Boating Etiquette 

Published on June 30, 2021


During the Independence Day holiday (and throughout the summer), many boaters will be out soaking up the sun on America’s inland and coastal waterways. Since you’ll be sharing these waterways with other boaters, it’s essential that you’re familiar with boating etiquette. Not only do boating rules help keep you, your passengers and other boaters safe, they create an environment for everyone to have a fun-filled time out on the water.

As part of our commitment to provide exceptional on-water moments for our Sea Ray owners, we’ve created this quick guide to boating etiquette just in time for the Fourth of July. In addition, it’s important that while celebrating the holiday and enjoying your Sea Ray, you follow all state and local laws, you boat safely and responsibly, and everyone has a life jacket (kids should always wear life jackets).


Rules of the Road

As a captain, you need to know what to expect when you come upon another boat or vessel. Right-of-way on the water can be more complicated than on land. However, you’ll find boaters are generally cruising for fun and are more patient and courteous than drivers. As you learn right-of-way rules, remember to also confirm the laws for your specific boating area. For boats in most situations, one is the give-way vessel, and the other is the stand-on vessel – the boat that has the right-of-way.


Approaching Starboard

A boat approaching on your starboard (right) is the stand-on vessel. (To brush up on your terminology, check out Boating Terms You Should Know


Let Overtakers Pass

If a boat is coming up behind you, continue your course and maintain or slow your speed.


Avoid a Meeting Situation

If you and a boat are moving towards each other head-on, both of you should turn to starboard.


Powerboat vs. Sailboat

A powerboat should always give way to a sailboat under sail. If the sailboat is using an engine, however, it’s considered a powerboat, and the previous right-of-way rules apply.

Harder-to-Maneuver Vessels

Any boat that’s difficult to maneuver or restricted by size, draft or other factor is the stand-on vessel.

Human-Powered Vessels

Canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are considered human-powered vessels and have the right-of-way over other vessels. 

Be Speed Smart

As with any congested intersection on land, excessive speed is a hazard and dangerous on a crowded waterway. When there’s a lot of traffic, like during a holiday weekend, it’s always wise to proceed slowly through an area in your Sea Ray boat.

Sound Signals

Since voices don’t always carry, it’s important to know how to use sound signals or sound off and use your Sea Ray’s horn to communicate with other boats. Sound signals should only be used when boats are in sight of each other and within half a mile apart.

  • One short blast – Use one short (about one second) horn blast when you want to pass a boat on your port (left) side. Think of the word “port,” a one-syllable word, to help you remember to use one blast.
  • Two short blasts – Use two short horn blasts when you want to pass a boat on your starboard side. Think of the word “starboard,” a two-syllable word, to help you remember to use two blasts.
  • Three short blasts – Before you put your engine in reverse, use three short horn blasts.
  • Five short blasts – Use five short horn blasts if you’re in danger or unsure of an approaching vessel’s intentions. 

Basic Etiquette

Boat smart and keep these basic rules of etiquette in mind this Independence Day. And you might earn a new boater friend or two! As you continue to embrace the Sea Ray ownership lifestyle and make memories out on the water, you’ll learn more etiquette from other boaters as well as your own experiences.

At the Ramp or Dock

Before you visit the boat ramp or dock, check that you and your Sea Ray are prepared and ready to go. Be considerate of other boaters at the ramp waiting to launch by moving quickly and safely. At the dock, be helpful by offering to catch the dock lines of incoming boats.

Refueling at the Dock

Don’t take up space in front of the pumps longer than necessary. After you fuel up and pay, run your blower and move out of the dock. If you need to buy supplies, move your boat first to free up pump space for others. 

Turn On Your Lights

So you can see and safely be seen by other boaters, be sure your Sea Ray’s lights are on at dawn, at dusk, after dark and in low visibility conditions. 

Follow the Campsite Rule

The campsite rule states that you should leave a campsite in better shape than you found it – and you should do the equivalent when out on the water. Keep the environment looking beautiful, clean up your trash and don’t disturb plants or wildlife. If you’ll be listening to music, keep it at a sensible level so you don’t bother other boaters.

Watch Your Wake

Creating wake or waves around other boats or people in the water is impolite and even dangerous. Plus, you’re responsible for any property damage on the water or shore caused by your wake. Look for and follow speed limits and no wake restrictions. Also, depending on where you’re boating, you should stay at least 200 feet from other vessels and the shore.

Respect the Anchorage

When entering an anchorage, follow these steps:

1. Motor slowly to avoid creating wake or coming too close to hard-to-see swimmers or snorkelers. If there’s a speed limit, follow it.

2. Check how other boats are anchored or tied off. Follow their lead and try to replicate the amount of line they use and the distance they allow between boats.

3. Keep noise to a minimum. Don’t run your generator between 8 p.m.–7 a.m. and avoid loud music.

Offer Assistance

Helping other boaters in need is a hallmark of a good boater. Plus, if you see a distressed vessel on the ocean, you’re legally obligated to stop (if you can do so safely) to offer assistance or relay a message to authorities.

Ask for Help

If you need assistance (e.g., your boat ran out of gas), you can call a marine towing company or the U.S. Coast Guard for help. In the event of an emergency, you can use your VHF radio and call channel 16, the designated international distress frequency, to hail another vessel. Once you make contact, ask them to switch frequencies to continue the conversation. Never make a Mayday call unless your life, property or the environment is in immediate danger.

As you salute the red, white and blue this holiday, we hope this etiquette guide helps you feel more confident captaining your Sea Ray boat while sharing new adventures and exploring new shorelines. To connect with the Sea Ray community, check out the Sea Ray Owners Club.

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