Unwritten Boating Rules

5 unwritten rules of boating that should be carved in stone.

I stumbled on a pod of fish feeding frenetically on the water’s surface. I positioned the boat alongside the bust, killed the engine, and stepped to the bow. Just as I cocked the rod ready to cast into the boiling water, a guy in another boat trolled right through it, dragging his umbrella rig over the fray and putting every single fish down for the duration. He looked at me and waved as he trolled past, smiling until I shouted at the top of my lungs the politically incorrect version of “YOU IDIOT!”

What crime did this guy unknowingly commit against boating humanity? He violated one of the unwritten rules of the water: Thou Shalt Not Drive Over Feeding Fish. This incident made me realize that while boaters can get schooled ad nauseum on the formal rules of navigation-from the Coast Guard, Power Squadron classes, state-sponsored boater’s education, and Chapman’s-when it comes to the informal ones, they’re on their own. Here, then, are four more unwritten rules that every boater should heed.

Thou Shalt Not Congest the Boat Ramp


If you’re one of those guys who backs his boat down, then stops to undo the straps, put in the plug, and run back to the truck to get the cooler, fishing rods, and whatever, know this: The boaters waiting behind you are not amused. You’re worse than the people in the lunch line who wait until they get to the counter before finally looking at the menu. Prepare every aspect of your boat before you approach the ramp, then unload quickly and get your tow vehicle parked and out of the way.

Thou Shalt Help People at the Dock

Some boaters aren’t the most adept at handling their boats around docks. It’s one of those intimidating situations that drive people away. So when you see a guy trying to bring his boat side-to a tight docking space, and he can’t quite make it happen, don’t stand there like a spectator watching a golfer choke on the 18th green. Give the guy a hand. Offer to catch his lines and help pull him safely into the spot. Eventually he’ll have to learn how to squeeze in there on his own, but until then give the guy a break. The owners of the boats fore and aft of him will thank you, too. (Note: If said boater happens to be a jerk and cuts you or anyone else off to get that spot first, the above rule doesn’t apply.)


Thou Shalt Not Anchor Too Close to Me

Some people just don’t get the concept of personal space. Some of these people own boats. They’re the ones who anchor right next to me when I’ve set up for fishing, or crowd me away from working a spot that I discovered. Even if I’m anchored and just chilling with my crew listening to music, I’m not looking for another boatload of new friends. As a general rule, leave enough space so that the boat next to you has room to swing around its anchor with the tide. Try to leave more if you can.

Thou Shalt Not Circle Me on a PWC


Most bikers are pretty cool, but a boisterous few-like punk snowboarders terrorizing a ski hill-give the sport a bad vibe. Don’t be one of those and circle dangerously close to my boat while underway. I may not be able to stop in time if you fall off. Or you may force me to rapidly change course, which puts my crew in danger. And if I’m on a flat setting up to cast to spooky fish, don’t come roaring out of the channel and blast by me just to see what I’m doing. In the Florida Keys, I’m pretty sure you could be shot for this and no one would press charges. (There’s another unwritten rule for you.)

Its OK to break some rules…sometimes.

There’s one common theme to these fine rules that every boater should learn and learn well: Play nice, and we’ll all get along.


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