The houseboaters next door to us at a marina in the Florida Keys had an adorable dog that was perfectly behaved until the owners left the boat. Then it barked nonstop until they returned.
As a liveaboard, you may find yourself docked or anchored with only a few feet of thin air between your houseboat and the neighbors’ parties, engine exhaust, cooking odors, noisy children, barking dog, barbecue smoke and loudspeakers. How can you be a better neighbor? What to do if your neighbors are jerks?
Marinas have written rules that govern visitors, pets, quiet hours, trash disposal, and generator use, but in many marinas they’re enforced unevenly. Dock masters may have their friends and favorites, or the tenants’ committee may be purely political. Prejudices may depend on the size of your boat or bankroll or how long you’ve been around. How long is too long run up a loud, stinky engine? How high can you crank up the speakers on deck? How much smoke can your barbecue belch before you are a public nuisance? How early is too early to take off for a day’s fishing?
Here are some thoughts on neighbor relations.
* Be a good tenant onboard and off. Be a good neighbor in the marina pool, rest rooms, laundry room and club house. Be a good marina customer too. Patronize its store, bait shop, restaurant and other services.
* If possible, campaign for “liveaboard only” docks separate from transient berths. Transients’ pace is faster, louder and more crowded. Where boats are rented by the week, every bunk is filled to share costs and everyone parties hearty for the week.
* Know which way the wind is blowing, both literally and figuratively. Don’t let the engine idle longer than necessary. Be sensitive about generator noise and exhaust. Ditto your dock scooter, power tools, and smoke from the grill.
* Conserve water and power. Even if utilities are included in the rates, they cost the marina and they cost the earth. Respect the facility’s wiring, plumbing, landscaping, pilings and all other services and utilities.
* Pets are one of the greatest sources of ill will among neighbors. If you leave a dog alone, ask neighbors to tell you frankly if it barks while you’re away. If it is a nuisance, get a training collar to stop the barking. Magnify all your best pet owner manners. Scoop up any mess immediately and dispose of it properly. Don’t hose it into the water. Never let a dog or cat piddle on others’ dockside hose, lines or other territory.
It’s a common faux pas to bathe a small pet in the marina shower. Others complain when pet hair and odors are left behind, and another “No Pets Allowed” goes up in yet another marina. Never lose control of the pet. It could fall overboard, run away or get stolen. Make sure the dog can’t jump from the boat to the dock to attack a passing child or other pet.
* Form a residents’ group. Make sure everyone has a written copy of the rules. Share duties on the enforcement committee so everyone gets stuck equally with this unpopular job. In one such association in Florida, the committee has coffee together every other Tuesday morning, then they stroll the docks together to note any infractions. Warning notices are written and sent in the name of the committee. No one individual has to take the heat.
*Work with the powers that be. If the marina manager can’t or won’t deal with a serious problem, you may have to call in zoning officials, the fire marshal, environmental enforcers, the wildlife service, or other authorities. Avoid personal confrontations.
* Be proactive. Invite a law enforcement officer to one of your resident meetings to explain how to create an effective “neighborhood watch” program for the marina and grounds. Organize informal coffees, cocktail hours and potlucks in the spirit of neighborliness. Set up mutually helpful programs, such as a courtesy car or loaner tool bin.
* Lighten up. It’s just part of marina life that some boats leave at 5 a.m. and others don’t get back until midnight. Your neighbors have kids, dogs, friends and music tastes different from yours. Stuff happens.
* Stay active. Cabin fever can set in and curdle your attitude about neighbors. Your boat was built to move, discover and explore. The dock never looks better than after you’ve been out there and return safely.
* The Golden Rule still makes good sense. Do unto others, etc.
About the Authors
“Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Gordon and Janet Groene lived full-time on the go for ten years and they hold the NMMA Directors Award for boating journalism. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at www.BoatCook.blogspot.com.