We asked, boaters answered! See which bad harbor behavior grinds your marina neighbors' gears, and – even better – how to be a great neighbor, no eggshell-walking required.
We're experimenting with a new blog series format. In it, we look to boaters and marina teams ( 👋that's you) to relay their experiences, anecdotes, and advice on boating topics from navigation and day trips to harborside events to marina etiquette. Some posts will focus on a specific harbor or type of boating, other times we'll focus on a topic to which boaters in all harbors may relate.
When you're daytripping, cruising, or living aboard, you're sure to bump elbows with loads of personalities. If you're new to boating, you may not realize there are certain unspoken rules you're bending or breaking that are making your marina neighbors completely bonkers. Earlier this week we posed the question to our blog and social channels, and got some great responses. This isn't the end-all be-all of dock etiquette guides, but it's a solid start – get the scoop from some would-be side-eyers yourself:
Sound carries over water. We heard from boaters on a few different ways to disturb the dockside peace:
Once you're docked, turn it off or to where it's barely audible. Easy. When you leave the boat or go ashore, make sure it's fully off. Dockwa boater Sue B. had a particularly bad run-in:
Leaving the VHF in on the cockpit and going ashore. No one wants to hear that all day. Once in Vineyard Haven someone even left it blaring through their mast-mounted horn/hailer.
Note: When you stow your VHF, make sure it's off as opposed to on and transmitting – if you stow an on-VHF in a way that holds the transmit button down, you'll clog the frequency and render the channel useless. Plus, anyone within range may be privy to snippets of your conversation. Awkward.
Here's looking at you, sailors! Add it to your mental or printed checklist for getting the boat buttoned up: secure your halyards. Lines slapping the mast or hanks clanking on the aluminum mast can truly be a form of torture for your neighbors. And if you leave them loose and take off for the night? Your neighbors will be extra cranky for the lack of a good night's sleep.
It's an easy habit to get into: once your mainsail is flaked, move the main halyard to the lifelines or sidestay, then continue stowing the sail. Same with the jib halyard: just move it a foot off the forestay and secure it to the lifelines. Boom.
Be kind, take time: Step outside your slip once the action's underway to make sure you're not blaring Snakes on a Plane to the entire harbor. As one boater relayed:
A sailing catamaran was watching a war movie in the salon at 10pm, but forgot that the surround sound was on for the outside aft deck – the marina sounded like it was under siege.
Rule of thumb: make sure your movie volume is restricted to the cabin you're viewing it from.
You might ask yourself, as I did, "What? How is this even a thing?" But alas. Dockwa boater John T's biggest boating pet peeve:
When the charter boat crew is blasting their hand held air horn at 7am.
Boaters, I don't care how many Dark n' Stormies you've had, if you blast an airhorn at 7am, we will be having a discussion.
I could write an entire post on this topic, but for now let's keep it snappy: If you're approaching the docks and the proverbial dung has hit the proverbial fan, yes, use your words and use them loudly. Generally, however, when coming into a marina, you should be able to keep the shouts to a minimum. If your docking anxiety routinely gets the best of you, get your docking groove back with a course from whatever captain's school is near you. Then practice, practice, practice. Maybe start meditating. But you don't want to be That Spouse or That Captain who screams unnecessarily at his or her darling/crew because you can't calmly dock a boat. It's a weird time for all involved.
Do you tend to yell when you're confused as to where to go? Slow your roll. You rarely need to enter close quarters in marina prior to getting your slip assignment. Chat them through the Dockwa app. Get on the VHF to check in. Remain calm. Have a seltzer.
If the captain on board is straight-up abusive to crew regardless of it being a stressful boating moment, that's a whole other ball of wax – and the sound of that ball of wax carries over water, so rest assured whatever you scream at your crew/spouse in the heat of the moment has been or will be heard by all. Take it down a notch.
All dogs are good dogs. But dogs sometimes need help understanding what's "normal" in new environments, which can be a huge source of anxiety on a boat. If your dog barks at every fish in the basin and every boater walking the docks, you'll make more boating pals if you look into a dog training class, find help from videos online, or invest in other ways to calm your little buddy down a little. Your pup will appreciate it as much as your neighbors will.
This topic could get a whole post to itself. We'll start with the hard truth: Not everyone likes your music. And you may not like them for not liking your music, but the fact remains that marinas, mooring fields, and harbors are communities. Generally speaking, wait until you're tied up to the party barge or well out of the harbor before you dial the tunes up to an 11. A few anecdotes from boaters may help you see each side of the coin:
One end of the noise spectrum, quiet preferred:
Loud music at any time, but especially after dark. Along with that are the guys leaving early in the morning who turn on the stereo, holler at each other across the dock, or idle their engines for a half hour before leaving the slip.
At the other: Party on, but know your audience:
I prefer to dock or at marinas or raft where the party is. I also have seasonal dockage at the same. I would agree that there should be “rules” and MUTUAL respect. It would also be helpful if there was maybe an indicator as to whether it’s a “quite zone” or “party."
I have found most folks that are transient seek a fun communal environment go to marinas - the rest moorings I assume. There are two sides, I don’t expect to have a party in someone’s library and they shouldn’t expect to read a book in the middle of my party. We are on floating trailers, traveling to floating trailer parks and all need to be mutually respectful and understanding. Zero tolerance doesn’t work - maybe a mooring or stay home would.
Well said, Russ! To which Tim added,
A quiet time rule is a reasonable solution and set proper expectations. Of course the time would likely be a point of compromise. I, for example, would think that any any transient or “busy” waterfront area that 12pm to 10pm would be reasonable for a weekday maybe and 11 or 12pm on the weekend/holiday but I’m sure some would not.
Not my rules to make and to further complicate things “on the water” rules and land rules are not only different but not usually enforced by the same agencies. But I think what we are talking about, in addition to mutual respect, is that setting proper expectations can go a long way to make both “groups” happy – which sometimes are one in the same or not! – at different times.
Love it. A great rule of thumb for new boaters, as noted by Ron W.: Basically, don't act as if they you're the only folks in the marina.
Keep your lines clean, folks! Do we live in a marina-barn? Learn to tie a proper cleat so your boat doesn't wreak havoc, and pile or coil your lines rather than strewing them across the dock for people to trip over.
If you'd like to borrow another boat's hose, nozzle, what have you, you must ask first. If the boat owner agrees, you must return the item in the condition you found it, if not better. This means if you borrow a hose, it's coiled back up properly and back where you borrowed it from.
Continuing along the theme of putting things back where you found them: Return your dock cart.
From Gail S.:
We’re in a big marina and people take the carts down to their boats filled with things and leave them on their dock. Our fobs only work on our dock so if 10 carts pile up on other docks, we can’t get to them to use them.
Return your dock cart. It's good marina karma.
Any work you do on the docks that could leave fun, sharp, pointy metal behind can cause another boater a ton of grief. Don't leave it for another boater to find when it punctures a flip-flop. If you often work with metal, have a magnet on board and do a slip-sweep to catch the sharp stuff.
As relayed from a fellow dog owner, your pups can be problematic:
Dog owners not leashing their dogs on the docks. I have a dog & always leash her. She’s only 10 pounds but I’m also aware not everyone is a dog person.
Keep your pups safe!
I didn't think this would need to be said, but: do not leave lobster traps, inflatable unicorns, or other obstacles and prop-manglers in the middle of the mooring field or marina thruway. Thank you.
We had a couple people email/message this one in, so I'll combine to field it in my own salty words: Through the dock aisle, through the mooring field, through or near an anchorage – Slow. Your. Roll.
Where's the fire? Are you in a huge rush to look like a tool? Treat yourself: Get on island time. If you're 5 minutes late to a dinner reservation, you're five minutes late to a dinner reservation; I promise you the world will spin on. Keeping your speed down lets nearby boats know you're not a newb troll, and has the added benefit of not hurting or killing anyone.
Another hot topic. Some of the generator-related pet peeves that came in:
– We'll likely do another post on marina/harbor regulations that keep at bay any abuses of the (portable) comforts of home.
Whether you're pulling into a marina that's asked you to raft or hooking up to a flotilla in wide open waters, banging up someone else's boat is pretty poor form. Have fenders – proper fenders – out and at the ready. If you're not at the ready, back her down and take a lap before you try to stick the landing.
Also! Very important to note:
If you are rafted up and need to walk across our boat, please take your shoes off. I have watched people walk across our boat with shoes on to remove them at their own. Just treat your boat the same as mine and all is good.
Boatdogs: they're the best. But while you might have a hard time containing the urge to beckon a dog to you, you never know where a dog falls on the spectrum of obedience.
Consider this dog-owner's point of view:
I've found it kinda frustrating when boaters (or worse) dock hands make kissy noises at my dog while we're docking. She's generally a very good girl. But she can't resist greeting friendly people. One time she even jumped off the moving boat. ...In the moment, it's scary to see that flash of fur going off the boat.
So if you see this pretty puppy landing in your marina, be patient. She'll be happy to give you some lovies AFTER we land and get tied up.
Well said! Thanks, Pamela D.