For me, it's hard to beat the sense of freedom and adventure that comes along with fishing from a boat.
As the past owner of a few boats, I can honestly say that I took those feelings for granted. Shore fishing can be both fun and satisfying in its own right, but being able to leave the shoreline behind and venture out to distant, isolated areas just opens up a whole new world of great fishing opportunities. When the time is right I'll definitely be back in my own vessel, but until then my boating solely depends on invites from boat owner buddies of mine. I hop aboard every chance I get and always do my best to not be a pain in the butt. After all, I want us both to enjoy the day and I also want to get invited back as much as possible!
From bass boats to offshore center consoles, I've shared a boat with many different folks over the years. Sadly, a couple of those guys are no longer around, some I fished with just once or twice, while others I consider longtime friends to this very day. Whether it was my boat or theirs, the most enjoyable days were the ones that went smoothly.
A smooth day doesn't necessarily entail just a productive day on the water, but also good etiquette and relations between the captain and the guest. As someone who would currently fall into the "guest" category, there's certain rules of politeness I try to follow and I'd hope others fishing on my future boat(s) would do the same for me, too.
Crossing lines: Whether I'm in the back of the boat or sharing the front, I try to avoid crossing lines as much as possible. It'll generally happen maybe a couple times throughout the day which is understandable, but the last thing I want is to be an all day nuisance with my presentations. I do my best to keep my casts in their own "zone" away from my partner's line, but sometimes if we're both throwing in the same general direction it may be necessary to hold off and time my casts to avoid a crossing conflict.
Shoes: One thing I absolutely HATED about owning a boat was cleaning it. Wiping down stubborn scum lines from the hull was a dreaded task, but the interior could spell equal trouble as well. Don't get me started on carpeted floors! Practice shoe etiquette before stepping in someones boat. Before hopping aboard, use a towel to wipe off dirty shoes or dip them into (clean) water at the ramp to remove filth. If fishing on a boat with a bare non-skid floor, don't wear soles that'll mark the deck. The captain will appreciate it!
Pay Up: Many boats aren't cheap to operate, so it's important to offer a cash contribution to cover the day's expenses. Don't forget that those expenses may also include things like a launch fee and chum in addition to the gas burned. For those times that I've been unsure about how much to bring, I have no shame in simply asking ahead of time how much would be appropriate to help with the costs. Even if the captain declines payment or simply wants you to cover the launch fee, just the gesture of offering to contribute goes a long way.
Be Careful: If casting from the stern of an outboard-powered boat, you'll not want to smack the motor cowling with either the rod or worse, a big weighted fly. WHACK! I've heard the sound before and seen the aftermath. Motor cowlings aren't cheap, and one that's marked up with dings and scratches from getting nailed by flies is pretty unattractive. Some boat owners have avoided this problem by keeping a cover over the cowling at all times, but for those "naked" engines, it's especially important that you have good enough casting and awareness to avoid smacking the engine. Similarly, snagging your buddy's head (or other body part) is even more of a no-no. Always be aware of where your rod tip and fly are traveling.
Talking Too Much: I'm naturally kind of a quiet guy on the water, so fishing with a motormouth or complainer tends to annoy me and disrupt my concentration. Thankfully, all my current fishing buddies don't fit into this category and are a blast to fish with. Years ago, though, I can think of two occasions where I felt like returning to the dock early due to nonstop rambling!
Trailering Skills: Some boat owners like to control the entire launch/retrieval process, but if you have the skill and are confident in doing so, it never hurts to ask if your buddy would like you to back in and/or pull the boat out. It gets your rig off the ramp faster and out of the way of others, plus it's another way to show you want to contribute to the day as much as possible.
Bring Your Own Stuff: One of my biggest personal rules when fishing on a buddy's boat is to try and be 100% self-sufficient. I always make sure to bring ample flies, leader material, my own pliers, scissors, food/drink, etc. Although many folks don't mind sharing and may offer to, as a guest (even on a good friend's boat) it just doesn't feel right to me borrowing tackle or raiding the cooler looking for a snack or drink that I didn't buy.
But Don't Bring Too Much: Like I said above, I try to cover all the bases for myself, but I also don't go nuts bringing a huge mess of gear—especially on a smaller boat. Typically one to three rods, a modestly-sized waterproof bag containing essential gear and snacks, and maybe an additional small soft-sided cooler with extra drinks is about the most I'll bring. I want my stuff to be easily stowed or otherwise kept out of the way, and during the day I make sure to keep everything tidy and not strewn out all over the deck. An organized boat fishes better.
Take Control: If fishing aboard a drift boat or flats skiff, it's tough to be the one stuck on the oars or poling platform all day. Usually when fishing aboard one of these boats with a partner, it's likely that the both of you will agree to take turns poling or rowing throughout the day. If planning on fishing with someone for the very first time, make sure to disclose any personal discomfort or physical inability to pole or row prior to the trip as it may change the day's game plan.
Washdown: Washing the boat at the end of the day is a bummer, but pulling a disappearing act while your boat-owner buddy scrubs down his rig all alone is royally messed up. If the boat requires some TLC, hang around and offer to grab an extra rag or sponge to help out.
Those are my non-boater etiquette rules to live by. What do you think? Drop us a line if you have any other suggestions that didn't make the list!