Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Unease at Sea

February 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 


Face it. We’ve all been in exceedingly awkward situations, embarrassed or uncomfortable with someone or something. Our first reaction is to flee as fast as we can, but that won’t work when we’re embarrassed on a boat far from the shore!

I asked readers to share instances in which they felt ill at ease, and the stories poured in. When I discarded the accounts that featured the writers as the graceless causes of others’ discomfort (like the captain who thought his guests all enjoyed singing “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” repeatedly, until his wife told him to stop), I still had plenty of tales about being trapped onboard with the tacky and the tasteless. [I’ve identified each storyteller as he or she requested.]

Caroline: I was out on a boat with a couple of friends, plus a guy that they wanted to set me up with (a blind date).  It was lucky he was there, because the couple that wanted to set us up was fighting the whole time, and then the woman passed out. All I had to talk to was Steve, and actually, if we hadn’t been stuck in the middle of the water for an hour, we wouldn’t still be together almost a year and a half later!


FMy brother-in-law and sister-in-law brought their toddler for a day of boating. We insisted that the kid wear a life jacket, but his parents took his diaper off. “He’s got a bit of diaper rash, so the sun will do him good,” my sister-in-law said. First off, that’s gross, and second, he peed twice on the teak before my husband started yelling. At me! For not stopping it!

Jay Remer, an etiquette consultant (www.etiquetteguy.com), says that while boat owners should explain onboard policies, there is no excuse for the parents’ “disrespecting someone else’s property. However, F’s husband was in the wrong for bullying his wife; couples must try to support one another and not butt heads or embarrass each other, especially in public!”

AnonymousImagine being on a boat with three other families when one of my friends told his wife̶ and the rest of us̶ that he was leaving her after we returned home.  Not too awkward!!!

Remer chimed in on this story, noting that the man can only leave his wife “if he isn’t thrown overboard first!” He adds, “What a sad tale this is. Here is an example of a person who has no respect for his wife, his friends, or himself. Clearly everyone privy to this demonstration (or cry for help by the unhappy husband) would do well to remember how compassion, gratitude, and civility are the foundations of our very existence.”

J: My son’s best friend invited us to raft up with his family, and after an afternoon of too much sun and Budweisers, my wife says the friend’s dad groped her. I pulled him aside and said, “Hey!” (plus some other things), and he said, “Chill, man. It’s all in fun.”


Remer was nearly tongue-tied by this beyond-awkward situation. “Where does one even begin? Drinking responsibly is obviously not this man’s strong suit, nor is respect for other people, especially women! You and your wife were both well within your rights to call him out on this. What boorish behavior. His wife should handle this in private. Time to edit them off your list of friends!”

Ray:  Towards the end of a boat trip, people we thought were good friends offered to pay us for food and gas. Of course we said “No, our treat.” He told her to get her purse, and then he tried to give me a $20 bill.  I said “no,” and he yelled, “Take it! We can afford it more than you!”


Whether picking up a check in a restaurant or footing the day’s expenses onboard, we’ve all been where Ray has been when someone wants to “help.” There was a much less gauche way to handle this, Remer advises. “The guests should have simply said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and done you a good turn at some later date… Another one off the guest list!”


Anonymous: We’ve been married 17 years and don’t have kids. During a raft up of families from our yacht club, someone I didn’t know that well asked if we chose to not have kids or we couldn’t. Before I could say MYOB, someone else answered, “Would you have any more little [my husband’s name] if you had a choice?” They all had a good laugh, but we sure didn’t.

Again, this boater’s situation wasn’t just clumsy, as the crude remark may have been an arrow into her heart. However, advises Remer, “If you ever find yourself blindsided by such an unpleasant circumstance, try to keep a comfortable distance, and place other people in your direct line.” Perhaps there is someone else on board whose help you can enlist, he says, by sharing “that you are uncomfortable around Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith and you’d rather not have an encounter, even a brief one. Your friend will help out.”

As a practiced etiquette pro, Remer would advise boaters in too-tight spots to “try to strike up a conversation with a small, closed group of people. Relax as much as you can, and smile, which gives you a look of confidence; people who show confidence are less likely to be targeted by these creeps.”

When possible, keeping your sense of humor goes a long way towards saving the day. That seems to be what Gene did during his close encounter with an uncouth guest while far from the marina. The couple down the docks from us had their boat hauled. We felt bad, so we invited them to go out with us for the day, where we learned that his pet name for her was “Jiggle Mama.”  We were embarrassed (we have two early-teen daughters), but the couple didn’t seem to sense what was going on! (This past winter our kids wanted to name our new dog “Jiggle Mama!”)

By Lita Smith-Mines


Read more stories and Remer’s responses below.

Pete: Years ago we had acquaintances who had a good-sized boat (larger than they really could handle) with twin inboard engines.  Anyway, they used to come into the Tobay Boat basin with their boat.  Sally (fictitious name) sat facing rear while Oscar (also fictitious) sat at the helm, facing forward and backed the boat into a slip.  Now, Sally (who remember was facing the stern) kept shouting instructions to Oscar – “Turn right! Now turn left!  Turn left more!”  Of course, she was “ordering” him to turn to HER right and HER left which was the complete opposite for him. Oscar tried to follow Sally’s instructions and he used his helm (remember he had twin inboard engines) to try to back the boat into the slip.  He turned his helm to the right to back the boat to the right (those were Sally’s instructions) and to left when so instructed.

Remer states, “This is not only irresponsible behavior and therefore disrespectful of one another but of other boaters who could have unknowingly been in harm’s way. Captaining a boat is not a walk in the park. What were these folks/fools thinking?”

Anonymous: I’ve done business with companies who think it is a great idea to take us out for a cruise, but there is NO way to get out of meeting, or get away from, people you would never usually choose to associate with. I have now learned that if I cannot jump and swim to shore at any given point, then I respectfully decline.

Remer’s response: “Feeling uneasy around people, especially on a boat, can give one the sense of claustrophobia. It is advisable to regret such invitations until such time as you are able to handle whatever situation life might throw at you. If desired, this skill can be developed, but only with practice.”

Canadian readers will have a chance to attend one of Jay Remer’s seminars. Details available at: www.experiencethegoodlife.ca

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