A courteous attitude and careful consideration for fellow boaters helps keep the waterways safe and helps reduce stress and anxiety for boaters of all stripes

By Brian Minton

Cruising is a lifestyle that keeps boaters on the water for extended periods of time — often in close proximity to other boaters — whether it’s sharing an anchoring bay or a narrow passage en route. A courteous attitude and careful consideration for fellow boaters helps keep the waterways safe and helps reduce stress and anxiety for boaters of all stripes.

Over the years, we have had many suggestions from boaters on ways in which cruising could be improved for everyone, by just a little extra consideration for others. The following is a compendium of the conversations we have had while out on the water – a few basic etiquette rules and tips that will make cruising more enjoyable for all cruisers on the water.

Anchoring is intimidating to many boaters but particularly to those new to the cruising game. It requires practice and experience in various situations, as well as proper equipment. Different bays, wind conditions, bottom types and crowding situations all create a complex set of variables.

Scope (the amount of anchor chain or rode multiple based on water depth to the deck) is an important decision. In protected bays, chain can be between four and six to one, and rode five to eight times the depth. Some boaters set with an inordinate amount of scope, which results in them hogging the bay because they may wind up on top of another boat setting the appropriate scope when the wind changes. When more scope is required in serious wind conditions, it is important to find an anchorage where that works safely.

It is also important to be aware of how much rode or chain a boat has out, as other boats may ask so they can anchor safely. The anchor chain or rode should be marked either by paint or ribbons so you always know “how much.”

Anchor markers are necessary where fouling is possible
Anchor markers are necessary where fouling is possible

There seems to be an increase in the improper use of anchor markers – balls attached to the anchor by light line. These are useful if anchoring in areas where there may be rocks or logs. When anchors get jammed up, these lines are used as “trip lines” to pull the anchor out in the opposite direction. However, if the holding is mud or clay there is no reason to use an anchor marker so using one also amounts to hogging an anchorage, since other boats cannot risk swinging over the ball and having it entangle in their props.

Another etiquette no-no when it comes to anchoring is using two anchors from a single boat. Sometimes, of course, there are exceptional circumstances such as anchoring in a narrow finger of a bay, where two are necessary to keep from running ashore. Otherwise, putting down two anchors severely limits the swing room of that boat. With other boats on one anchor, a situation is created where the boats may meet (usually at 3 a.m. in the morning).

Be considerate when using a dinghy in a busy anchorage
Be considerate when using a dinghy in a busy anchorage

Dinghies and PWCs provide lots of fun for cruising boaters in anchorages – allowing them to explore other bays, fish or visit friends. However, they should be used carefully, especially in well-populated anchorages. The risk of hitting a swimmer is simply not worth it.

Dinghies keep getting bigger every year, which means bigger wakes that can be quite disruptive during a peaceful afternoon on the hook. With this in mind, we always try to anchor towards the mouth of an anchorage when there are younger crew members on board. This means the kids can get out on the dinghy without having to idle through a raft of boats.

Sometimes boaters forget that it is also important to be considerate of cottage owners. All efforts should be made to anchor out of sight of cottages whenever and wherever possible.

Etiquette fosters peaceful co-existence among boaters
Etiquette fosters peaceful co-existence among boaters

As boats continue to have more complex systems and equipment on board, they require increasing capacity for 110-volt power. As a result, there are more boats on the water with generators – and those generators are getting bigger. Using your generator is obviously a must, but how and when you use it is a matter of courtesy for boaters around you.

The general rule of thumb for running your generator is to shut down by 11 p.m. and not start up again until after 8:30 a.m. If you are using the generator extensively, then anchor out rather than use the public docks in an anchorage in order to be mindful of other cruisers. Using an inverter can help to maximize 110-volt usage while minimizing generator running time.

To help mitigate the noise from your generator, you may want to consider a sound box. We are particularly careful in bays predominantly used by sailors, often trying hard to move further away and keep exhaust directed ashore.

Limiting generator use will help keep the peace
Limiting generator use will help keep the peace

Boaters should also be aware that portable generators are even louder, with some offshore imports particularly so. Recently, we saw a raft of boats with portables placed on their bows to reduce the noise in the cockpit. The other boats in the anchorage were not very pleased.

If your vessel has an inverter, try running with the generator charging enroute to the anchorage. When you arrive, the inverter batteries will be charged and there will be less reason to run the generator – quieter for you and your neighbours.

Most cruisers keep their VHF set on Channel 16, which is for safety and calling, in order to monitor other vessels hailing them. Therefore, minimizing unnecessary chatter is a real consideration.

As you may or may not be aware, there are two power levels on VHF radios – low and high – and the difference is significant. If all boats hailing other boats within a mile or so used low power, this would eliminate a lot of noise. This also applies to such situations as boats calling marinas when they are just outside the entrance.

Once hailed by another vessel, the responding vessel should respond with the channel to switch to. If you are hailing another vessel, protocol suggests you only do so two or three times. If they have not answered by then, they likely have their radio off. Of course, this does not apply if there is an emergency.

Passing another vessel in close quarters is another opportunity to extend some courtesy. If you can’t get far enough away from the boat to pass with minimal wake, try hailing on low power on Channel 16. Let then know you will give them a slow pass (to port or starboard) if they will stand off.

It is important for transiting boats to have a legible name on the stern to allow for a hail. If the dinghy is on the transom, the vessel’s name should be on the dinghy bottom. In some U.S. states, failure to do so results in a fine.

When passing sailboats from astern, particular care is worthwhile. If you are in close quarters, try the hail method. If they are travelling at six knots under power, you would have to pass at about 10 knots and that generates a lot of wake with some planing vessels. When they slow down, you can pass at seven knots with much less wake.

Sailors on the Intracoastal Waterway observe the following protocol. After the hail, they slow down, the power boat passes, they then turn hard into the wake and follow in the power boat’s stern wake.

If you are approaching a sailboat, wake is less of an issue because the sail boat is designed to handle a seaway from the bow. Still, it would be helpful if they could move over to the side of the channel to limit wake impact. With both boats travelling to the right side of channel (only when safe to do so), the wake impact is minimized.

Whether it’s table manners or polite greetings, basic etiquette guides many of our daily interactions with one another. It is a way of keeping order, showing respect and considering others. Extending some good manners to other boaters sharing the water is truly simple and just plain common courtesy. Following the etiquette tips from seasoned cruisers will help foster a peaceful co-existence on the waterways – and everyone definitely stands to benefit from that.

This article is featured in the Winter 2015 issue of Boats&Places.