Boating Etiquette 101

After spending most of my life on the water, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much I want to believe everyone on the water is a safe, experienced and courteous boater, this is not the case. I’m not sure if they are inconsiderate because they don’t know any better, or if it’s because they just don’t care, but some boaters are simply rude and dangerous. Whatever the case, some boaters get way too close for comfort, often passing by with only a few feet to spare. I hate to say it, but impatient helmsmen who always seem to be in a rush really bother me and I feel it’s time someone spoke up.


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Experienced tournament competitors often fish within feet of each other. These are not careless boaters. Photo:

To all of you want-to-be super skippers out there who feel it’s necessary to get right on top of the nearest boat for no apparent reason, I have news for you. Today’s high performance sport fishing platforms are outfitted with some pretty exotic features, however they are not equipped with brakes. This means in close quarters we need ample space and time to avoid a potential collision. This same logic applies while passing under restricted bridge openings, while entering or exiting narrow inlets and passes, and also out in open water.

It’s certainly acceptable to enjoy a cold one after a great catch…but never forget that as the operator of a vessel you are solely responsible for the boat, its occupants and those around you.

Additionally, I want you to know that when crews are fishing offshore and drifting a defined edge or weedline they generally have multiple lines out that are likely quite a distance from the boat. That means when your cruise 50 feet off their starboard side to see what’s going on you are not only border line intruding, but you are literally cutting right through their spread! Close encounters like this are not only unsafe, but completely unnecessary.

You should also know that when actively trolling for dolphin and tuna most guys have a shotgun bait way out, sometimes as far as 200 yards behind the boat. When you cut directly across someone’s trolling spread you are jeopardizing cutting them off, in addition to getting a hundred yards of mono wrapped in your prop. Do you really want to deal with that mess? I can tell you that the last boater who pulled this slick move on me did so while we were high-speed trolling for wahoo and ended up with a 48 oz. lead sinker souvenir. Honestly, I tried to wave him off but he insisted on maintaining course and speed. Is the ocean not a big enough place for all of us to fish in harmony? We know there are no traffic lights or lines in the road, but for the love of the lord use some common sense!

The same applies inshore along fertile shallows. I can’t tell you how many backcountry guides complain about inconsiderate weekend warriors consciously flying right past them at full throttle while they are poling across a shallow flat in hot pursuit of tailing fish. Why do people insist on doing this? Not only does this inconsiderate move spook everything within a country mile, but excessive wakes can also knock a guide right off a poling platform. These guys are out there working hard for their clients and you are making it that much more difficult.

Now please don’t take this the wrong way. I am by no means suggesting that the ocean or any part of it belongs to a select group of professional anglers or fishing guides, actually quite the contrary. We all have an equal right to enjoy our natural resources. However, what’s equally important here is that we all have a right to enjoy these natural resources safely.

My suggestion to new boaters and the select individuals who clearly need a refresher course is to do yourself, your guests, and the rest of the boating community a huge favor…attend a safe boating course! Learn who has the right of way and when. Safe boat handling skills are not an option, they are essential to safe and successful days on the water. Just because a manufacturer or boat dealer sold you a shiny new boat doesn’t mean you are suddenly a skilled and experienced helmsman who now knows everything about everything. Life just doesn’t work that way. Instead, try paying close attention to what is happening around you at all times. Lets call it “situational awareness.” Please be considerate to fellow boaters. Nothing special, just treat everyone else on the water with the same level of respect you’d expect. Trust me, our waterways will be safer and more enjoyable because of it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t drink and drive. It’s certainly acceptable to enjoy a cold one after a great catch or a refreshing cocktail while relaxing at the sandbar, but never forget that as the operator of a vessel you are solely responsible for the boat, its occupants and those around you. A DUI charge is a DUI charge regardless if you are operating a motor vehicle or any type of motorized watercraft. Play it safe and always abide by the rules of the road. Your life and the livelihood of those around you could depend on it.