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Newbie Boat Crew Tips - 10 Things Your Non Boating Passengers Should Know

We all use our boats in different ways.  Some of us boat with just a close friend or significant other; for some, it is a family activity and for others, it is a way to spend time alone and get away from it all.   If you have owned a boat for a significant amount of time, there is one thing that you probably have used it for and that is taking your non-boater friends and family out for a cruise.  It’s during these times that we are sometimes reminded that what has come to be natural to us may not be a common thing for our passengers.  When I invite guests that are not familiar with boating on my boat, I usually take a few minutes to cover some of the basics with them so they understand the do’s and don’ts of being a part of my crew.  Here are some of the things that I choose to cover in my “captain’s speech” before leaving the dock or when I first invite them out.  Depending on your preferences and the type of boat you have, these may not all apply to you so you can choose which ones you feel are important.   In the end, this can save you some time, headaches or even someone’s life. 

Life Jackets – You should already know that as the person in command of a vessel, you are responsible for making sure that there is a life jacket on board for each passenger and that they are of the proper type and size.  Prior to leaving the dock, it is a good idea to let your passengers know where they are located.  You may want to consider showing how to put one on as well.  While most of your passengers will feel confident that they can figure it out themselves, I have been amazed at how often I have had someone aboard that had never worn a life jacket and was therefore unsure of how to put one on.
Make sure your passengers know where the life jackets are.
The Head – Some of your passengers will not know that the head in your boat cannot be treated the same way as your toilet at home.  Things like paper towels, feminine products and chewing gum should not be flushed.  Ignoring this can mean that you will end up with a pair of rubber gloves on at the end of the day trying to fish something out that shouldn’t be in there in the first place.  Been there, done that.  It is not fun.  I posted a warning sign above the head on my boat but as a friend of mine pointed out, some people don’t read signs.  I also let my passengers know before I leave the slip.

Water and Power – This may only apply if you are on the water for an extended period of time but do you know someone that always leaves the lights on, takes very long showers or lets the water run when washing dishes?  This is a behavior that really needs to change when you are on a boat.  If you are sitting at anchor and you are not running your generator, your batteries are supplying power to all of the electrical systems on your boat.  Doing things like leaving lights on needlessly, going in and out of the refrigerator etc. will reduce the time before those batteries need to be recharged.  For some reason, on my boat, people always come out of the head while forgetting to turn the lights off.  They close the door and you never know they are on unless you open the door and check. 

Newbies also seem to forget that there is a limited supply of fresh water.  When afloat, there is no well or city water supply.  Instead there is a fresh water tank.  How big that tank is depends on the boat but when it is empty, that’s it.  Using water sparingly is a habit that must be adhered to. 

Leaving and Returning to the Slip – I have a system for leaving and returning to my slip.  It is a step by step procedure that I go through for handling lines, fenders, water, and power connections.  By doing this, it ensures that I don’t forget something.  It also requires that the deck on my boat be clear of people and stuff because I need to move around to get things done.  It surprises me how sometimes, as I am backing into the slip, passengers will start gathering on deck with coolers and bags etc. as if they are ready to disembark as soon at the stern reaches the dock.  It does not occur to them that lines and fenders have to be tied first and this is more easily done when the deck is not crowded with people and gear.  It also means that if you need assistance from crew with something, they will be able to provide it without having to step over anyone or anything.  Letting your passengers know that they need to remain seated until you have cleared them to move around is a good idea. 

Boats Use More Fuel Than Cars - Going back to the dock to drop someone off can be expensive when you are on the water, not to mention the time missed having fun.  Make sure your guests know how long you are going to be out before you leave the dock.  There is nothing worse than a guest stating that he/she has to leave after you have only been out on the water for two hours.   Yes, you may only be ten miles from the marina but, on my boat, a 20 mile round trip to run someone back to the dock will run $70 to $80.  Obviously, the cost varies from boat to boat but it is important that your guest know that it is not as easy and inexpensive as running an errand in your car.

Be on Time – A cruise on the water is not the same as a party you are hosting at your home.  It does not start until everyone is there.  Be sure to let your guests know that it is important for them to be on time.  If a guest is late, you and the rest of the guests are waiting on them before things can get started.  On more than one occasion, if a guest is too late, my boat departed without them.

Check Before Inviting Others – If I invite someone out to my boat, that means I am inviting that particular person.  It does not mean that they are not allowed to bring a guest but if they want to bring a guest, I need to know about it first.  Remember, the captain has certain responsibilities including ensuring safe operation of the vessel and adherence to local and federal laws.  If you do not have enough life jackets or you are exceeding the capacity of the vessel, the person in charge is responsible. 

Bring Food and Drink for the Captain – I don’t usually ask for this from my passengers but if they ask me what to bring, I simply tell them to bring whatever it is that they want to eat and drink and don’t forget the one driving the boat.  If you own a boat, you are already forking over cash for the boat, the slip, gas, maintenance, etc.  The least your crew can do is feed you for the day.  I’m just sayin’.

Don’t Light up Without Permission – I have been known to enjoy a cigar every now and then but not on my boat.  Therefore, I typically would not want someone else to smoke on my boat either.  I would hope that a guest would ask before lighting up on your boat but if you would prefer that they not, it may be a good idea for you to let them know that your vessel is a smoke free zone. 

The Captain is in Charge – If it is your boat and you are at the helm, you have a big responsibility.  Your passengers need to realize and respect that.  Of course, everyone is out to enjoy themselves by having a good day on the water and I stress that to my crew.  I do however, remind them that if I tell them to do something, most likely it is important and needed for their safety or the safety of the vessel.  
Passengers need to know that the captain has the final word when underway.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  If you have any more, please post them in the comment section below and share them with the rest of the readers.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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  1. This post, as many others previously published, is EXTREMELY useful!
    Thank you for these great write-ups of some of the practical, not-often-neatly-explained aspects of the Boating Life!

  2. 11. Don't park in the trailer parking if you're not towing a trailer.

  3. Look out for the boom and the captain !!

  4. Judy Born BrackettJuly 23, 2018 at 5:02 PM

    Great article. We're taller

  5. Good read, skipper!

  6. I still haven't figured out the last one. I explain it.. Then ask someone to do a thing.. "do you want me to do it now?"... Yes yes I do.. "well your don't have to yell."... I'm not yelling.. I'm imposing urgency by being short and to the point. My wife still thinks when I'm stern that is the same at yelling. Lol

  7. Have to add. “Take off your shoes” !!! Or clean the boat!

  8. Dina Higgins-ProkrymJuly 23, 2018 at 9:13 PM

    I love the paragraph "boats use more fuel than cars"...wish I could share this and tag a person or two!

    1. I have a friend that makes a habit of going to the fuel dock AFTER his passengers are aboard so they can see how much fuel he puts in. He says that sometimes the expressions are entertaining. LOL


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