Sailing Etiquette: How to Behave on a Boat

If you’ve never been on a sailing holiday before, you’re in for the vacation of a lifetime – the first time your sails fill with wind is a magical moment; cool breezes, warm sunshine and azure seas will romance you into a deep and committed love of vacationing on the water. Welcome to our world!

There are a few things to keep in mind though if you’re new to the world of boat holidays. We have compiled a list of common sailing etiquette so that nothing stands in the way of boundless sailing fun for your next adventure at sea.

Top rules to follow for perfect sailing etiquette

On the Water

  • When sailing through crystal clear seas, it’s our duty to preserve their natural state and ensure we leave them in pristine condition. This seems obvious, but we’ve seen too many people throw garbage into the water, damaging wildlife and polluting our seas. Sharing the waterways means taking care of what we emit into them.
  • Make sure you completely understand the rules of ‘right of way’. Steer clear of oncoming boats, allow plenty of room for larger vessels and always be aware of your own wake.
  • On that note, you are responsible for your own wake and any damage done by it, so always be aware of your speed, position and sailing pattern. There is nothing worse than a speedy motor yacht passing by and leaving a huge wake, overturning your entire lunch spread onto the deck.
  • When overtaking a slower vessel, do so with as much room as possible and slow down to an appropriate passing speed. In turn, if someone is overtaking you, slow down to allow them to pass quickly.
  • Pump-out etiquette – there is nothing worse than boaters who ignore the rules of the pump-out stations and holding tanks, so be conscious of all pump-out stations on your route.
  • Always help out a fellow sailor – if you see another sailor or vessel in trouble, do your best to help out while still ensuring the safety of your own vessel and crew.
Sailing etiquette

Anchor Down

  • Be sure to enter an anchorage or mooring at a slow and considerate speed and, again, always be aware of your wake.
  • Never anchor too close to other boats, because the wind can change quickly and before you know it you’ll be bumping hulls and tangling lines with five other yachts.
  • The first boat in the anchorage has the right to decide on the swing radius.
  • Whenever you are docking or mooring in a marina, if there is no one to attend to the arriving boats, do your best to help out others with their lines when they are docking at the port. When you arrive in an anchorage, mimic the existing boats in how you tie off, anchor and how much space to leave.
  • Beware of anchor drag. If you start to drag your anchor, it’s important that you react quickly. If letting out more scope doesn’t stop the dragging, try switching to a different anchor that may better suit the sea bottom type, or try moving to a different spot with a more solid ground.
Sailing etiquette

In the Harbour

  • Generally, the best custom is to arrange for a mooring berth before you dock in a port.
  • Be respectful of others in the harbour/anchorage. If you know you’ll be making some noise, anchor downwind of others and give enough distance; noise travels far on the sea.
  • If you’ll be using your dinghy at night, use oars instead of your outboard motor. It’s disrespectful to cruise around the harbour late at night, shining a flashlight in peoples’ windows and disturbing the peace with a loud outboard.
  • When you’re fuelling up at the marina, be aware of others who need to use the docking area. If you’re stopping for supplies in the harbour, fuel up and then move on to a quieter area to dock.
  • Always ensure the area around your slip or mooring is kept clean. Keep lines, mops, buckets, hoses, carts and supplies out of the way of others.
Sailing etiquette

On Board

  • If you’re sailing with a skipper, always listen to what they have to say. Most skippers are very relaxed, but if something happens you need to understand that the safety of your crew and boat may be at risk. So listen up and help out when needed.
  • Duties – if you’re sailing a bareboat yacht, everyone on board should have their own equal share of duties. Make sure everyone knows their tasks and how to complete them, may they be handling lines or preparing lunch.
  • Packing – only bring the minimum amount of items and always pack them in a soft duffel bag. There is limited room on board, so the fewer things you bring the better.
  • Before you depart, whether you’re sailing with a skipper or not, it’s best to discuss the rules of the yacht. These may include appropriate behaviour, smoking, drinking, noise pollution and many more.
  • Safety and emergency procedures must also be discussed. These usually include things like docking and undocking, fuelling procedures, radio usage, wearing of lifejackets etc.
  • Keep everything in its place! You’ll be coexisting in small quarters on a yacht, so do your best to keep things tidy and out of the way. Don’t leave cups hanging around, don’t leave wet towels or cushions on the floor, and don’t bring sand onto the deck.
  • Living in small quarters means sharing – everything. Be sure to discuss the sharing of washing and toilet facilities, the kitchen and general spacial awareness. Always be considerate of others.
  • Water conservation is a big one. Saving water on a yacht is important, as there is limited fresh water for drinking, cooking and washing, so make sure you discuss water usage with your crew.

Follow these simple rules of the sea and your next sailing holiday will be a breeze.

With these tips for super sailing etiquette, you should be all set to raise the anchor and hoist the sails – now all you need is the boat!

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