Yachting Etiquette


July 31, 2013 | BY Kristine Stewart

Avoid getting into hot water this summer with these boating tips from etiquette expert Kristine Stewart

There is no better way to beat the Hong Kong summer heat than to spend some time on the water. It is a great opportunity to catch up with friends, meet new people and, of course, work on your tan.  But on a day where people are exposed to the heat, combined with a few hours of drinking in a relatively confined place, it can quickly create a minefield for social blunders. 

Before boarding

Look the part. For yachting we usually wear light-coloured clothing that can wrinkle, and get wet.  Bring a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.  Wear light, comfortable footwear.  Do not wear heels.  The captain may ask you to remove your shoes when you board, but don’t be offended by this, as it is standard protocol for some yachts.  Most importantly, do not forget your pre-boating pedicure!  You will most likely have your shoes off for a good part of the voyage so prep those little toes for display.

Establish how you can contribute.  You are not likely paying your host for the excursion so an offer to bring a nice dish of food, some cool drinks, or perhaps even inflatables is a nice gesture.  On a recent boat trip my host insisted I do not bring a thing so I packed a couple inflatables (and pump), which were very well received by their children.

Please arrive on time for the sailing.  If you are running late, not only are you keeping the other guests waiting but also your host and the crew.  If it is a busy dock, other boats will be waiting as well.  Always allow extra time to get to your boarding destination.

During the sail

Ask permission to board the yacht.  When on the pier, call up to the deck saying something along the lines of “Good morning! May I come aboard?” Of course you are welcome to board, but the gesture of asking is somewhat like ringing the doorbell instead of just appearing in someone’s home. 

Bring your own towels, sunglasses and sunscreen.  Also pack seasickness tablets if you are prone to motion sickness.  Your host will likely have these items, but it always best to be prepared with your own. 

Bring reading material. A peaceful afternoon of reading while catching some rays on the water seems ideal but if you have been invited on a yacht for a social afternoon, opt not to bring a novel. Spending a day at sea with a group of people is meant to be social and unfortunately, tucking into a thick paperback is not.  Instead, bring reading material that can be casually read and shared, like magazines. This month's issue of Tatler is perfect!

When it is time for a meal, treat it similarly to how you would normally dine on land.  Sometimes the service on a nice yacht can be comparable to dining in a nice restaurant! Sit down for the lunch or dinner and throw on some light layers over your bathing suit.  Do not hover over the spread of food only in your bikini, wet hair dripping over all the dishes.   

Be considerate.  Try not to be too noisy if your boat stops in a quiet bay.  Sound travels much more across water than on land and echoes can reach a far distance.  Also, do not throw any litter over board, and do not discard drinks in the water. If you smoke, make sure there is no one directly behind you as smoke travels down wind. 

If you have chartered the boat, a small tip should be provided to each crew member.  Take note of all who have facilitated your voyage so you do not forget anyone in the tip.  Alternatively, provide the captain with an amount to distribute to his crew.  The tip should be at least ten percent of the cost of the charter.    

Yachting is generally an informal activity, not involving a lot of protocol, but keeping these common courtesies in mind should provide for a smooth sailing this summer. 

Kristine Stewart is the director of the Hong Kong Institute of Etiquette