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Yachting etiquette was once handed down from experienced skippers to first-timers but, with the explosion of boats on the water, novices are heading out on the water without the faintest sense of basic boating manners. If you’re reading this magazine, you’re probably more the abider than the offending party. (Permission to sit back with a cold one and enjoy.) But if you’re relatively new to boating, here’s a quick, at times tongue-in-cheek, overview of a few elementary maritime manners.

Take anchoring, for example. The rule is “first come, first served,” which means, as the second boat arriving in a harbor, you need to follow the lead of the first. If they’re on a single hook, you’ll hang on a single. Bow and stern anchors? Go with that. And remember this: The law says that the first boat (even anchored) has the right of way, so if you anchor too close and later bump, it’s your fault. If you aren’t sure how much scope they have out (and therefore how much they will swing), ask them on your way in and follow their example.


Too many modern skippers just toss their anchors willy-nilly, without considering that their boat may swing with the wind into another. Before you drop your hook, think through what will happen if conditions change and then leave yourself a safety margin. If a later boat crowds your space, tell them now because it’s a lot easier to sort things in daylight than at zero-dark-thirty.

Etiquette is just a fancy word for courtesy, so let good manners guide your actions. Don’t blast through anchorages on jet skis like nautical no-see-ums, irritating everyone’s ears. And remember that you’re responsible for any damage caused by your wake, so tiptoe into a harbor and be a good neighbor.

Sound is a big problem because many of us want to enjoy a quiet anchorage. Whether your preference is Jimmy Buffett or Snoop Dogg, keep your mega-stereo to yourself. The same applies in a marina: Curb your children and don’t let them run shrieking wildly along the docks. If you’re the one with a loud generator, the noisy kids, a booming stereo or a constantly barking dog, anchor as far from everyone as possible.

Etiquette is also based on kindness. If you see someone attempting to dock in a crosswind, get off your duff and help with their docklines. I once entered an unfamiliar harbor and called to a man lounging in his cockpit for a tip on where to anchor. “Hang on a sec,’” he said as he hopped in his tender. “Follow me.” He led me to a perfect spot protected from breeze and with a good sand bottom for my anchor—a random act of kindness.

It’s good manners to keep the dock around your boat tidy, with the lines and hose coiled and your shorepower cord shipshape so it won’t trip anyone at night. If your neighbor leaves their hose or shorepower cord in a mess, coil it for them and hopefully they’ll get the hint.

Try to be a fumeless good neighbor, too. That means not sending clouds of smoke through the anchorage from your barbecue, and shutting it down as soon as you’ve burnt your steaks. If you must run your engines, pick a time that doesn’t foul the anchorage with noise and fumes.

One of the pleasures of an anchorage is puttering around in your tender at dusk and being social with fellow cruisers on their boats. If you see someone in the cockpit, always approach on their starboard side to strike up a conversation. You can invite them to your boat for sundowners, or join them on theirs, but don’t force yourself on them—they may prefer to be alone.

Whether anchored or in a marina, you never—ever—look in another boat’s windows. And you never board another boat unless it’s an emergency.

At the fuel dock, be careful about cutting in front of other boats idling nearby because they may be waiting for dock space. And when you’re fueled, move away from the fuel pumps if you want to stretch your legs or get groceries.

About that cell phone in the cockpit. The battery was removed but not thrown overboard (ecological no-no) and a caustic note was left.

And, yes, I know who did it, but I’m not telling.

Chris Caswell was the host of Marine Voyager, a weekly cable series on the Speed Channel and Outdoor Life Network. He has also appeared on Oprah! as a boating lifestyle expert. His fleet is ever-changing, including both power and sail.