Next Boat Neighbor

Growing up in Chicago, I knew neighbors up and down the block and even across the alley. It was an old-school neighborhood where people had been raising families for decades. People would chat across the chain-link fences as they hung laundry to dry or the kids played in the dirt. Before I was old enough to babysit myself, our neighbor, Wilma, would take me in when I got home from school. While she smoked, we’d watch jeopardy and play solitaire. Sometimes I’d score some of her Fannie May candy. It was a sweet gig.

As I got older and moved to various cities and states, I realized just how special it was that we knew our neighbors. The first time I found that type of community again was on E Dock at Shilshole Marina. Within 5 minutes of Small World entering her slip for the first time, a neighbor came over, nocked on the hull, and welcomed us to the dock. During the three years we lived on E Dock, we grew to know and love folks aboard the other boats. They mentored us when we tackled new projects, and they brought beers when the projects tackled us. We had progressive dinners on the dock and potlucks at anchor when we took trips throughout Puget Sound. And whether they knew it or not, they taught me the unwritten rules of being a boat neighbor.

Even though we’re all depicted as lawless pirates, there is a sense of etiquette among boaters. Some are specific to dock life, others only apply when you’re on the hook. Some things translate to land life, but you’d be surprised that some folks seem to forget that boats are homes. Now that Craig and I are 5 years into this, we occasionally forget that landlubbers don’t always know the unwritten rules. Here’s a list of the things we have learned.

  1. When in a marina, and especially if you’re walking down the dock, don’t stare into the other boats. Eyes forward!
  2. If you’re going to another boat, either at a marina or in an anchorage, announce your presence as you get close enough. “Hey Small World! Anyone on board?”
  3. Then you can knock on the hull or the deck. For most boats, the equivalent of the front door is somewhere that can’t be reached unless you’re on board. NEVER board a boat without permission.
  4. The only time you can board a boat without permission is to save it from damage or destruction. Any skipper will thank you profusely, probably with booze, if you break this rule to save their boat.
  5. Keep your boat quiet. This includes keeping your halyards taut (so they don’t slap the mast all night during a winter storm) and running generators during the daylight. If you have a party, either invite everyone around, or end it at a reasonable time.
  6. When going ashore, use a long painter on the dinghy dock so more dinghies can squeeze in. Try not to mess with anyone else’s painter.
  7. If you’re going to another boat for a meal, bring your own plates, cutlery, and glassware. Many boats only carry what they absolutely need so may not have enough dishes to host a large group. We haven’t been doing this until recently and now I’m paranoid about all the times we didn’t.
  8. When visiting other boats, try not to use their toilets. Seriously. We all have holding tanks and when they’re full, we either have to pay to have someone come to the boat and empty it, or we have to move the boat to a pump out station or we have to sail 3 miles offshore to dump it. Either go back to your own boat or go to the shore head. If you must go (or if your host says it’s okay), make sure you follow the specific instructions they provide. This will most likely include an instruction to place your toilet paper in the trash can.

Any fellow boaters have others that I missed? Any friends and guests notice anything else that I forgot?

9 thoughts on “Next Boat Neighbor

  1. 9. Don’t let your five year-old interrogate your neighbors at 7am when they just want to sit quietly in their cockpit and drink their coffee.

    10. Boats are acoustically transparent, don’t scream at your kids after 11pm.


  2. This is a good post! I’d add 6b: Don’t leave your outboard up (if you have one) at the dinghy dock. You have a bunch of inflatable boats around that don’t mix well with propellers.


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About Krystle