By Sally Small 2005-2009 All Rights Reserved.

Realizing that there are specific shipboard rules set by each owner, this is a general guide to boating etiquette for crew and captain. A boat under way or at anchor is a confined space where tolerance, cheerfulness, common sense and good manners are important, as is intelligent communication between skipper and crew. Both are on board to enjoy the sport of sailing. The skipper gives the crew the opportunity to sail and the crew assures the skipper that they are ready, willing, and able to handle any sailing task which the Skipper may assign. Many Boat Owners may not need crew but enjoy taking Corinthians in addition to required crew. Corinthians should remember that boat owners may pick and choose whatever mix they want for any specific occasion. For instance, some boat owners prefer couples or pairs who normally sail together; others may require a foredeck ape, a navigator, an experienced spinnaker handler, or someone renowned for making rum drinks. These needs are at the sole discretion of the Skipper. Both Skippers and Corinthians should give as much advance notice as possible for an up-coming sail, so that suitable preparations can be made. In the NYSC, the Rear Commodore is responsible for matching Captains with Crew; call as early as possible.

CARDINAL RULE: Be on time. Time and tide and all that. Don’t show up with anything uninvited, i.e. a canary, a kid, or an amigo…you may both be taking the next train back. In addition, remember that a sailboat is beholden to the weather gods, tides and monsters of the deep, so try not to schedule an important event (like your wedding) on the evening you are supposed to get back, because Mother Nature always wins! You don’t.

GREET THE CAPTAIN: …with a smile, a kiss, or a good grab of the hand with your free one; the other one should have something in it for him… booze, food, or something for the boat. Use discretion – no nun and can salt and pepper shakers (the Skipper already has them from last Christmas). No practical jokes yet.

GEAR: Find out where the Skipper would like you to stow your gear. If the pet poodle happens to prefer the quaterberth you don’t want to traumatize it for the rest of the trip. And for heaven’s sake, don’t show up with a suitcase; ever try to roll one into a ball? Less is more; don’t bring everything you own. Bring your own foul-weather gear, including boots and your own towels, sleeping bag, dramamine, aspirin, or medications. Boat shoes, boots, or soles of rubber in any shape will keep the Captain from wondering why he invited you, and might keep you from pitching, with or without help, overboard. At the end of the trip, don’t leave any gear on board and expect the Skipper to bring it to you.

BE NEAT: Stow your stuff as neatly and efficiently as possible. Don’t peal off layers of clothing and drop them where they fall. Don’t leave gear where it can wind up on the deck while you are heeled over. Don’t throw anything overboard.

BE HELPFUL: Volunteer to: make lunch, wash dishes or decks, clean the galley, take off the garbage, make coffee, mix drinks, and fix things. Make yourself useful and needed; this stays next to a Captain’s memory and is the stuff of which invitations are made.

SHARE FOOD COSTS: …by either bringing food that the Captain assigns to you, or split the food tab. If the Captain asks you to bring the cold cuts for lunch, and you bring a bag of spicy taco chips and bean dip, a lot of people are going to be very hungry! Find out various likes and dislikes of the Skipper and other crew – allergies, preferences, etc. By agreeing ahead of time on the method of sharing, it saves the embarrassment of discussing finances after the trip has begun, or having to spend sailing time hassling with expense reports, especially since to do it correctly means figuring out how much it costs to make potato salad or brownies or spaghetti sauce. Be considerate. If the Captain doesn’t want you to share food and booze costs, be gracious, smile, and consider yourself blessed.

DRINKING: Most sailors drink, so a bottle of the Captain’s favorite rum, scotch, bourbon, vodka, or whatever, is usually a welcome “boat present”. Note “present”. That is, don’t put your name on it and expect to take it home with you on Sunday; that’s chintzy and anyway, it’ll probably be empty. Of course, if your drink happens to be Raspberry-Mint Brandy with just a dash of horseradish, no one will mind if you take that home! In fact, please do! If you don’t drink alcohol, bring your own soda, breakfast drink, or gallon of water if you’re one of “those”. Remember: drinking alcohol while sailing can be hazardous to your health.

SMOKING: Be considerate. Bring your own ashtray; non-smokers invariably forget them. Don’t blow smoke in your non-smoker Skipper’s face; smoke to leeward. Be careful of sparks flying onto the Skipper’s new mylar sails. Don’t smoke right after refueling or you may take your Captain with you to Paradise.

USING THE HEAD: If you haven’t eaten it, don’t put it in the head! Get instructions first from the Skipper on any peculiarities. Don’t open any valves unless so instructed by Him or Herself. Clean up after yourself.

SLEEPING: Help the Captain get things organized for the night. If you snore, better bring your anti-snore capsules. Don’t keep your radio playing after everyone has sacked out. When the Skipper gets up in the morning, your sleeping usually is at an end; prepare to hop to! It may be best to check your Astrology chart with the Skipper before you come aboard; if you like to sleep until noon and Skip likes to see the sunrise under a full genny, there could be trouble.

EATING ASHORE: Don’t let the Captain pick up your tab. Best to share, or, if you can afford it, treat the Skipper; it’s a nice way of reciprocating. (You didn’t have to lay out the $70 grand for the boat!)

COMPASS: Don’t put your favorite electric appliance or magnetic pot holders next to it; leave your steel guitar at home.

SAILS: Let the Captain decide if you’re a foredeck ape or a wincher. Don’t second-guess him/her unless you see something you know he/she doesn’t see. Rule: When in doubt, don’t. Be willing to take orders even in non-life-threatening situations. By following simple orders, the Captain will be more willing to trust you when danger situations arise.

CHARTWORK: Offer to do it if you know how. Skipper may want to teach you, but the better equipped you are the better he/she will like it. Do your homework and make yourself an asset. Don’t try to change the default reading on the Loran while you are drifting around in a fog: You could wind up heading the boat, with all aboard, toward Portugal!


CLEAN-UP: There are lots of things to do after a trip, so pitch in and help. The icebox needs cleaning out, the head needs washing, floors need sweeping, decks need scrubbing, sails, sheets, and winch handles need putting away. Be alert to what needs doing and do it.

GOODBYE CAPTAIN: Don’t forget the second word you ever learned… “thank-you”. A little note of thanks to the Skipper is also much appreciated and keeps the ink from drying out in your pen.

GOING ASHORE: Help take off the left-over groceries, garbage, and gear. Any crew member who disappears as soon as the boat reaches land has never been known to have endeared himself to a Captain.