BYO drinks and nibbles with you. Even bring your own glass if you fancy it and save the host having to do more washing up. A great way to apply rule #1 and increase your chances of getting invited back!

If you pick up a yacht club mooring in New Zealand, you can expect other club members to come and raft up with you. Don’t be a dick and pretend that you don’t see them circling around! Come up and help out. It is etiquette for the rafting up boat to provide the lines, springs and fenders.

If you don’t want to raft up – drop your anchor instead of using a mooring and have some quiet time on your own.

If you have to cross from one boat to another, then it is bad manners to cross over through the cockpit – go forward of the mast – tip toe with clean feet too please!

Unless you are a supermodel, other sailors, probably won’t appreciate you wandering around on deck with no clothes on. Save the nudity for your naked sailing.

img_8522Rafting up – etiquette says the raft up boat provides the lines. 


Clanging halyards and rumbling generators will quickly annoy your neighbours.

If you are having a party – invite the neighbours over, even if they don’t come, at least you would have practised good etiquette and your noise might not upset them as much as if they hadn’t had an invitation at all.


Nicci, Craig, Vaughan, Dean, Rachel, Viki, Jon & Andrew

If you are having a party – invite the neighbours or keep the noise down 

So in summary:

  • Be polite – treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Common sense really.
  • Copy other people or ask! Sailors are super friendly and love to share information. If you aren’t sure if you are parking your boat or dinghy or anchoring in the right place – just ask someone! Better to get some advice than risk looking like a dick and upsetting your neighbours
  • It’s super hard to maintain rule #1 all the time

So there are my tips – share your good & bad boating etiquette tips with me below!

Looking for a new boat name? Check out the All Things Boat blog post with the best collection of boat names on the internet!


23 thoughts on “Don’t be a dick – and other boating etiquette

  1. I understand and agree with the manners; they are a matter of basic and necessary courtesy toward others. But in order to preserve my energy and sanity for application to weightier matters, I gave up on trying to look good all the time a long time ago. I have no talent for it.

    We do, however, pull our fenders in when underway, because my wife remembers to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great list, although the looking-good bit is hard to maintain in a panic ! One rule we TRY to remember is that sound carries further on the water and in a boat hull than you think it does, so keep “animated domestic discussions” as quiet as possible. (We’ve heard some really looloos and have probably unwittingly given a few good spectacles ourselves !) Also work out some hand signals to communicate between the helm and the anchor when you arrive at an anchorage. Nothing’s worse than 2 new neighbors screaming at each other as they try to set the anchor. I have to admit I’m torn about moving badly-parked dinghies…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The funny part of this is that is it mostly common sense that just requires a little forethought. As for always looking good, I’ve seen that scare off novice sailors. That is a bit of pride we can all do without in the name of learning curve. We don’t expect that of people when learning to drive a car. I’d like to see this gatekeeping measure relaxed, and see the teachers patiently emerge.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am going aboard a friend’s boat in 3 weeks (Jennifer & Mark of M/V Starlet) and I will do my utmost to follow these rules! Loved this post, Viki! Had me laughing the entire read, especially the title!!!


  5. I’ll add a subrule: If you accidentally find you’ve been a dick, admit it and then fix it. And another: If someone else has been a dick, don’t assume they know better, sometimes a quiet word is all that is needed for them to get the message and get to my first subrule.


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