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Don't Allow Road Rage on the Water
By Barb Hansen
September 4, 2001


We surprise a lot of our yacht charter customers when we ask them to obey the rules of boating etiquette. By their reactions, I can tell they think etiquette was something their mother did when she wrote thank-you notes or set the dinner table with silver.

I'm not so much concerned about whether they write thank you notes or how they set the dinner table, but I am concerned about their safety, on the water. And, you may ask, "What in the name of Emily Post does etiquette have to do with boating safety? What does asking permission to board or showing the captain the bottom of your shoes have to do with boating safety?

There is a connection. Etiquette is our first line of defense against an uncivil society. To disregard a rule of boating etiquette, even if the rule seems petty, is a sign that a person does not respect for others. More than that, if he or she doesn't like this rule, what other rules are they going to disregard?

Boating's rules of etiquette evolved over time. There are local customs, national customs, and international customs. Charles F. Chapman does a good job of spelling out some of the better known rules of etiquette in his book, Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling. He notes that rules of etiquette are not arbitrary but natural expressions and accepted procedures of those who want to conduct themselves in a considerate manner towards others.

People who don't want to conduct themselves in a considerate manner are quite visible in the automotive world. How about the guy who picked up the little dog and threw it to its death on the California street? Is this the same driver who parks in front of the grocery instead of in a parking slot?

What I worry about is that as waterways become more crowded, some boaters will act like their road rage cousins. Already we're seeing uncivil behavior on the water. It's rare that we go for a motor-yacht cruise these days without having a covey of personal watercraft overtake us from astern so the drivers can jump our cruiser's wake.

There is plenty of blame to go around. To some extent, I hold some (not all) boating retailers and manufacturers responsible. Quick to make a sale, they leave to others the task of educating new boaters about the rules of the road and a civil society.

Don't ask the state to pass new laws. We don't need more laws, but rather we need more officers on the water to enforce existing laws. If you speed on the highway you know that sooner or later you're going to get an expensive ticket. How come boaters who operate their vessels recklessly never seem to get ticketed?

That leaves you and me. The first thing to do is clean up on our own acts. Do the right thing. It will give us more credibility when we do the second thing which is, let's summon up the courage to let others know when their boating behavior falls short of the standard.

Tell them it's not nice to anchor so close to another boat that it causes concern. Remind them that they should tie up to fuel piers only briefly, and that it's polite to leave or enter the marina at dead slow speed to keep their wake at a minimum. Let them know it's good to give the helpful dockhand a small tip to acknowledge his service and because he's keeping an eye on their vessel even when they are not on it. Explain that sound travels on the water so please play their radios at low levels, and when they leave the marina in the morning, please leave as quietly as humanly possible.

My point is, if they obey boating's "petty" rules of etiquette, they'll never think of violating the rules of the state that are written to protect us from property damage and personal injury.

Resolved: Let's all do something now ot make sure that road rage doesn't become water rage.

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