A client invites you aboard his 100-ft. yacht. You’re excited about an afternoon on the water but need to make a good impression. Before you head out, polish your on-deck etiquette.

Your client likely takes pride in his yacht. So when you come aboard, says Paddy Boyd, executive director of Sail Canada, recognize the time and passion he’s invested by showing interest in the vessel.

Inquire about the craft’s capabilities. Boyd suggests asking, “What range does it have?” to learn which ports of call a yacht can visit without having to refuel. Another typical question is “How many does it sleep?” Many yachts boast sleeping quarters for up to 15 people, though one that large would likely have a professional crew. You could also ask what your client does with his boat over the winter, he says. Many Canadian owners sail their yachts to the Caribbean to avoid having to winter over in freezing inlets.

Curiosity about favourite summertime destinations will open up avenues of conversation. And if the weather is fine, and the seas calm, ask your host for a turn at the helm. “People who own boats are always really pleased to show other people how things happen and introduce them to the sport,” Boyd says.

But “certainly avoid crass questions, like how much it cost and what it’s worth,” he adds.

You’ll likely see boats ranging from small Chris Crafts to ones 100 feet long.

“A Bay Street financier who sails out of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club might have a 50-foot sailboat or powerboat,” he says.

A boat of that size usually has three sleeping cabins, a bar and a dining area (called a saloon in nautical speak). It would cost at least $600,000 and likely wouldn’t have a full-time crew.

A boat larger than 60 feet would need its own crew. And, unless it’s made up of personal friends, Boyd notes, it’s the crew’s job to be as inconspicuous as possible.

You’ll only see the crew at the helm or if they’re serving food and drinks.

At the highest end, yacht prices can extend into the hundreds of millions. Those vessels can be 250 feet to 300 feet long and are equipped to cross oceans in style—many sport helicopter landing pads, jet-skis, swimming pools, and mini-submarines.

To learn your way around, and learn about the yacht’s amenities, “ask for a tour,” says Roberta Bowman, social convener at the West Vancouver Yacht Club. A tour is an opportunity for the host to explain how unfamiliar utilities work—a plus, since many features are fragile. For instance, the toilet on a yacht is called the head and, along with other sea-going plumbing, can break easily, she says.

A trip on a well-run yacht will include a safety briefing from the captain (also called the skipper) or the host, says Boyd. That session covers where to find lifejackets, where to gather in case of an emergency and how to evacuate. Since yachts are larger vessels, you won’t need to wear a life jacket while cruising, so dress well. Several luxury brands, including Chanel and Louis Vuitton, have sailing collections. And follow these three rules:

  1. Wear layers. It’s cooler and windier on the water, says Bowman. Sport an undershirt beneath a button-down shirt and bring a cardigan, blazer or windbreaker. If you’re going for the weekend, pack your layers in a soft-shell bag, she adds, because they’re easier to store on board than conventional luggage.
  2. Don’t wear loose clothing. “It’s going to blow about, and you might embarrass yourself,” says Boyd. And if you’re on a sailboat, a loose scarf could get caught on the lines. People with long hair should keep it tied and pinned back.
  3. No hard-soled or high-heeled shoes. Many boats have soft teak or timber decks, says Boyd, which are easily dented or scuffed. Instead, wear a pair of canvass or white-rubber-soled shoes. Your host will likely notice if you’re wearing the right shoes, adds Bowman, and it’s as much a sign of your appreciation as an actual gift. Still, if you’d like to bring your host a thank-you, she advises against red wine, no matter how fine the vintage, since a yacht’s white finishes are vulnerable to stains and difficult to clean. She suggests sticking to a white wine or champagne instead. Recently, she brought a yacht-owning friend a bottle of Prosecco to show her appreciation for a day on board.

When pulling back into port, offer to help tie lines or tidy up after the boat is berthed. Even if there’s a crew, Bowman says your host will appreciate the gesture. “The skipper may decline, but it’s the offer that’s nice etiquette.”

Cheat Sheet: Nautical terms

Skipper: the captain on a pleasure boat or yacht

Bow: forward area of the boat

Stern: back area of the boat

Port: left side of the boat when looking forward

Starboard: right side of the boat

Lines or tackle: rope used in the ship’s rigging

Mooring, slip or berth: the boat’s anchoring spot at the marina

Leeward: side of the boat that’s sheltered from the wind

Windward: side of the boat that’s exposed to the wind

Source: Paddy Boyd; Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Jessica Bruno is a Toronto-based financial writer.