Buddy Boating

Making friends is easy. Just add water.

We love to go boating with friends — we in our boat and they in theirs — and have been very lucky when doing so. There are few boaters we have “buddy boated”   with who we wouldn’t want to cruise with in the future.

In our early years of boating, all of our boating friends had young families and successful nine-to-five jobs, so we were very compatible. Our boating adventures were restricted to weekends, two-week vacations, entertaining small children and nap times. We absolutely looked forward to naptime and bedtime, to get a little adult time. We all had common interests when boating, such as fishing, crabbing, hiking and socializing around a campfire.

As our families grew up and left the nest and friends departed boating and we hit retirement, the friends changed, as did the interests. We venture farther, take two- to three-month-long cruises, anchor in secluded coves and enjoy the wildlife.

Teaming up is a safe and reassuring strategy for exploring new territory or for new boat owners looking for some mentoring. There is also safety in numbers. If you encounter trouble, a companion boat may have the tools, equipment or expertise needed to help solve the problem.

Along with that comfort zone, however, comes the human factor. While traveling “on the hip,” tempers can slip if buddy boaters don’t clearly understand respective goals and objectives, including travel speed, miles per day, nights on anchor vs. tied to a dock with the hustle and bustle of a marina, and budget. Traveling with a flotilla, the potential for drama and conflict is multiplied.

Successful buddy boating can be fun, provided you do it correctly. Compatible cruising goals and humor are very helpful in establishing a float plan that allows for privacy and togetherness.

Buddy boating etiquette dictates that it is perfectly acceptable to politely say no to anyone you do not feel comfortable traveling with, for any reason. Conversely, do not expect every boater you see want to team up with you. Some boaters prefer to cruise solo. Be sensitive about imposing on anyone’s desire for privacy.

It’s best to have communication about plans and goals. Where do you each want to go? How long do you want to stay? How much time will be spent cruising, and at what cruising speed? Be upfront with expectations. Even the most compatible friends on land may have differing visions of the boating lifestyle. There is no shame in pointing your boat in a different direction if you find the situation isn’t ideal for you. When we cruise with another boat, we tend to intentionally meet up and separate to allow for different priorities. This also helps to prevent the partnership from falling into a leader/follower relationship.

Some situations where the more experienced vessel crew calls the shots when making plans, and the buddy boat follows along may seem like a fine compromise for a less experienced boat looking for help from a more experienced crew, but one-sided planning may lead to resentment that’s not healthy for the long term. Discuss expectations.

Buddy boating only has a chance of working if both parties share in the decision-making. Just because one crew may have more experience doesn’t mean they are the default leader. Timelines and destinations are best determined by everyone involved — not dictated from one to another.

We’ve spent extensive time boating with buddies and traveling independently. They are both enjoyable. The one thing buddy boating is not a substitute for is self-reliance.

The mutual assistance of a buddy boat can be invaluable. It may be as simple as sharing local knowledge, or as significant as being able to provide assistance for breakdowns or emergency situations. Along the same lines, each individual has his own specialties, talents and skills that are brought into the group. We have learned so much from our boating friends. Everyone has another crew to share ideas with, compare weather forecasts with or compare/verify tide and current calculations.

If you subscribe to the mindset that life is better when shared, it’s also just more fun enjoying the boating life with friends. With an established friendship, it’s much easier to create memorable evenings with buddy boaters playing board games, eating potluck dinners, or just absorbing and enjoying a secluded anchorage.

Although each boat has provisions for self-sufficiency, sharing meals is a fun part of buddy boating. We often potluck, alternating the host boat, or enjoying happy hour on one boat and dinner on the other. If there is a third boat, its crew may host dessert.

We’ve created lasting memories with friends, thanks to sharing time boating together. It’s been said that spending months at a time aboard is like living in a closet with your spouse, and conversation can become a bit tedious. It’s easy to fall into a routine of eating a meal together quickly and then retreating to our books and bed with simple snippets of discussion throughout. Spending so much time together means that we know what each other did that day and there is little variation to stimulate conversation. Buddy boating always ensures conversation stays fresh, interesting and fun.

People on another boat present a great opportunity for boat owners to get pictures of their boat underway. They also serve as a great tripod when you want a photo of you and your crew.

Buddy boating also provides the opportunity for quality time with members of the same gender. Let’s face it, there is some truth to the old cliché that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. From time to time we all need to hang out, vent, or just talk to peers of the same gender.

-A buddy boating experience can go south in any number of ways. Some the more common negative experiences include the following:
-A lack of boating etiquette is a deal killer.
-A crew that never volunteers to lead anywhere or offer an opinion on course plotting or destination planning can be a drag.
-Boaters are by and large a generous group, but there are limits. It is not enjoyable to buddy boat if the boat has not been properly provisioned for the trip (e.g., food, water, fuel and equipment).
-Running constant radio commentary on the VHF is a no-no.
-A vessel that is not properly maintained can lead to breakdowns, which affects everyone.
-A couple that broadcasts its domestic squabbles to the accompanying boat — or to the anchorage or marina — is not a good buddy boating couple.

Buddy boating, when successful, breeds friendships not because of the amount of the time spent together but because of the shared experiences. Some boat crews become friends for life and others may become only occasional acquaintances. In any case, the buddy boating experience can be enriching on a variety of levels. From new friends come new anchorages, rafting and anchoring techniques, recipes, stories and experiences.