Boating Etiquette 101

Tides have changed but boating etiquette is as important as ever

By Cherie Thiessen

I’ll admit right here that this is a rant as well as a course for green boaters. When you’ve been cruising as long as I have, you see a heck of a lot of changes from the “good ol’ days,” and I figure that gives me some small leeway to get away with the occasional rant. The cruising climate has changed since I first started up the outboard at 17 on a 17-foot runabout, then on a 30-foot custom-built sport fisherman and then with my forever partner, David Dossor, on a 23-foot Crown, followed by a 27-foot C&C before settling on our perfect size of 25 feet (another C&C sailing vessel). That cruising history adds up to six decades of being up close and personal with our Salish Sea and its environs.



If your boat leaves a large wake, you always give smaller craft a wide berth and slow down, right? 


You always give way to the stand-on vessel and to boats under sail, don’t you? 



You’re mindful of the noise of your generator and try to minimize disturbance in quiet anchorages, agree? 



You have your PCOC and know the “rules of the road” and you carry your charts and tide tables and know how to use them, correct? 


If you agree with the above then you can read another PY feature; you’ve already passed this course. 



In the interest of all boaters in our increasingly busy waters, following the outline below can do much to bring smiles and friendly waves from all who you encounter on the water. 

Boat making a channel exit



Problem: Excessive Noise   

Solution: Rowing is good exercise. Why not consider that when taking Fido to shore, especially at 06:00 in the morning? Or alternatively, look at using an electric motor. It’s true they are not great in strong winds, but in the sheltered Gulf Islands they will almost always do the trick. 


Problem: Giant Wakes  

Solution: Have you ever looked behind you to see the effect of your wake on smaller craft? If the boats you overtake have to slow down or change direction to take on your waves, doesn’t that tell you something? In summer it can be a nuisance having to slow down every time you overtake a small boat, but you can always give some room between you both to allow your wake to diminish somewhat. Don’t cut right in front or come so close you could toss a cookie over. You can also adjust your trim tabs to find that perfect wakeless cruise. 


Problem: Anchoring Too Close 

Solution: Take time to really look at the anchorage and where the “holes” are, recognizing that you need to start dropping the anchor before the chosen spot. How soon before depends on whether you are lowering it by hand, as we do, or mechanically. So often we have seen boats begin to lower the anchor chain at the perfect spot for them, but by the time the anchor digs in they are alongside other boats. Invariably at almost every anchorage in summer we witness this problem with boaters. Some of it is a lack of experience, of course, and everyone goofs from time to time, but when you do, don’t wait for the skipper, whose boat you’re too close to, to request you to re-anchor and don’t shrug it off saying the boats won’t hit. If you’re too close, you’re too close. Take responsibility and try again before you do go bump in the night when it’s too dark to see anything and when the anchorage has become even more crowded. 


Problem: Doggy Doo-Doo 

Solution: When ashore with your pet, respect the rules asking for dogs to be leashed and for owners to clean up after them. We have frequently seen owners ignore the piles their pets leave, especially on the beach, as they rationalize that the tide will soon take the mess away. And in the meantime?  Keep in mind that anchorages are often a “no discharge” zone. Also, don’t leave your doggy bag at the top of the ramp thinking you’ll come back for it later. It’s too easy to forget. 

And speaking of animals, party animals should always remember to take it inside if they and their friends want to party on past 22:00. 


Problem: Generators 

Solution: Get the quietest generator you can buy, if you really need one. Anchor at a distance from others if you have that option and never tie up at an un-serviced dock if you intend to turn a generator on. Not only is the noise excessive under those conditions but your neighbouring boaters also get a lungful of your exhaust.   

We had an experience in the summer of 2019 when a huge police boat arrived at the park docks at Montague. (I guess police don’t have to obey the laws as mortals do, as it was about three times the length allowed at the docks.) It ran its generators all night. Of course, with all the electronics, it would have had to do that, so it should not have been at the docks. The police response to our comments in the morning was, “you should have worn ear plugs.” 


Problem: Toys with Noise 

Solution: An anchorage is an anchorage. It’s not a playground for jet skis or runabouts or drones, so when using them, take them away from the moorage. When jet skiers were tearing around the Tod Inlet anchorage a few years back and the park still had park hosts, the hosts sent them politely on their way. Butchart Gardens’ electric boats, which do regular cruises into the inlet, are silent and disturb no one. 


Problem: Solitude (or lack of) 

Solution. Well, I know those days of finding an anchorage to yourself in the Salish Sea may be long gone, even in the offseason, but when seeing a boat enjoying such a moment of solitude, why not anchor well away? There’s no need to snug up close to the first boat when the whole anchorage is available.  


Problem: Collisions 

Solution: You’ve got that small craft operator’s license so you know all the rules of right of way. You know that when the BC Ferry hoots five times or the horn sounds in another nearby craft, you’ve goofed. You’re aware that you have to give way to boats under sail, so do it with grace and do it well beforehand so the skipper of the stand-on boat knows you are aware. Every season we have that air horn out. Last year it was a boat steadily coming from behind us with no sign of anyone at the helm. When it was obvious it was going to climb up our stern, out came the horn. The offending skipper was down below with his boat on autopilot. (In the summer and on a busy route? Really?) This time it was a powerboat trying to overtake us on the inside, as the skipper assumed that we would soon alter our course. We were the stand-on vessel, however, making for our home port at North Pender’s Thieves Bay and we were not turning to starboard or port. 

Boat heading out into open water