A lot has been written about how to be the perfect host, but little about being the perfect guest–especially aboard a cruising boat. But being a good guest, whether you know stem from stern, can almost guarantee repeated invites. If you have friends with boats, just follow these simple ideas and you’ll be spending more than a few weekends on rivers, bays and shore points this summer. – Jay Lloyd
Now is the time to make contact with boating friends. They’re just getting ready for the season, rigging sails, bottom painting, de-winterizing engines and plumbing systems – a lot of work. Offer to help. Believe me. You don’t even have to be handy; someone is always needed to run for tools and supplies, to clean up or go to town for sandwiches and beer. Your efforts will be rewarded when the boat is launched.
WHAT TO BRING
A guest should offer to share certain expenses (more on that later), but a useful gift is appreciated, too. Depending on the galley capacity, icebox and refrigerator space, wine and beer are always welcome, along with some appropriate snack foods like cheese. Stay away from chips and crumbly things that can bury themselves in the many crevasses of a boat. If you’ll be anchoring out one night, offer to bring steaks, chicken or whatever the evening barbecue requires.
Don’t make the mistake of one unsuspecting guest who offered to pay for the fuel on a powerboat weekend. At the fuel dock, he learned too late that the boat took 200 gallons and was almost empty! But if the boat goes out full and the host tops-off at the end of your weekend, certainly offer to share the cost. When docking at a destination marina or dining out, it’s often customary to pick up the docking fee or buy a meal, lunch or dinner for the host and hostess. Often, the boat owner will take the guesswork out of it for regular guests by specifying that everyone will simply split all costs, fuel, docking, food and drink, equally. If it’s a sailboat, fuel costs are minimal.
A boat-owner friend in Puerto Rico became livid when guests would wear street shoes and leave black streak marks on his spotless decks. Most boaters just quietly simmer. WEAR ONLY BOAT SHOES! Make sure they have white–not dark!–soles. I prefer Sebago Docksides or Sperry Topsiders. And leave the stilettos at home! Most bay and shore boating cruises are informal affairs, and very few restaurants ashore require jackets or even long pants. Travel light. Bring shorts, t-shirts, golf shirts, a bathing suit, hat, rain gear and toiletries. But ask the host before arrival if a jacket or skirt will be needed. The important thing to remember is that boats have limited space and extra luggage isn’t welcome. Pack in a small soft duffel bag without wheels, and bring one bag only.
Before casting off, the skipper will generally brief guests on how to use the “head”—the marine toilet. Minor floods have been caused by failing to throw a simple lever. He/she will also advise on the location of life jackets and how to use them. If (s)he doesn’t, just ask. Unless you’re designated as a member of the “crew” with specific functions, watch the operation—particularly on sailboats—so you don’t get in the way of a swinging boom or the helmsman’s field of vision. Try to learn the routine. If you want to read up before you go, try The Annapolis Book of Seamanship by John Rousmaniere. It’s more than you’ll need to know.
If you’re taking a child, ask the host if (s)he has children’s life jackets on-board. If not, buy one. In some waters, they must be worn. The right size is essential. And you should know where adult life jackets are stored and how to get to them. Keep your hands and feet out of any loops in docking lines, tow lines or running rigging on sailboats. Under sail, keep your head below the boom. They swing, and they hurt. Remember the phrase, “One hand for the boat and one for yourself.” When moving around the deck near the rail, hold on to something.
BACK AT THE DOCK
Always offer to help clean up. That includes scrubbing the decks, stowing gear, covering sails, vacuuming the interior, cleaning iceboxes and fridges. Most skippers like to end a cruise by making sure the boat is ready to go for the next one. Do your part, and you’ll be welcomed back.