Keep your marriage afloat at sea by following a few simple, cruise-proven rules.
In most relationships, one of the partners (usually the man) loves the boat far more than the other partner. Perhaps he owned the boat before he met his significant other. Perhaps the boat devoured years of his time while he lovingly and painstakingly built or restored the vessel. Or, it could be that the couple enthusiastically bought the boat together, but one of them has less admiration for it.
I’ve also heard that “living on a boat with one’s partner is similar to living in a closet together.” There is some truth to the statement. Few things will test a relationship faster than being in a confined space together. It makes little difference whether the boat is 25 feet or 50 feet, closeness can be an asset or a liability when it comes to a couple’s compatibility. No boat is big enough for two when there is unresolved conflict. But when both are working toward a common goal, that of enjoying the freedom of the cruising life, it doesn’t get much better!
As fun, romantic and adventurous as boating can be, make no mistake, a boat is a third party in the relationship. It can — and often does — drive a wedge between two people. Some of the best memories together can be on a boat, but the opposite can be equally true.
So, what’s the secret to keeping your boat and spouse too?
Cruising from Olympia, Wash., to the Broughton Islands in beautiful British Columbia is one of our great pleasures in life. Arlene and I are in our 22nd year of boating together. We have owned three boats, from 28 feet to our current 40-footer, spent a combined 1,500 days on board and traveled way too many miles to count. During these times, we have established what you might call “rules” to keep Easy Goin’, and our relationship, afloat. I can’t imagine boating without my wife. We’re having a terrific time.
RULE 1: No Yelling
Communication is key, but yelling from the helm — “I said throw the line!” — is not communicating. Being yelled at can be embarrassing for your partner. It’s equally embarrassing for the marina dockhands to be standing on the dock while a couple screams at each other rather than simply tossing the line.
True communication involves understanding each other’s needs and expectations. Take your time and try to stay calm and explain things clearly and in a normal speaking voice. It’s all in the tone of your voice and facial expression.
This rule is thrown overboard if someone goes overboard or if you’re in danger of hitting something — yell away.
RULE 2: Don’t Minimize Fears
Respect your partner’s fears, and don’t minimize them. Head for port immediately when sea conditions make either individual uncomfortable. If there is a concern about traveling in the fog or at night, don’t do it. Do not minimize or argue the concerns away. Take boating classes together and practice what you learn to enhance your skills and confidence.
RULE 3: Communicate
Men and women are wired differently. While we can’t make blanket statements that hold true for every member of each gender, a majority of women like to plan and communicate the plan. Most men, on the other hand, prefer to make it up as they go. Both parties need to be involved in planning the trip or day, including alternative plans.
Talk through processes such as docking and anchoring without an argument. Ask yourself if you are imparting information or instruction when you’re communicating, and listen to what the other is saying.
Most long-term relationships that fail at sea are the result of skippers mistakenly believing that their crew thinks just like they do. Make mutual choices that ensure each partner is comfortable with the decision. Each individual has veto power, and it’s OK to say, “My half of the boat is not going there.” Men, there is no need to act like Capt. Ahab. Decision-making should not involve a power struggle, or a winner and loser. When there is a real imbalance in the decision-making aboard, when decisions aren’t made with representation, stress is the result — potentially the kind of stress that can end a cruise. When both parties participate, they can share responsibility for how things go.
Whether it’s anchoring or weighing anchor or tying up or leaving a dock, responsibilities are shared by the team. Each task should be discussed and decided beforehand and any potential miscommunications ironed out. The surprise is no surprise at all.
In our relationship, we swiftly resolve our disagreements. When they are resolved, they don’t come back in a snarky “I told you so” manner three months later. This is the most important tip I can provide. It kept us from throwing each other off the boat during our Inside Passage cruises.
Take some time to communicate. Spending hours alone together is a great opportunity to have a two-way conversation. Playing board games and cards while on the water can be a nice way to relieve tension and build a closer relationship. Share your hopes, beliefs and dreams.
RULE 4: Establish Trust
Couples who are successful boaters have developed a high degree of mutual trust. It does not come automatically, but only after training, teamwork, practice and time. To develop trust, the importance of training can’t be overemphasized. Both the U.S. Power Squadrons and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offer courses in boating safety, navigation and course piloting. There are also courses available on boat handling for couples. If you take one of these courses together, you not only learn to boat, but you’ll discover what your partner is capable of doing. It’s one thing to gain that knowledge, but when both partners learn it, a degree of mutual trust is gained.
RULE 5: It’s a Team Effort
The key to owning and operating a boat is teamwork. If one person is usually the skipper and the other the first mate, they should swap occasionally.
Nothing will make the first mate enjoy the outing more than seeing the skipper frantically tying on lines and fenders while she calmly directs from behind the wheel.
It’s collaboration that makes boating work. Everyone needs to practice docking and anchoring in order to be proficient. In far too many relationships, the woman is relegated to mate or doesn’t want to participate in operating the boat. She should at least know how to set the anchor, drive, use the electronics, chart a course and operate the dinghy. That doesn’t mean both partners are equally good in the same things, but both need to be capable of handling the boat, in case something happens in the middle of nowhere. If the wife is typically the first mate but becomes proficient in the operation of the boat, I guarantee she’ll feel more confident while on board. It’s the aggregate of the parts that establishes the strength of the team.
Along with this, both parties should participate in planning cruises and purchasing equipment and boat décor. It’s called ownership.
RULE 6: Have a Plan for Docking
How many times have you wondered whether the couple on the boat coming into the marina would dock or divorce first? Sometimes, I believe they are ready to call the attorney before they hail the dockhand for a docking assignment.
Docking a boat together can be a very stressful activity for boating couples. Many of us have seen the results when it doesn’t go well. One party disappears below, or they exchange a few choice, loudly spoken words. While it can be entertaining to observe once you are safety docked, it’s best not to become the evening’s entertainment for the others on the dock.
Discuss in advance the best way to arrive safely at the dock. Make sure both parties clearly understand their role, and remember, no yelling. Should there be a problem, no matter what happens, don’t blame each other in front of others. Public humiliation is never a good thing.
The number-one rule aboard Easy Goin’ when docking is “No jumping!” Far too many boaters are hurt jumping to the dock; besides, we’re getting too old to be leaving our feet.
RULE 7: Share the Chores
Men, don’t expect your partner to prepare three-course meals, do dishes, clean the inside of the boat, provision and do laundry. Divide the chores and help out. This will go a long way in keeping peace aboard. We have a rule that when we’re in port we go out to eat, thereby letting someone else do the cooking — and the dishes. At this point, I have to say that Arlene enjoys preparing meals on board and does a wonderful job. Though I’m the master of the barbecue. Teamwork!
RULE 8: Respect Each Other’s Space
On extended cruises into the wilderness, couples can be trapped together on the boat at anchor for days while they ride out a storm or await a weather window. There’s often no TV or internet to escape to, nor any other outside stimulation.
Living in a small space, it’s difficult to sneak away like one can in a house. Couples can provide each other physical privacy, but it’s important to respect the other’s mental space with “virtual” privacy, courtesies familiar to any cubicle dweller. If your spouse is reading or writing, avoid making conversation. We all need a mental break from each other from time to time.
RULE 9: Remember to Have Fun
Sometimes it’s easy to become so intense in the journey that the atmosphere on board can get tense. Find times during the day to have fun. You don’t have to laugh through the entire cruise, but if you lighten up, chances are both of you will enjoy the time together more.