A Clean Electronic Wake


Most cruisers have heard of the concept of leaving a clean wake. According to the Seven Seas Cruising Association:

To leave a clean wake is to show respect for others and for our environment so that those who follow in our wake will be warmly welcomed. It is our most cherished tradition.

It seems a no-brainer, right? To irreverently, and probably inaccurately, paraphrase, the idea of leaving a clean wake is:

If “being a good person” and “not destroying the environment” aren’t strong enough motivators, we cruisers should keep in mind that other cruisers are following us and we shouldn’t screw everything up for them before they get there.

The clean wake concept covers the effect we leave by physically passing through an area, but for those of us who blog, who post on forums, who belong to list servs, what about our electronic wake?

People behave weirdly when they feel anonymous and although blogs aren’t anonymous, I have heard cruisers say that they can post whatever they want on their blog because it isn’t as if the local officials are reading it. Perhaps local officials aren’t eagerly awaiting our each and every blog post, but it would be insulting to assume that no one on staff knows how to use a search engine and that they can’t google things such as “clearance Country X” or “Country X without a permit”. Google isn’t rocket science and the internet has reached some of the remotest communities, and certainly the capitals of those nations.

Considering the following scenario: You are a cruiser friendly official who is relaxed and on “island time”. You are generally unconcerned about boaters staying a day or two after their check out. A friend of your boss, who owns a local business, sees the blog of a passing cruiser who mentions that they have been in the country several weeks after clearing out. Your boss if furious because they feel it makes their country and the department look incompetent. You feel  insulted because you have been so kind to the cruisers and they are rubbing their illegality in your (and your bosses) face. Now, you crack down, you feel that cruisers are disrespectful of your position and you resent the drama that cruisers have brought into your job. Was this the wake the cruiser intended to leave?

Consider another scenario: You have a bad experience with a community and you write about it in your blog in an exaggerated, non measured, out-of-context way. Cruisers read your report, avoid the community, resulting in a loss of much needed business. Was this the impact you intended?

It is impossible to “leave no trace” either physically or electronically. If you consider the fact that you can have a positive impact on a community, leaving without a trace isn’t even desirable. And sometimes you want to post something negative about a community, because even after thinking about it carefully, you feel the impact is warranted.

To me, the idea of leaving a clean wake it to consider the potential impact of your physical presence and leaving a clean electronic wake is to consider the potential impact of your online presence.

Please, consider your impact, both physical and electronic, on the community you visit and on the cruisers who will follow. And if someone isn’t leaving a clean electronic wake (including us), call them on it.


  1. That would make a good bumper sticker "Leave a clean wake"

  2. Great post!

    On multiple occasions, business owners have randomly commented on our posts (that is, they queried their business name and found our blog). For better or worse, people are reading!

    Honesty may be the best policy, but we should also remember to be fair.

    s/v Bella Star

  3. Very interesting Nicole and" honest but fair" is exactly right.

  4. It's easy to forget how Internet culture works. The online echo chamber has a tendency to take things out of context and exaggerate the worst of what it finds.

    With that in mind, your call for more careful thought about how our stories might be interpreted is well-placed. We may not be able to predict all the repercussions of what we say, but we can certainly make an effort to avoid hurting anyone in the ways you've described.

  5. I have been thinking about this for days. Thank you for putting it down so neatly. I hope you don't mind that I've linked to your post in a blog post of my own. I think this is something that deserves all of the attention it can get.

  6. I have had similar discussions with other cruisers about this topic and find it very interesting. While I get your point, isn't the real problem in the first scenario that the offenders overstayed their visa in the first place? It seems like leaving a clean wake should mean you just don't break the rules. I say this as someone who has broken the rules in the past, was caught (but let off with a warning), and now regrets it.

  7. I love the mantra of leaving a clean wake. We didn't keep our SSCA membership but their promotion of the tenet was one of the things that most attracted me to the organization.

    Here's a real example for you of the electronic version: friends of ours had unhappy officials in Australia tear up clearance paperwork in front of them, because they felt the boat owners misrepresented their intentions regarding selling the boat in Australia. Not a happy situation for anyone involved.

    Thanks for the nudge Livia... I'll be thinking about this.

  8. Hi, Livia,
    Very interesting post, and a good wrinkle on the SSCA philosophy, but I would also add: if you have truly had a horrendous experience, like the one I had in the hospital in Tonga, you should not shirk the responsibility of writing about it in, as you say, a measured, accurate and reasonable way. Not disclosing a significant problem like that could be a disservice to others, and more specificity would prevent an entire community from being impacted when perhaps only one aspect, area, group or person was responsible.

    Nor should discussions on safety and seamanship be avoided for fear of offending someone, so long as you have laid the argument out truthfully, reasonably, and respectfully. It's a delicate balance, isn't it? We all know that voyaging is not without its difficulties, and I believe people want to know about more than just the pleasurable moments at sea. Hope you and Carol are enjoying your season at home. When will you return to Estrellita?
    -Karen Sullivan

  9. Mathew - I completely agree. And sometimes our memory of what someone wrote is different than what they wrote.

    Tammy - Links are always great and I enjoyed your take on it. I'll have to try to find the article you mentioned.

    Hey Jim - You bring up a really good point. If we break no rules we don't have to be careful about what we say, right? If we break the rules we have to think about that impact as well. I'm not sure I've ever been 100% legal. I mean I speed, jaywalk, etc. But we each have to draw our legal line somewhere and impact should factor into that. Can we break a rule for boat safety? How big of a rule? A small rule just for fun?

    Behan - That story has become legend. I didn't know you knew them. I've definitely heard it!

    Karen - I absolutely believe (and hope I said clearly) that you can and should say negative things in some situations. Sometimes the negative impact is *warranted* and surely in your case I agree that was so. And you are definitely someone who thinks hard before speaking.



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