Hosting Guests: Strategies for Successful Visits

by Carolyn Corbett

corbett.JPG (20555 bytes)Your friends and family are thrilled with the invitation. They can’t wait to escape the rat race. It will be paradise spending a week aboard your boat: snorkeling, fishing, basking in the sun, sipping pineapple drinks in the cockpit, watching for the green flash at sunset.

Between "Welcome aboard!" and "Have a safe trip home!" lies The Visit.

Most cruisers enjoy entertaining guests and sharing their special lifestyle. Flexibility, of crew and company alike, is the single most important factor that will allow the friendship to continue after The Visit. Sailboats shrink rapidly when incompatible people are cooped up together for a week or more. Wise old salts invite dear ones, rather than casual acquaintances.

Lay the Groundwork

Realistic expectations are essential.. The key to a successful visit is communication. Review a typical day on board. Describe space limitations, the relative lack of privacy, and how accommodations are unlike those at home. Discourage comparisons between "cruising" aboard your boat and a "cruise" on the QEII.

Minimize surprises for everyone by supplying a "what to pack" list that includes the dimensions of storage space available to guests. Suggest appropriate clothing.

You may wish to provide sundries, foul weather gear, fishing tackle, and bug repellent to cut down on luggage. Weigh the availability of laundry facilities against space in deciding whether to furnish towels and bedding or have visitors bring their own. It is often easier to have guests rent dive gear, when possible.

Ask your friends to bring along your mail and don’t hesitate to add a few personal needs to the list. If the ink cartridge for your printer is running dry, you’re desperate for a particular tax form, or you’re craving a Twinkies fix, now is the time to mention it!

Be Cautious About Schedules

Every cruising itinerary is ultimately determined by Mother Nature. Unexpected engine problems or the simple desire to linger longer in an idyllic anchorage can mean missing a crucial weather window.

In an ideal world, no one would schedule visits at specific ports in advance. The reality is that friends and family generally are forced to arrange vacations well beforehand, planning around work or school obligations.

Even seasoned sailors fall into the trap of trying to keep a timetable. Mother is flying from France to celebrate her eightieth birthday. The kids and grandchildren arrive tomorrow to spend a week. Your best friend planned his vacation more than a year ago. What do you do when there are a hundred nautical miles and a nasty weather system between you and the rendezvous point?

It is important to have a backup plan. Guests should decide what they will do if unforeseen circumstances detain you. Will they cancel their trip, change their tickets and meet you elsewhere, or fend for themselves and hope you arrive?

Meal planning

Talk about food preferences and meal planning ahead of time. Find out if you will be hosting vegetarians, picky eaters, or folks with food allergies. Chew over how often you’ll eat ashore.

If you are expecting guests to share the expenses for food and beverages, let them know. Decide if you will provision in advance or wait to do the shopping together. Suggest suitable groceries for them to bring along. Visitors are delighted when hosts supplement their supplies with freshly caught fish.

Orient Guests to the Boat

If your visitors are non-sailors, try to picture your environment through their eyes. Explain the safest methods of boarding your boat and descending the companionway. Point out things that require stepping over, ducking under, or dodging around. Talk about the purpose and location of grab rails. Stress the importance of "one hand for the boat."

Remember, guests may not be used to stoves fueled by kerosene or alcohol, toilets that require pumping, and "pantries" hidden under the "sofa." At this point concepts are more important than vocabulary.

Show guests where they will sleep and where to stow their belongings. Demonstrate the proper use of the head. Do it more than once. Teach them to use the VHF radio. Talk about other boat related wonders: Lights operate on battery power, just like a flashlight, only there aren’t any spare batteries. Water is heated by the engine and a limited amount is available. Teeth can be brushed using only a tablespoon of water.

If guests are unfamiliar with shipboard routines, consider spending the first night at a dock, to allow them to adjust to boat noises, motion, and lack of space.


Adults should be aware of the location and usage of fire extinguishers, man overboard poles, horseshoe buoys, and PFDs. Guests with young children should bring their own life jackets.

Instruction concerning other safety equipment will depend on your cruising plans. For an offshore leg to Bermuda, knowledge of flares, life raft, emergency grab bag, jacklines, harnesses, and EPIRB would be essential. That same information could easily intimidate landlubbers joining you for a lazy weekend of daysailing to nearby anchorages, so use your discretion.

Length of Visit

How long should a visit last? The size of the boat, the travel expenses that guests incur, and the number of guests all play a role. Cruisers with larger vessels, spacious staterooms, and multiple heads will certainly make it easier to accommodate kith and kin.

Spending nights at a marina may enhance the enjoyment of those with moderately sized vessels. Little tykes have room to roam and older folks can stretch their legs. Tying up to a dock allows for elbow room, shore showers, dining out, shopping, sightseeing.

The more important question is how long does The Visit feel? The success of any visit depends less on the saltiness of your visitors or the length of their stay than it does on flexibility and attitude!

Tips for Success

Flexibility and communication are the keys for success.

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