Non-Boater Etiquette: How to be a good non-boater!

When I first joined a bass club nobody taught me what to do or not do as a non-boater. I had been fishing the shoreline for bass or renting a boat for a few years already and figured I’d taught myself all I could. I was ready to fish out of the back of a real bass boat and learn something new. Nobody gave me a set of “Non-boater rules” when I entered my first club tourney. Although I did stumble a little as a non-boater in those first few tourneys, common sense and courteousness got me through. Since then, I’ve learned by trial and error on the do’s and don’ts and proper etiquette of being a non-boater. Now that I have my own bass boat I have come full circle and wish somebody could have helped me  earlier in the learning curve.

Every non boater should be fully aware of the complete tournament rules before showing up. It is the sole responsibility of every angler to know all of the rules which brings me to my first point. Make sure you contact the boater no later than Wednesday afternoon before the event to talk about meeting up and travel details. The non boater should always do their best to meet the boater at his house or anywhere on the route to the tournament. The first thing you should do in the morning, before you put any of your gear in the boat, is politely ask the boater what the rules are for the boat, believe me every boater has his own rules or preferences. Many times I have had to bite my lip as a boater when I feel somebody is not using the care I think they would if it were in there own house. Find out immediately what the boater prefers. Know where you can or can’t step; where to store your rods; which compartments are for my use, etc. I’ve had one boater tell me “don’t touch this livewell; this is mine and that one is yours”. I found out later in the day that he had a bell on the inside of his livewell so he knew if it was being opened. He did this because a past non-boater had opened his livewell to admire his nice 5 pounder and that fish jumped out, flopped all over the back deck and ended up back in the water instead of on the scales. While traveling make sure you take the time to pay your non-boater fees up front without being asked. The worst thing next to being messy and not keeping your space tidy for a boater is having to ask you for your fair share of fees. Your non boater fees include half of the gate fee as well.

Help the boater launch the boat as much as you are comfertable. If you don’t feel comfortable backing someone else’s boat down a crowded ramp in the dark, say so, he won’t mind if you tell him in advance. Before the boat goes in the water, ask the boater if the plug is in. I had one boater give me a weird look when I asked this, like no one had ever asked him before, but he appreciated the fact I was looking out for him. Ask if there is anything special about locking up the truck before you drive back up the ramp. Give the keys back as soon as you are inside the boat and NEVER hold them in your hand while stepping off the dock. Make sure they are secure in your pocket in case you slip or fall by accident.

What to bring and how much is too much? Usually bring 4-5 rods and one tackle bag 6 rods is too many. Anything more is probably too much and in the way. Remember, all the boater’s tackle is already stored in compartments. Anything you bring has to fit in one small compartment or on the floor of the boat. If it’s on the floor, trust me it’s in the way. Don’t bang the gelcoat with your rods or the net handle, the gelcoat and the engine cowling can scratch very easily. Don’t lean on the plastic wind shields they break very easily and are not a grab bar. I would also bring my food and drinks in a bag so I won’t have an ice chest in the way, believe me if its on the floor its in the way. Stay hydrated its your responsibility to stay alert. Don’t forget your life jacket, rain gear and set of cull tags. That’s also your responsibility, not the boater’s. Don’t forget your watch. That way you’ll know how much time is left in the tourney and it is also a backup in case the boater’s watch quits on the two of you.

Before I owned a bass boat, I usually didn’t pre-fish. Just go with what the boater and captain wants to do, he is in charge. But if you have pre-fished, found fish and a pattern that works, talk it over with the boater. It is okay to share that info and have the both of you agree to a game plan for the day. Do this first thing while traveling before blast off so there are no surprises later in the day.

Even though the two of you may be competing against each other, you still need to communicate. The whole idea is to catch fish and have fun. Ask the boater if there is a special way he wants you to net the fish before he hooks into the first one. Try different lures or techniques than the boater is using until one of you starts catching fish. If you start catching them first, share your technique. If the boater is catching them before you, ask what he was doing when he got the hook up. As a general rule you should NEVER cast forward of the console, casting forward at approximately a 45 degree angle from the back is okay when the boat is moving as long as you don’t cross the boaters line. If the boat is not moving and you are fishing a slow presentation this would be the time you should NEVER cast forward of the console as a general rule. As a non-boater I wanted to learn different techniques, so I observed and ask alot of questions. However, play the idle chit-chat by ear and don’t go crazy with it. There’s nothing worse than having your boater miss a bite because he was paying more attention to yacking at you than watching his line. Help the boater out in any way you can and he will most likely be inclined to do the same. This is not a guided tour like some non-boaters think. Be ready to get up front to hold the boat with the electric motor if your boater needs to re-tie or cull fish. The use of sun tan lotion and liquid scents should be done carefully and ask if lighting a smoke is alright. If you use lotions and scents on your baits, spray or pour it on the bait over the side of the boat. Most of this stuff will stain carpets and there’s nothing worse than to end the day with an upset boater finding his back deck covered in stinky smelling stuff or even worse with a cigarette burn in his pretty carpet. Also don’t leave plastic worms on the carpet they too will stain.

This one is huge and probably most important. At the end of the day, with the boat in the parking lot, make sure the first thing you do is ask the boater what the boat wipe down procedure is, and then help clean it up right away. This should be your number one concern before even braking down your own tackle because I guarantee you it is the boaters number one concern. You helped dirty up his $50 thousand dollar bass rig so make sure you help clean it up. If you remember that you are a guest and not on a paid guided tour the two of you will have a great day on the water. Being courteous goes a long way and helps make the day fun and enjoyable for everybody!


See you on the water: Big Ed!