Essential behaviors to being a good Non-Boater

Written by Brian S. Smallhorn - 3/10/17 - Updated 10/6/2019


Before you enter the water


When it comes to being a good non-boater there are many things you can and should do in preparation even before you hit the water.  The first thing you want to do is to reach out to your boater partner to figure out where and what time you will meet if you are traveling together to the tournament/lake.  You should also check with him/her to understand how much room they have on their boat for your equipment.  Obviously there are different size boats and most boaters have a locker they clear out for you as the non-boater to use to store some of your clothes, tackle and lunch.  There are a lot of things to check and re-check before launching your partners boat. First rule is don't be late to meet your partner.  And if you know you will be late make sure you call him to let him know.  When you arrive at the lake, don't wait to the last minute to gather your equipment and load it on to the boat.  This is also a good time to exchange any monies for offsetting the cost of using the boaters boat.  Typically $35.00 for 8 hour local trip is sufficient but it should be worked out ahead of time.  This avoids embarrassment later on at the end of the day if you forget.  Waiting until you’re in the middle of a long line at a busy boat launch ramp is not the time to perform these tasks.  If your new to backing up a boat to a launch ask another non-boater for assistance in case you need it.  It's ok to let your fishing partner or another non-boater know that you aren't comfortable backing up the boat yet. Many non-boaters are very willing to help others launch other boats if asked. 


A good boater when arriving at the lake will pull into the parking lot, move to the side while preparing for the launch.  This allows traffic to flow and others to go ahead and dump their boats into the water.  Before launching you want to make sure as a non-boater is to ask your partner if he/she has put the plug in.  You should also ask them if they took their straps off, that their Graph units are plugged in and if launching in bad weather or darkness that they have their lights in/on.


Before approaching the ramp also make sure you and your boater have their Life Vests in the boat, that they have their foul weather gear, sunglasses, lunch and any medications that are necessary.  I can't tell you how many times people have left these items behind and it delayed launches or caused issues while on the water after the fact wasting valuable time.


When backing down the ramp especially before daylight, make sure you turn your headlights off and only have your parking lights on.  As soon as your truck goes into reverse, shut off your headlights so people backing their trailers in adjacent lanes will be able to see.   In addition, if you are a non-boater and waiting for your boater to back the boat into the launch while you are waiting you can help other people launching by assisting with directional instructions while waiting id someone is having directional issues.  Once your boater gets onto the boat make sure to double check the plug and that the safety chain is disengaged and free to release the boat int the water.  Also, typically the boater will give you a visual sign when to stop backing up the boat to release it into the water.  After some experience you will learn by watching in your mirrors or back window when the boat releases.  Make sure the boat is clear of the trailer before moving back up the ramp to park the vehicle being careful to watch clearance with other boats and vehicles on the ramp as you leave.  Also remember many launches and Marinas have multiple boat ramp lanes, but no concrete dividers. They may look like one wide ramp.  When the ramp and launch is busy, don’t go down the middle and clog up the ability to launch more than one boat at a time.  Launch your boat on the farthest side of the ramp as possible so other folks can launch next to you.   If the launch  is not busy then you can afford to launch anywhere within the ramp as long as you are somewhat quick and efficient.


After you launch the boat avoid standing around talking on the dock to your buddies or when you park the trailer stand around shooting the breeze with your friends.  This isn’t the time for anyone to hang around and talk fishing while the truck is taking up an entire lane and probably pissing people off.  Now is not the time for that. There is other times that you can huddle with your buddies to discuss what went on that day or what strategies your going to use that day.  Concentrate on getting your rig out of the way and then you can talk on the boats before the launch on the water.


When parking the trailer and the lot is full or yu know it will be full as on a weekend, ensure you park in a designated parking area for a trailer.  Make sure you give the other guys a little breathing room allowing the trailer next to you to you to be able to back out later in the day.  When it’s time to put the boat back on the trailer it will make it easier to back the trailer up.  Remember be sensitive to driving a truck or car with a trailer means allowing for wider turns.  Again if you are not sure or not comfortable ask anyone who has experience at the marina and most people will be more than happy to help you out.


When you return to the ramp to get to your fishing partner's boat you can gain access in several ways.  In many cases your boater will use his trolling motor to get to a spot near the dock or shore to get you access to the boat.  Another way is if you know another boater who is launching from your club you can usually hitch a ride on his boat at the ramp and then when on the water he can pull next to the boater you are fishing with to get you on his boat.  One thing I am very sensitive to and I really want to preach here is be courteous and conscious of sand, dirt or gravel on your shoes when jumping into a boat.  I know in some cases you have no choice depending on the weather and outside temperature.  But where possible I remove my shoes and jump into the boat and then wash the dirt or sand off of the bottom of my shoes before putting them back on.  Obviously in colder temps this may not be practical.  Your boater will appreciate the effort and will be appreciative the next time you are fishing with him/her.


While on the water

The first thing you want to do when you get on the boat is to know what launch position you and your boater were given.  Also, while idling out to the water send off area you should talk about netting preferences, if there are any special rules he or she has on their boat.  You might laugh but some people have pretty specific rules they go by when on their boat.  It also is a good time to discuss what type of baits they may be using.  Do they expect to fish slow with rubber or use moving baits that require a faster pace of speed and covering a wide area quicker. 


So another topic that I think all non-boaters should be anal about is being careful and ensuring that they have proper hook/lure wraps on their lures when not being fished.  I have seen multiple times where a treble hook gets stuck in a nice new leather seat.  There is no excuse not to prevent hooks going into the seats.  You can buy lure wraps at any of the Fishing Retail stores or you can do what I did when I first started fishing with my club was to buy plastic soap dishes and plastic margarine butter dishes that have a snap closure on them that if you drill holes on each end of the dish it fits nicely over your line and lure.  Works better than you think. There is nothing worse than seeing a tear in a brand new seat.  In addition, avoid stepping on the seats.  This can tear or eventially wear them out. This is much to do about respect for your club and your partners boat and investment.  Boaters are kind enough to let you fish on their boat and we need to respect that and take extremely good care of the boat. 


Try to organize the placement of your equipment while on the boat in a way that is efficient.  Don't leave your rods in the middle of the walkway that will be used by both of you for netting or operating the boat.  I also feel that as a non-boater you should feel a responsibility to ensure you check on the fish in the livewell to make sure it is operating and that the fish are healthy.  After all you are the closest to the fish.  Listen for the water exchange and its usually a good practice to check the fish before moving to another location on the big motor.  Make sure you check to see that the bilge pump is working.  Also if your boater says he wants to move be prepared to move to another location quickly.  Don't leave your tackle all over the deck so it takes your several minutes to put it away before moving.


While fishing respect the 50 yard line.  It's common practice and essential you don't throw into the front 50% of the boat water and most definitely throw across your Boater.  If by chance you do make sure you apologize and don't make it a habit.   Also, most bodies of water you will not be back boated by a boater.  You must become comfortable that if you are a non-boater that you will not get the virgin water.  One advantage of being a boater.  If you don't like it buy a boat and become a Boater!  If you think your boater is back boating you on purpose for a substantial amount of time or on multiple occasions, then ask him nicely if he can adjust the boat in the future so that you at least get an area to fish.  Most times, its by mistake and them concentrating on operating the boat or due to weather conditions.  Getting on the trolling motor and fishing and steering in wind or bad weather is extremely hard so you may have to be patient.


During fishing chances are you will be fishing in weeds or areas of the lake that will have weeds that come up on your line and rod into the boat.  Be sensitive and ensure you remove any weeds immediately that drop on the carpet or boat.  Some of the weeds will actually stain the boat or carpet if left in the sun on the deck if not removed right away.  Also, if you are going to stop and eat anything on the boat, make sure you are careful when drinking liquids as to not to spill anything.  Make sure you don't leave any garbage in the boat whether it is food or tackle related. 


Another NO NO in my opinion is smoking on the boat.  At a minimum ask your boater if he or she allows it.  I have seen where boat seats and carpets got melted or burn stained on the deck.



And in closing this section if you happen to damage anything on the boat while fishing as a guest, discuss how you will settle the damage.  You should ensure you make every effort to pay for any repair that is needed to fix the damage.


When returning to the launch at the end of the day


Typically when you return to the launch your boater will let you off on the dock or ramp.  Ensure you have the keys to the vehicle you need to retrieve.  After backing trailer into water, exit vehicle to help guide boater onto trailer.  Give him a signal with your hands how far he is from the trailer u-bolt hitch.  If you can when he is done reel in his safety cable and ensure he is safely hooked to the u-bolt.  You may need to back up the truck upon the boaters instructions.  Also, make sure your boater has raised his Motor all the way and given you the signal to go forward.  Ensure he is ready and everyone is clear of the boat before proceeding.  Don't stop to socialize while on land in the parking lot as boaters are waiting for the trailers to be backed down to the launch.  They have many things to do to prepare for weigh-in and the ride home.  Don't waste their time.  And make sure when you wrap up after the weigh-in that you offer any help to prepare the boat for the trip home on the trailer and ensure no garbage or equipment is left on the deck in the boat. 


And in closing most of all make sure you say THANK YOU for them letting you enjoy their boat and company for the day!  By doing so they will be sure to ask you to fish again!