How many boaters have seen or been party to some difficult social interaction at sea? Answer – All of us or you haven’t been using your boat enough. Whether it’s in the marina, at the gas dock, drifting while fishing, cruising down the channel, or anchored in your favorite cove, sticky situations can find you. It’s inevitable. The important thing is how you handle it when someone starts screaming, flips a rude gesture, or threatens you, your guests, or your vessel.
The first thing you do is react civilly and calmly. Escalation only gets you into a more serious situation. I know it’s hard and I will admit to having lost it in the face of an aggressor at times. But every time, no matter the outcome, I regretted my reciprocal infantile behavior later. At the age I am now, I have learned to just keep it calm. There are some slightly deranged boaters who become even more deranged in the face of reason. The best thing to do there is to just calmly walk or boat away and if that is impossible and you feel threatened, a quick call to Marine Patrol or the Coast Guard may be your only option, but that is only in the extreme.
The best way to avoid most of these situations is before they even start. I call it “Having Maritime Manners”. We presently live in an almost mannerless rude society on land but on the water, where even life began, you can learn manners again. Heck, it may even spread back on shore. Here are some tips to help you avoid or alleviate issues.
1 • Change Your Attitude – Once on board your vessel take the attitude that being safe is more important than being right.
2 • Exude Calmness in a situation. It makes no sense to go word for word, curse for curse. It will only explode into something worse. There are also times when you may think you were right but were actually wrong. Hey! Who is perfect? None of us! Sometimes it’s easier to say, “Sorry Chap! I didn’t realize’’ even if you were in the right then to threaten back. When two captains have heated arguments from their boats it can more easily escalate from injury to even death when you consider that in the United States boats have been rammed, passengers thrown overboard, stabbed with fillet knives and a recent shooting between a jet skier and a power boater in Florida. Things can escalate fast and it is your duty, even at the expense of your pride, to take all steps to DE-ESCALATE!!!! Burn that into your skull, Matey!
3 • Keep Up With Maritime Rules – Stay within allotted speeds. Don’t cut off other vessels. “Give way” in all questionable cruising situations. Larger vessels, sailboats and rowing-type vessels always have precedence over you. Be patient on the water! Even if you are a nut job manager in the office.
4 • Use Common Nautical Sense – If it says 5MPH, No Wake! Follow what it says. If you see a captain throwing a tsunami towards you at anchor or at the dock, they often will respond well to just taking your hands, palms down and just move them slowly up and down. They usually slow down and then smile and give them the heads-up sign. You get it – Just constantly refresh your knowledge of what is good seamanship. It’s all available if you treat yourself to a copy of Chapmans Piloting or go online.
5 • Be A Helpful Mariner -Yeah! I know. You are in a hurry to meet friends at Kismet or to raft up in a cove in Raritan Bay!
The boat waving you down for assistance just became a pain in your butt and you want to act like you just didn’t see him. Well, if you can lend assistance without endangering your own vessels, even if it means just standing by until help comes, then you do it. Sometimes just the presence of your vessel, a call to towing service, Coast Guard, Maritime Police and Rescue is all you need to do. “Maritime Manners” requires that you are mature enough to do so, otherwise, take up rollerblading.
In summation – You get the idea. Do your best to keep your temper down and use calm reason. It can make your day on the water more enjoyable and it can avoid injuries and vessel damage. Practice “Maritime Manners” and in a few weeks, it will become second nature to you. And now I’m about to get into my vessel and cross the GSB. I hope it’s just another nice day when I practice what I preach.