On the Job

11 Signs to Know if it’s True Love with your Crew Mate

10 February 2023 By Gavin Rothenburger
Illustration of a couple under the stars

Gavin Rothenburger has been the author of Dockwalk’s humor column Last Laugh since 2008. For questions, concerns, or for general badmouthing, you can write to me at gavinrothenburger@yahoo.com.

Onboard romance is a common thing. We work fierce and hard, and the close quarters can sometimes bring intimacy faster than we ever thought possible. But how do we make sense of that pull of the heartstrings to know if what we feel is real? A couple of ideas: 

1. The captain is truly and obviously jealous. Captains don’t get that way over a minor flirtation.

2. Everybody tells you it’s wrong. It’s a terrible thing to do. You’re ruining your life and career. But romance is like that movie Titanic where passion knows no class, physical barrier, or acting ability. And everybody knows that ended well.

3. If your cabin mate begrudgingly agrees to the sleepovers as long as you don’t make much noise and you’re too naïve to notice the live-feed cameras pointing at you.


4. If you fall in love and then realize you’re a cast member of Below Deck. Just because you’re a self-absorbed narcissist on a producer’s leash doesn’t mean you can’t have feelings. Okay. It does. But you’re an actor. You can string this out a bit longer to get that perfect shot.

5. If, after eight weeks of back-to-back charter, you go out, meet other people, and realize that the attraction could be real and not just a desperate alternative to making out with the hot end of a 480-volt electrical panel.

6. If you happily wake up in the morning next to your paramour but are then immediately faced down by the stare of an enraged and probably traumatized cabin mate. If you find that you don’t care because love conquers all, then it’s probably real. Or you’re still drunk. You should probably work this out quickly and re-orient because it’s going to turn into a hangover very soon.

7. If you’ve chosen your new partner mainly because they’re nominally more intelligent than a dock cleat despite being somewhat less useful, you might want to reconsider long enough to rejoin civilization.


8. If, upon joining the boat, you compared them to a stale bag of donkey farts that fell into a tipped over porta potty near the second stage of a country music festival, yet in week four of charter season isolation, you suddenly find them magnetically attractive, you might want to ask yourself whether this is something real, or if your self-esteem has plummeted to porta potty proportions.

9. Just because the engineer insists on showering with you because the watermaker’s not working at full capacity doesn’t mean their intentions aren’t purely platonic. You can change their mind.

10. If you think they’re attractive in that godawful polo and somehow imagine that the shapeless cargo shorts flattening their butt into an ambiguous mass that could either be a wilted bag of carrots or the curvy personification of pi calculated to the 14th digit, but you’re not sure, then you probably need a little shore leave.

11. If you find them suddenly and unexpectedly palatable after the cabin invitation from a guest who looks like a wrinkled, sunburned walrus if that walrus was the twin of a dyspeptic hemorrhoid, then you need to get out and remind yourself of life outside the boat.

Even at the best of times, making sense of strong feelings can be difficult. When forced into semi-isolation on a traveling boat, it can be that much harder. The only way to truly know if your feelings are real is to explore the moment and give it a go. Because, really, apart from your sanity, freedom, youth, and virginity, what have you got to lose?


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