First Boat Ride? Guest Etiquette You Need to Know

So, you’ve been invited onto a boat for a day on the water? That’s fantastic! But if you’re new to boating, you might be wondering about the proper etiquette. How should you behave? What should you bring? In this article, we’ll guide you through the ins and outs of being the perfect boat guest.

Understand The Invitation

First things first, clarify the details of the invitation. Ask about the plans for the day, the time you’re expected to arrive, and if there’s anything specific you need to bring or prepare (life jacket, food, drinks, etc.). Clear communication helps to prevent misunderstandings and ensures that you’re well-prepared for the outing.

image of friends on a boat

Before Stepping Aboard

Confirm The Plans

Reconfirm the plans a day or two before the trip. It allows the host to make any last-minute adjustments and reassures them of your attendance. Also, try to be punctual. Nothing spoils the day like having to wait for a late guest.

Bring Essentials

Always bring what you need for a day out in the sun—think sunblock, water, portable phone charger, sunglasses, a hat, and perhaps a change of clothes. But remember to pack light; space is often limited on a boat.

It’s also nice to bring a hand towel with you to wipe your hands after applying sunscreen or what not. Keeping the boat’s upholstery clean should be one of your number one jobs as a guest on the boat! The last thing the captain will want is your greasy hand prints all over the seats.

Do not bring beverages in glass containers!

Dress Not Only for the Weather, but for the Boat

You’ll likely be barefoot on board, but if you do bring footwear make sure that it can get wet and make sure that they don’t leave scuffs. Clean the bottom of your footwear and carry them on board, leaving your normal footwear behind (or place your normal footwear in a bag to stash away until you dock again).

  • Do NOT wear the flip flops with a bottle opener built into the sole. These are notorious for ripping upholstery and scratching boat surfaces.
  • Do NOT wear shorts with metal rivets and or anything sharp that can scrape up against boat surfaces or upholstery.
  • Do NOT carry a pocket knife on board with a pocket clip — stash it in your pocket or bag. The pocket clip will inevitably scratch something and you’ll look sheepish as your host tries not to lose their cool with you.
image of friends jumping off boat into the water

Upon Arrival

Ask For A Safety Briefing

Once you’ve arrived, ask for a quick safety briefing. Boating can be dangerous if you’re unfamiliar with the safety procedures and it’s essential to know where the life jackets are stored, how to use the radio, and what to do in case of an emergency.

Respect The Captain’s Rules

The captain is in charge on the boat. Their rules are there for everyone’s safety and enjoyment. So, make sure you understand and respect them. This includes rules about where you can go on the boat and how to handle equipment.

While On Board

Be Mindful Of Your Space

Boats, especially smaller ones, have limited space. Be mindful of where you’re sitting or standing and try not to block pathways. Also, keep your belongings tidy to avoid clutter. Ask the captain where a good place would be for you to stow your bag when it’s not in use.

Help Out When Needed

Offer to help out where you can. This might include helping with docking, preparing food, or even just making sure everyone has a drink. It’s a great way to show your appreciation for the invitation.

Even though the captain won’t need help with steering or any of the usual “captain duties”, taking a curious approach by asking them to show you how things work is a great way to learn the ropes and have them remember this moment on the water teaching you things, which will be a good way to be remembered and invited for another trip.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

While a cold beer or a glass of wine can be a delightful part of the boating experience, it’s crucial to moderate your intake. Alcohol and water can be a dangerous combination, and it’s important to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. No one wants to be stuck on the water with a drunk, and it’s a quick way to make sure you’re not invited again — but if that’s your goal, then party on!

Periodically Ask if Where You’re Sitting is Ideal for the Handling of the Boat

Every bit of additional weight on a boat (and where that weight is located within the boat) changes the dynamics of how the boat handles in the water. To get up to cruising speeds, the captain is going to want to “get on plane”, which is a fancy way of saying that they are going to try to drive the boat in such a way so that it’s cutting across the top of the water instead of being pushed through the water. The goal is to reduce friction between the boat and the water for faster speeds and more efficient use of the engine.

Depending on what speed you’re going, the ideal location for where you’re sitting will be different. You’ll be doing the captain a favor by asking them if they’d like you to move positions to help out with the steering of the boat. Be agreeable if asked to move and just take in the sun and breeze.

Once the captain knows that you make the boat easier to maneuver by being agreeable and cooperative, they’ll appreciate having you on board.

image of a group of people doing lots of turns in a boat

End of The Trip

Clean Up After Yourself

As the day comes to an end, be sure to clean up after yourself. Leaving the boat as you found it is a significant part of boating etiquette. It shows respect for your host and their property.

Show Gratitude

After a wonderful day out on the water, be sure to express your thanks to the host. A small gesture like a thank you note or offering to help clean up the boat goes a long way. If you’ve got time, ask if you can help flush the engine or clean the deck. The captain will not need help with these things, but if you look like you want to help and show a genuine curiosity to learning how to do these tasks, then there’s a great chance that you’ll get invited again!

Final Takeaways

Boating is a unique experience that offers an enjoyable way to connect with nature and others. Remember, being a considerate guest not only ensures that you’ll be invited back but also contributes to a pleasant and memorable outing for everyone involved.

Respect for the boat, the captain, and the other guests are key elements of boating etiquette. Now that you’re equipped with these tips, you’re ready to embark on your first boating adventure!


  1. What should I wear for a day on a boat? Comfortable, non-slip footwear, and layers are recommended. The weather can change quickly out on the water, so being prepared for a variety of conditions is wise.
  2. Can I bring my pet on the boat? It depends on the boat owner. Always ask permission first before bringing pets on board. The sharp nails of dogs will scratch and tear at boat upholstery, which will cost hundreds (if not thousands) to have professionally repaired or replaced, so don’t take it personally if the captain declines. You wouldn’t want to be footing the bill for the damage someone else’s pet caused.
  3. What should I do if I feel seasick? Let someone know as soon as you start to feel unwell. They may be able to help you manage the symptoms or even head back to shore if needed. Bringing anti-nausea and sea-sickness medication with you should be your responsibility if you’ve never been boating or if you know you’re prone to getting sick in these types of environments. I don’t suffer from it, but my wife swears by Reliefbands (Amazon) and uses one every time we’re on the boat and hasn’t been sea sick since she started using it. I can’t explain the technology, I just know it works for her, so it might be something you want to look into.
  4. Can I swim off the boat? Only with the captain’s permission and when the boat is securely anchored. Safety should always be the priority.
  5. Should I tip the boat crew? If the boat has a professional crew, it’s generally customary to tip. However, if it’s a private outing with friends, a thoughtful thank you gift can be a nice gesture.

Robert Van Nuck

Robert lives in central Michigan and enjoys running, woodworking, fixing up small engines, and getting out on the water with family, of course! He is also the owner and author of

Recent Posts