Shore leave is a wonderful thing – it can be lots of fun, but getting back to your boat late at night, or worse yet in the fog, can be a little challenging. Especially if the engine cuts out, you forgot oars, and the tide is heading out… but that is another story.
A more common scenario is a shore party that had a lovely evening, toasted the season’s bounty in good company and is now having a jovial return to the mother ship. They are speeding through the anchorage, forgetting that dinghies often throw a bigger wake than their big sisters, they are shouting over the roar of the engine, having forgotten how far sound carries over the water, and they buzz boats everywhere, searching for the one they belong to and cannot find. Gone is the serenity of the anchorage in one ungracious moment.
Dinghy etiquette is therefore no different from big boat etiquette. Drive slowly without creating a wake, speak softly to maintain the serenity, do not shine lights directly into other vessels, and find your boat with some degree of accuracy to disturb as few neighbors as possible.
If you are using your dinghy at night to go ashore or to visit others in the anchorage, consider doing so using oars and not your outboard. If you are rowing around the anchorage and see people on deck, you should be friendly but not intrusive unless encouraged, of course. Some boaters are friendly and like to socialize, while others are reflective and just want to be left alone.
Tradition dictates that if you approach another vessel you should do so on the starboard side six to ten feet away. If you strike up a conversation and you recognize by their attitude that they really aren’t interested, just move on. Similarly, if you approach a friend’s vessel and they are not on deck, approach from the starboard side and call out, “Ahoy, ‘vessels name’.” If they do not respond, move on. If they come on deck and respond, proceed as instructed. It is courteous to request permission to tie up and come aboard even if invited for a potluck dinner in advance. Never go knocking on the windows except in an emergency situation.
When going ashore, it is often the case that there is already another boat tied to a bollard or cleat when you get there. It is not only poor form, but also asking for trouble if you simply tie your dock line over the top of the other boat’s. Instead, always try to tie it under theirs.
That way, if the other boat departs before you do, which may be likely since they got there first, they will not have to untie and retie your boat. Not only is it courteous for them not to have to do so, but it is also in your interest, as you do not know what knot (if any) they might tie.
Alex and Daria Blackwell are the authors of “Happy Hooking – The Art of Anchoring.” It covers every aspect of anchors and anchoring in a fun and easy to read format with lots of photos and illustrations. It is available in print and Kindle through CoastalBoating.net, Amazon worldwide, & good chandleries.