How to Raft Up With Other Boats

Proper etiquette for boating raft ups.
Large number of boats tied together
A boat’s cleats are designed to distribute a heavy pulling load, whereas other places that might be more convenient, such as a bow rail, windshield stanchion or Bimini top, are not. Randy Vance

On August 14, 2010, boaters on Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland set a Guinness World Record for the largest boat tie-up when they lashed together a whopping 1,651 boats.

Most raft-ups you see at your local party cove don’t involve such an insane amount of boats or logistical planning, but they do always look like a lot of fun. If the idea of joining the cotillion of rafted boats in your local bay or party cove appeals to you, there are some techniques and unwritten rules by which to abide. Here are some important pointers when it comes to raft-up etiquette.

Ask First

If you see a raft-up of a couple of boats in your local cove, don’t just assume there’s an open invitation to join the party. Sometimes a small group of friends or family members is looking to spend time with each other on the water and not necessarily wishing to join in a giant party. If that’s the case, move to a different spot in the cove, leaving enough distance between you and them to enjoy the water around their raft-up, and also to account for any tide, current swing or change in wind direction.


The Biggest Job

If you’ve planned ahead with a group of boaters to form a raft-up, make sure the heaviest boat in the fleet is the one to drop anchor. Hopefully that boater has equipped his ground tackle with an anchor appropriate to his boat size, with a sufficient length of chain to keep the anchor set on the bottom and prevent dragging. The lead boat should set the anchor line to at least a 7-to-1 scope, meaning he should let out 70 feet of anchor line for every 10 feet of depth.

Once the lead boat is set, hang appropriately sized fenders off each side and allow other boats rafting up to join on alternate sides to keep the lead boat in the middle. (Better hope the anchored boat doesn’t have to leave early.)

Slow Like a Pro

Never approach a raft-up at anything other than idle speed, to minimize your wake, prevent crashing into other boats, and avoid swimmers or people hanging on rafts or tubes in the water. Just like when you approach a dock, keep your hands and feet inside the boat at all times and never use your extremities as human fenders. Bone breaks before fiberglass. A boat hook is a handy tool in a raft-up because it allows the crew on one boat to reach for the other and, once the boat is secured, allows the captain to kill the engines so the crew can throw dock lines and bring the boats together by hand rather than horsepower.


Cleat to Cleat

Even though boats joining a raft-up will be of varying lengths overall, make every effort to tie at least two dock lines—one at the bow or midship and one at the stern—to each boat’s cleats.

Don’t Take the Beach

If there is a raft-up in place along a beach, cove or sandbar, don’t circle around it on the inside. Oftentimes, raft-up revelers are jumping off their boats and swimming to shore to explore. Keep your motorized activity on the offshore side of the raft-up to avoid people in the water. And while many love to beach their boats sometimes, don’t tuck into the sand right in front of a raft-up. Besides being bad form, it’s dangerous.

Stay Sober

As tempting as it might be for the captain to partake in the partying, if you’re going to be operating the boat at any point in the day, don’t drink.