Sharing the water: Use proper boating etiquette

By Allstate

Last updated: January 1

Whether you're pulling a water skier on a busy lake or sailing along the coast without another boat in sight, you're sharing the water with other boaters, beach-goers, plants and animals. It's important to keep proper boating etiquette in mind so that we can all continue to enjoy our waterways safely. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you hit the water:

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Watch the wake

While you're blissfully cruising away, your vessel is kicking up waves, otherwise known as wake. Those waves might be fun if you're a surfer or a wake boarder, but for other boaters, they can be annoying and potentially even dangerous — a speeding vessel's wake may cause damage to other boats and even injure passengers. It's important to be mindful of the wake your boat creates, particularly if other boats are nearby. says the key is to understand the wakes that may be created by three different operating speeds:

  • Displacement speed: At the slowest speed for motorboats, the bow will be in the water — creating the least amount of wake.
  • Transition speed: The bow rises as you increase speed. The largest amount of wake is created, because the stem is plowing through the water.
  • Planing speed: As you settle into a higher speed, the boat levels out. This will leave less wake than transition speed. (Note that larger boats are not designed to reach planing speed.)

Also, remember that a no wake zone means moving at the slowest possible speed while still being able to steer, says the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. If you see a "No Wake Zone" or "Slow No Wake" sign or buoy, drop to displacement speed so that you are creating as little wake as possible.

If you need to cross another boat's wake, Boating Magazine offers these tips:

  • Stay back: If you run too close behind another boat, you'll be in a larger wake than if you hang back. Even if you want to overtake the other boat, you're better off dropping back so that you're not crossing the wake at it's highest point.
  • Slow down: Lowering your speed may help lessen the impact of the waves. While you'll need some speed to maintain control, you may need to slow to your boat's planing speed (typically 14 to 18 miles per hour).
  • Cross at an angle: Heading into the wake perpendicularly may launch you over it and land you in the deepest part of the trough between waves, and you could roll if you cross it with the boat's beam. Heading into the wake diagonally — with the bow at a 30- to 45-degree angle into the wave — may help minimize impact.
  • Don't sit in the bow: Sitting in front of the helm (the location of the steering wheel) may be the worst place to sit when in rough water. For more stability, passengers should consider sitting at or just behind the steering console.
  • Let others know: If you're about to cross a large wake, it's a good idea to notify the passengers so that they can brace themselves. If you are passing another boat, use the horn — once to pass starboard side, twice to pass port side.

Mind your manners while launching and docking

Preparation, efficiency and consideration are the bottom line to minding your manners while launching and docking your watercraft. offers the following tips for proper dock and ramp etiquette:

  • Be prepared. Make sure your boat is ready to go before you pull onto the ramp. Load gear, get lines ready, remove tie-downs and test the engine in another area so that other boaters can access the ramp while you prep. When you are ready to launch, have a driver in the boat so that the boat can be started as soon as it's in the water. When you return, unload your gear away from the ramp.
  • Practice your job. Whether you're driving the tow vehicle or will be driving the boat, be ready to do your designated job. If you're inexperienced when it comes to backing your trailer down the ramp to the water, practice maneuvering your trailer in an empty parking lot or other vacant space. The boat driver should be ready to start it up once the craft is in the water. When reloading the boat onto the trailer, do not accelerate to "power load" the craft — this can create shallow sand bars near the ramp.
  • Be courteous. If passengers are not ready to board, idle away and return to the ramp or dock when they are ready. When you return, drop off passengers and idle the boat away until someone returns with the tow vehicle and trailer. The driver should get the boat into position as the tow vehicle approaches.

Proper launching and docking techniques are essential knowledge for any watercraft owner. Knowing your role, keeping the process efficient and being courteous to other boaters are key when you are launching or docking your boat.

Keep it clean

Keeping waterways and beaches clean is one way to help keep them enjoyable for years to come. From throwing away your trash in the proper places to keeping chemicals out of the water, Sailors for the Sea and Discover Boating offer these tips for being an environmentally friendly boater:

  • Be careful when refueling not to spill into the water. Check fuel lines and tanks, and have a spill kit on hand.
  • If oil or fuel is spilled in the water, notify the Coast Guard National Response Center.
  • Take all your trash with you when you leave, and never, ever throw your trash into the water. (It's also helpful to pick up any other trash you may see, particularly in the water.) Collect it and dispose of it properly when you're shoreside.
  • Ensure that your craft has proper onboard sanitation facilities and never dump any sewage into the water.
  • Know proper anchoring techniques to avoid damaging ecosystems and help prevent grounding.

A little preparation and some basic courtesy can help you enjoy a day on the water safely and appropriately. Next time you hit the water, make sure you're practicing proper boating etiquette.