Pro Sailing Tips | Dinghy Etiquette


Wondering how to provision your boat? Curious about bringing a pet onboard? Need a cure for seasickness? We’ve got you covered. Whether you are a seasoned boater or going on your first sailing holiday with Zizoo, our community of fellow sailors and travel writers have the answers to all of your sailing questions. Heather Francis of Yacht Kate, for example, has shared some great tips and lifehacks for those who to choose to spend a life at sea or just a week. Heather’s most recent contribution is all about dinghy etiquette. Find out the proper way to drive and dock your dinghy below. 

Dinghy Etiquette

The high seas might seem like a wild place, but good manners still apply, especially when it comes to your dinghy. Whether you’re off on a snorkeling adventure, heading ashore for an evening meal or visiting another yacht in the anchorage here are a few tips to ensure you have a trouble-free time away from the Mothership.

Dinghy Etiquette


The kill switch, also known as the key for the outboard, is perhaps the most important piece of safety equipment in the dinghy. However, it is also the most overlooked. Usually attached to a bright red lanyard, the kill switch is designed to immediately stop the engine if the driver is thrown from the dinghy. Preventing both the dinghy from escaping and anyone from getting hurt by the still spinning propeller.

That is, if the driver wears the lanyard.

Some people complain that wearing the kill switch on the wrist inhibits their movement, if you find this to be true try attaching it to your belt or wearing it around your ankle. You might not win any fashion awards but wearing the kill switch could save a life.

A busy anchorage with dinghies going to and from shore all day can make life onboard feel like you’re inside a washing machine.  Respect the “NO WAKE” rule, whether it is posted or not, near shore and in the anchorage. It may take you a few extra minutes to get where you are going, but you’re on vacation, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Many landlubbers do not realize that voices carry much easier over water, especially at night when it is calm. Be mindful of talking loudly, above the hum of the outboard, or your neighbours just might hear all your late-night secrets!

dinghy etiquette


Dinghy docks are busy spots, sometimes just getting close enough to drop of crew can be difficult. To prevent a pile up at the dock follow these simple suggestions.

To eliminating bodies and belongings on the busiest part of the dock the driver can drop off everyone further up the wharf, then tie up the boat at the designated area. Before tying up, pay out as much of the painter as possible so that the dinghy floats far away from the dock. This gives other boats to easy access the dock when they are coming ashore.

Most dinghy docks supply cleats for tying up, but it rarely seems like there is enough room for everyone. Instead of tying a tradition figure-8 around the cleat tie a simple bowline through the eye, this way other boaters can tie and untie without disturbing your line. If all the cleats are being used you can tie to the dock itself, just make sure you tie to something secure. If it is necessary to move or untie someone else’s line when you are departing the dinghy dock always make sure you retie it securely.

It is impolite to crawl over another dinghy to reach shore, but at very busy docks sometimes it cannot be avoided. If you must crawl over someone else’s dinghy take your shoes off and wash your feet. And always leave your outboard down so your propeller doesn’t mistakenly damage or puncture another dinghy.

dinghy etiquette


When visiting another yacht in the anchorage, it is good etiquette to standoff, say hello and wait to be invited on board. Don’t ever stand in your dinghy and peer into the ports. Not only is it an invasion of personal space, but you’ll probably see a side of your sailing buddy you’d rather not see.

Many a dinghy has slipped away during dinner because it was improperly tied alongside, which is why many sailors like to secure their dinghy themselves. If this is your preference, simply explain to your hosts that you’ll be more relaxed if you tie your dinghy yourself, but always ask where they prefer you to tie up.

If you are hosting be sure to turn on a deck light as people depart and offer to hold the painter, so your guests have both hands free as they maneuver down the boarding ladder into their dinghy. Just make sure to wait until after they have the outboard started to cast off, in case there are any unforeseen mechanical issue.

The dinghy is your ticket to adventure, the family car and the escape pod all rolled into one.  It is important familiarize yourself with local marine regulations. In many countries you are required to wear a PFD, carry a basic safety and medical kit, keep oars and a baler in the dinghy and carry a proper light for night time excursions.

There are no lines to stay between on the ocean so many of us forget that a dinghy with an outboard is considered a motorized vehicle and should be driven responsibly. In most countries allowable blood alcohol limits that apply to drivers on land also apply to boaters.  Never let someone drive home drunk.

Dinghy etiquette


Heather Francis is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. For over a decade she has travelled the world living and working on the boats. In 2008 she and her Aussie partner Steve bought Kate, a Newport 41’ sloop, and have been sailing her full time since. They are current looking for wind in the Philippines and plan to do a lap around the planet, albeit slowly. To follow their adventures, log on to

For more great sailing tips and nautical life hacks to use on your next sailing holiday, check out some more of Heather Francis’ posts here.