Basically means looking for someone to "Hop On board" or "Help Out" with fishing. In other words if you own a boat and cant find someone to get out fishing with you you ask for HOs to come aboard and vice versa.
HO is variously defined as Hand Onboard, Help onboard, or of course...what we all know ho really means )
HOs are like fishing buddies...they go out fishing on a private boat, share the work, and voluntarily chip in for gas, bait etc. Everybody walks a fine line on this: HOing is not the same as being a charter. There are many legal, insurance and ethical lines that can get crossed. The contributions are purely voluntarily. Most HO captains wont state a price...it is a contribution! Even if they say they don't want any...leave some (on the dashboard of the tow vehicle if necessary).
Going as a HO is not a packaged charter tour, where all you do is crank in fish and ***** if you don't catch any. HOs are expected to haul anchors, help clean the boat, hold dock lines, take the wheel occasionally, clean up after themselves, and ALWAYS be the one to reel in the way-way-way back heavy lures. Whatever the captain asks...or hints at...or seems to need, a HO offers to do. Newbies make great HOs, and experienced fishermen can even be better (sometimes ).
There are some great posts with various "rules for HOing" here on the board. Lots of good ideas that help make sure you get invited back.
HOing is a great way to meet Bay fishing folks, learn lots of new ways to do things, get acquainted with an area, and just plain go fishing. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single HO trip I have done...both on my boat and as a HO on others, and met nothing but absolutely 100% fine folks.
I second that, I couldn't catch a cold out on the Potomac before I HO'd with Mike and Cap'n B. Now I can pretty consistently put Rockfish in my own boat, it's a great way to learn the ropes in a hurry. More important than the fish, you also make some real good friends.
HO means you get to man the dock lines, pull in the planer boards, reel in the WWB lines, swab the deck, clean the fish that are caught, chip in $ for gas bait and ice, and listen to the captain tell fish stories while he eats all the donuts that you brought !