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How To Be a Great Boating Guest

Many captains and crew are too polite to provide guests a comprehensive list of rules. Try these on your next trip. If they don’t like it, tell them to blame us and not you!

To show the cockpit of a boat

Start With The Basics

  • Treat every boat—even it it’s a longliner built in the 1940s—like the Queen Mary. Remove your shoes and ask for permission before stepping aboard. Once on board, treat the boat and its crew with respect—if you take something out, put it back up.
  • Don’t assume anything. Things are done differently on different boats. You can’t go wrong asking the captain and crew what you can do and how you can help. In some cases, crews will prefer less help (like when docking or tying up the boat) than more.
  • If you’re fishing on someone else’s boat, ask what you can bring. If they say they have it covered, don’t bring your special rod.
  • If your visiting a boat in a remote, International destinations, ask if you can pack anything down for them. When they’re fishing in BFE, it’s a lot easier for you to pick up some chin weights than it is for them to source. And don’t forget the latest issue of InTheBite.
  • You can be late to work. You can be late for dinner. You can be late for church. But you can’t be late for fishing.
  • Nobody has ever not been invited back for helping clean the boat. If you disappear as soon as the boat hits the dock, you’ll probably not be coming back.
  • All crews and all boats have their own way of doing things, they probably don’t want to hear about how you’ve done it somewhere else.
  • There is a difference between asking for the purpose of learning and asking for the purpose of questioning someone. Get this wrong—have fun fishing on the pier.
  • Booze in moderation.
  • Unless they ask, nobody wants to see charts and satellite imagery you brought on your phone (especially when it’s paired with the question, “Why aren’t we fishing here?”)
  • When docking or while a fish is hooked up, don’t sit or stand in a place that obscures the captain’s view.
  • Don’t slam the drink box door.
  • Make sure that the cabinets, the refrigerator and the freezer are locked in place when you close them.
  • If you’re a guest, always brings beer.
  • Match the outlook of the people on the boat. If you’re fishing with a boat load of easy-going people, leave captain serious at the dock. If everyone is dialed in, they probably don’t want to hear you dancing.

Things to Avoid

  • Spray on sunscreen can make real mess—some will discolor upholstery. If you have it, don’t spray it on in the salon.
  • Avoid pants or shorts with zippered seat pockets. These can tear upholstery.
  • Avoid flip flops with bottle openers on the bottom. These can scratch gel coat and tower legs.
  • Unless you have spoken about it previously, assume the boat is no smoking. And leave the weed at home, Snoop Dog.
  • Be careful for new or old shoes. New shoes can bleed when wet. Old shoes can mark up the deck or track dirt aboard. Avoid black soled shoes, too.
  • No wet shoes inside. Also, if your clothes are wet ask for a towel before sitting on the couch.
  • Everybody gets excited when a fish is hooked up, but don’t be more vocal than the captain.
  • Varnish is expensive to repair. Even though it’s a hardy vessel, it’s a fragile environment. Beware of belt buckles, metal buttons on jeans and watch bands that might scratch varnish.

Toilet on a boat

The Head Etiquette

  • Urination—If there’s a lady on board, you can’t go wrong by peeing inside. That said, keep it off the floors and the wall. To quote Capt. Jen Copeland, “If it’s rough, would it be beneath you to sit down?!”
  • Heavy lifting in the head (Number 2 Rules). Courtesy flush please. If you leave skid marks, please wipe them off. Some boats can flush toilet paper, some only flush turds—in either case, don’t put anything else in the toilet. If you have a question, ask the mate. It’s also a good idea to make sure you know how to operate the flush mechanism before you deposit a bowl full.
  • If you’re going to be sick, don’t be embarrassed, just puke outside. When it comes to getting sick and vomiting, “The rule is any side but inside!”

Fish dip for lunch

Food & Drink

  • Unless you own the boats, don’t eat food in the staterooms.
  • Don’t leave open containers, beverages or knives on the counter while underway.
  • After using the sink, be sure to turn the water all the way off.
  • Fried chicken crumbs will leave spots on the teak deck. If you spill them, hose them off.
  • Your momma doesn’t work here, so please don’t leave anything in the sink. 

a man sleeping on a boat

Don’t Be a Liability

  • Food conditions—allergies—let someone know so that preparations may be made. If your allergy is severe, bring your epi pen and tell the crew where to find it if needed.
  • Inform the captain and crew of any “need to know” medical conditions—before your 50 miles offshore. If you have special medicine that you need or a situation that could arise (heart problems, diabetes, asthma, etc.), let someone on the boat know so they that may be prepared. Medications can react with dehydration from seasickness—to create big problems.
  • Try not to show up to the dock like Keith Richards after a four day bender. Please be respectful to those you will be fishing with and have the courtesy not to show up super hungover or under the influence.

Final Thoughts

It’s important not to assume anything. The same tasks are accomplished very differently on different boats. You can’t go wrong asking the captain and crew how you can help. In some cases, like when docking or anchoring, crews prefer less help than more. On that note, when you’re fishing on someone else’s boat, ask what you can bring. If they say they have it covered, then leave your lucky rod at home. Traveling to a game boat in a remote destination? Volunteer to pack any must-have items for the crew. With an operation based in an inconvenient and isolated location, it’s a lot easier for you to pick up tackle items running low than it is for them to be sourced. And don’t forget the latest issue of InTheBite!

Do you have any good ideas for guests on a boat? We’d love to hear them. Send your comments to i[email protected]

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