A visitor’s guide to Gloucester Harbor Etiquette

by Josh Turiel

Good morning, Clam Nation. Most of you know me here as the Clam’s representative from Over The Bridge. Well, besides that and my work as a Actual Elected Official™, I am also a member of the boating community – being the proud owner of an ancient 25’ powerboat that I keep in my home port of Salem.


As a boat owner, one learns the etiquette of how to behave properly while boating. For instance, you should learn the boundaries of a harbor’s no-wake zone and always keep your speed below 5 knots (a knot is a mile that took steroids to add bulk). You should always give way to a vessel under sail, or one that is less maneuverable than you are. Blasting your horn once when leaving a dock is proper, and three short blasts indicate backing up (mainly ignored by small boats).


In my travels for fun and the pursuit of fish, I’ve learned certain rules also apply in different areas. Today I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve learned about boating in and around Gloucester Harbor, with explanations as needed.


Rule number 1: WE REALLY NEED THIS FISH!!!


Explanation: Not only are commercial fishermen and people who think they are commercial fishermen all over the place, they’re in a hurry. Some of them have decided that the next great catch is right in the middle of the channel, too – and they couldn’t care less that you’re trying to transit.


Rule number 2: Kayaking is a great and healthy fad.


Explanation: It is customary in Gloucester to speed up when you see kayaks nearby, in order to provide a wake for them to enjoy. This textural element eliminates the boredom kayakers experience when paddling on an otherwise smooth ocean, and their shouts of “Thanks. Thanks a lot.” are not sarcastic at all.


Rule number 3: Make fellow boaters aware of your presence.


Explanation: It’s been explained to me by a reliable native that one should approach at a high speed, whilst standing nude on the bow and broadcasting “Ride of the Valkyries.” Also be drinking. Sounds reasonable.


Rule number 4: When cruising at night, don’t forget to blast your music.


Explanation: Since you’re out on the water and away from everyone, you can really pump out every decibel that boat stereo can produce without worrying that you might wake the neighbors. After all, if you can’t hear them yelling from shore to turn it down, they can’t hear you. This also has the wonderful effect of making yourself noticeable at times where being nude on the bow just doesn’t work.


Rule number 5: Bridges were made to be open.


Explanation: There’s no reason to queue up at the Blynman Bridge. Motorists in Gloucester love to wait 20 minutes so you can slip in all by yourself. Think of the things that they throw at you while you pass as the confetti of love and welcome.


Rule number 6: The Inner Harbor is a welcoming place.


Explanation: People in working boats like nothing more than to be visited by Muffy and Skip while they are busy loading or unloading, or trying to get in or out of the harbor so they can work. They love to stop and explain their chores to the passers-by, and the larger the yacht that pulls up the bigger the tip should be given for their enchanting sea tales and salty language.


Also, a few hints about the sights you’ll see there: the beautiful sailboat with the screams coming from it is not a secret sex dungeon. It’s just the residence of one of our favorite local entrepreneurs. Be aware of drones flying near Rocky Neck (it’s science!) or any time there’s a local event of note. The Clam has a number of drone enthusiasts among us. And a tip on fuel – come well-stocked. Marine gas is always more expensive than mainland gas. And Gloucester gas is the priciest of all.


And one last thing to bring up about procedure. I consulted with Clameditor Jim Dowd as I prepared this piece. He told me that the proper way to enter Gloucester Harbor was to, and I quote:


“Come in under flying topgallants, Salute the Fort with starboard guns, dip flag, display pennants, pipe aboard the Mayor and her retainers. All ratings in dress uniform, man-jacks in Sunday wear.”


I’m no googin, but I’m pretty sure that’s about 90% made up. Or it may be a Gloucester thing. I’m not certain.


Keeping this local knowledge in mind should help you greatly in your navigation of scenic Gloucester. I encourage more tips in the comments, so we can produce an updated copy of this later on.

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  1. Fantastic article and so true. Having been raised on the waters of Ipswich Bay, I would add the boats and their unexperienced owners who speed to the backside of Cranes and park there for the remainder of the weekend throwing their detritus overboard.

    • I considered doing that run the morning of the Strandbeests at Crane. Decided I’d rather not abandon my vessel on the dunes forever.

  2. Gloucester folks observe as many rules on water as they do on the streets…

  3. This is very true. I think Jim might be making up the last bit. A few you err…oneously left out.

    Rule #7: Inner Harbor is Gloucester’s Glass Recycling Bin.
    Explanation: When you finish your bottle of beer, just toss it over the edge. This keeps locals and tourists happy with a never-ending supply of beach glass, collected from the harbor beaches. It also is a safety measure (no, not keeping the weight of the boat within legal limits, silly) – in case you are boarded by the Harbor Master, Coast Guard or Environmental Police. Boaters during Fiesta are enthusiastically encouraged to get creative with alcoholic beverages in unusual colors such as dark blue and green.

    Rule #8: The wave. Always signal fellow passer-byes with a royal wave.

    Explanation: While it seems friendly enough, the back and forth hand actually translates into, “My boat is bigger, faster, more-expensive and wayyyy funnerer than yours. Keep dreaming!” Kids are taught the wave before they learn to swim here.

    Rule #9 When in doubt, PASS!

    Explanation: Boating is meant to be relaxing. Some of the tight channel areas of the Annisquam can cause unnecessary stress when there are boaters who are not respecting the other rules or your right to enjoy. Remember – this is YOUR day out on the water, so just pass. Anywhere, at any time, any tide, on the right or left. This fosters a sense of community (we’re all in it for the fun!), especially for the kayakers (and paddle boarders), refer to Rule 2.

    • “Rule #8: The wave. Always signal fellow passer-byes with a royal wave.

      Explanation: While it seems friendly enough, the back and forth hand actually translates into, “My boat is bigger, faster, more-expensive and wayyyy funner than yours. Keep dreaming!” Kids are taught the wave before they learn to swim here.”

      THE most nauseating part of boating. Period.

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