It is a mistake that there is no bath that will cure people’s manners, but drowning would help.
I grew up along the New Jersey Shore, called Charleston, South Carolina home for 21 years, and am in my 8th year now in South Florida. I trust I need not expound upon the lack of civility often displayed around the Garden State while I’m sure many of you have visited Charleston and experienced the heightened degree of politeness that ranks it the most mannerly metropolis in the nation. And South Florida, well… it’s just full of Northerners with tans. Given the disparities between the three places, it got me to thinking about common courtesy afloat.
I doubt many would argue that there has been a constant coarsening of our society at just about every level possible and it’s infected boating as well. Can you recall times when you could boat all season long and have nary a tale to tell of another boater’s discourtesy? Not anymore. Most people understand the basics of not tying up a busy boat ramp or fuel dock, or leaving sufficient swinging distance between other boats when dropping the hook. But I’d like to make a few personal observations on the subject of the lesser codified manners and courtesies afloat.
Regardless of where you cruise, it seems that the most basic and universally mannerly courtesy expressed on the water is “the wave.” We all do it, it’s an unwritten rule whether passing at idle or zipping by one another on a “two-whistle” pass. I drive a Jeep and others in Jeeps always wave as some sort of common bond ritual. I generally ignore them but when on the water I wave or politely nod to each and every sort of vessel, whether they waved first or not. Why do we do this? We constantly pass one another in cars and don’t even make eye contact. People similarly walk down the streets within arms length without so much as smile. I figure the boat wave is based upon two basic premises. First, like it or not we all have to drive and/or walk somewhere we’d prefer not to. Not so on a boat, we’re all there because we choose to be and we’re happy about it. Second, unlike in the cocoon of your car behind the windshield and windows which form some sort of mental barrier, the openness of being on a boat makes you feel more connected and gleefully exposed to the world.
Next, rafting up. Not anchoring with friends but rather when pulling up to a waterside establishment where those that proceeded you have used up all the dock space. Typically, those boaters won’t be around and asking their permission to tie up alongside is not possible. Custom dictates you may raft up, but only if you: 1) determine the boats are of similar shape/size so they’ll “rub” right; 2) you employ ample protection between boats in the form of fenders or lacking thereof, use PFD’s or throw cushions; and 3) as the outside boat you are responsible for keeping a constant watch that not only are the boats not damaging one another, but that when the boater’s you’ve rafted to return to disembark you’re there to assist them in getting out from behind your boat. Additionally, in the event the other boaters are sitting onboard it is both customary to request permission to raft up AND to then proffer the obligatory “permission to cross” request. As a final word on the subject, there do still exist those old classic wooden boats which owners have meticulously restored and maintained but are quite easy to scrape and scuff no matter how careful you might be. In those cases it’s always a judgement call but it is most proper to find someplace else to tie up.
So many areas now have a nearly continuous string of docks jutting out from the shoreline and this is particularly true along the Intracoastal Waterway. The ever choking-off of our water access is a subject for another day but if you were to extend the courtesy of slowing down for each and every dock you pass you’d never get very far. The law states that you are responsible for your wake and the damage or injury it can cause, and larger vessels can do considerable damage to even the stoutest pier and dock structures. Many homeowners post Slow Speed/No Wake signs or buoys and although you’re not obligated to abide by those warnings, be sure not to mix them up with those put in place by the water cops. My rule of thumb is that if I’m in a smaller craft I’ll go right ahead and rock their dock, the exceptions being if a smaller boat is tied up or people are present on the dock. The ICW was built first and foremost to accommodate the unencumbered inland transiting of watercraft, not for waterfront access and homeowners views and frankly, anyone with the wherewithal to own waterfront property and a dock should invest in a boat lift.
Back when, our society was mostly organic and by that I mean most of the daily items we used were bio-degradable, particularly when they got wet. Not so in the age of plastic EVERYTHING and I don’t like a littered waterway. The biggest offenders are of course light things like plastic coated soda/beer boxes, water bottles and plastic shopping bags. I know that most floating trash is blown overboard without the boater’s knowledge due to just plain careless. Like those who throw things in the bed of their pick-ups then go barreling down the road leaving a confetti trail in their wake, so boaters too should be a bit more mindful of properly stowing and securing their trash before pushing down on the throttle.
Loud music on other boats didn’t used to be near the problem it is now. I’m not looking to disparage an entire sector of our boating community, but without a doubt the biggest offenders on the water nowadays are the younger set in their ski/wakeboarding boats. The equipment list on those boats often includes a powerful stereo system with aft facing speakers to “stoke” the sportser on the end of the towrope. Lacking the I-pod earplugs kids usually have crammed in their ears, those blaring speakers provide the musical accompaniment for their activity. I’ve never minded hearing a little Buffett or Raggae wafting across the water from another boat but there is nothing more irritating to hear than the extreme decibels of the so-called music the kids listen to today interfering with my watery quietude.
And now, sewage waste discharge. I have no problem with “number-one-ing” just about anywhere that doing so can be accomplished discretely since even a small protected cove has enough water that sufficient dilution will occur. But those of you who use constricted waters as your personal “dumping ground” are a disgrace for it’s a very loathsome and potentially health-hazardous thing to do.
I also exercise manners in a less direct fashion. It’s been said that the real test of character is what you do when nobody’s watching, or for that matter, what you say when no one’s listening. Some boats are better or prettier than others, but every boat serves a purpose so I think it’s rude to disparage or snicker at a boat you determine you “wouldn’t be caught dead on.”
Finally, the somewhat touchy subject of attire. I’m not talking about a crusty and smelly pair of boat shoes or bottom paint stained shorts. I’m frankly talking about those who’s bodily girth exceeds the basic standard proportions. Part of the reason we head for the water is to enjoy the wonderful scenery and I admit that as a male, part of that scenery is the fairer sex clad in less than standard landside attire. But fellas, when in close view of others I keep my shirt on and I sure wish a lot of you would do likewise!