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Boating During Coronavirus

Though COVID-19 still looms large for summer 2020, the water still awaits you.

Oakwood Sailing trainees

Sailing trainees at Oakwood Sailing in New York wear face masks while sailing as part of the sail training center's new COVID protocol.

As we each feel our way through this pandemic that has turned our worlds upside down, one commonality we share is a longing for the return to some semblance of "normal." Well, lo and behold, it turns out that the boating lifestyle we all love is one of the best for weathering this tsunami of turmoil and anxiety in relative safety. This may not be a normal boating season, but we've come a long way from the dark days of March and April, when it seemed destined to be the lost boating season. Now, every state allows recreational boating, with certain commonsense restrictions regarding the number of people on board, social distancing, and wearing masks on the docks.

The Good News

Despite much uncertainty, we have good news: Boat manufacturers across the country report that they're having trouble keeping up with demand. Lenders report that, despite more stringent lending standards this year, applications for boat loans are on the rise. Brokers report used boats are also selling strong, with a surge of first-time boaters.

"Sales were down when the pandemic hit, but then in April sales for personal watercraft were up 8%. This got our attention," says Sarah Salvatori, director of communications for the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). "Then in May, outboard engine sales increased 7% year over year, and personal watercraft sales skyrocketed to a 75% increase, year over year. That's unheard of and an encouraging indicator for boat sales and boating activity downstream."

PWCs are a primary purchase for first-time buyers entering the marine market, she adds.

While boat sales data is still being tallied, Salvatori says the news from dealers is equally strong.

"I can't tell you how many dealers say they can't keep up with demand," she says, noting one California boat dealer reporting May year-over-year sales up 300%." She says, "It's real" that this crisis is drawing more people to the joys of boating.

Other outdoor-oriented industries such as RVs and camping are also reporting similar good sales news. The reason? With traditional summer getaways like amusement parks, hotels, cruises, and all-inclusive destinations closed, or with their inherent close-quarters design deemed to be unsafe to many, families are looking for an escape to the great outdoors. With organized youth sports and summer camps unlikely to open, we'll also probably see more kids on the water with their parents this summer.

What's Open?

Though most fishing tournaments and sailing classes were canceled or postponed in the early summer, some are finding ways to safely open later or carry on as close to normal as they can with some determined and smart thinking. Just days after the start of the quarantine, for instance, Oakcliff Sailing on New York's Oyster Bay began developing a comprehensive protocol and product recommendation list for hosting regattas and other boating events. They're sharing it with the general boating community to help keep people safe while using sanitation procedures that are as environmentally friendly as possible. View Oakcliff's full Covid-19 Boating Safety Protocol.

To help boaters coast to coast know where they can boat, Discover Boating, part of NMMA, has created a national Water Access Map to help find places to boat. The interactive tool features the latest information about public water access in the United States during the COVID-19 outbreak. The site is continually updated, but it's best to check with local marine authorities in the location you'll be boating.

IFA Redfish Tour

First-place finishers Jack Smith (left) and Bruce Gallup (right) hold up their winning fish at the IFA Redfish Tour event at Georgetown, South Carolina, on June 6.

"Boating during COVID-19 is one of the safest — not to mention most enjoyable — things you can do this summer," says Colleen Richardson, director of Discover Boating. "As annual traditions such as camping and sporting events have been canceled, more Americans are drawn to the water. It doesn't get more socially distant than boating with loved ones. Studies have shown it's a boon for mental health and well-being."

The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water reports a whopping 70% increase in registrations for its free boating safety course in May (year over year)!

'Get Outside. Enjoy Nature' ... Safely

In May 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on the world, Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had a simple message for Americans: "Get outside. Enjoy nature. It's good for us, and it has very low risk of spreading the virus."

With that in mind, wherever you boat this year, follow your local directives, and guidelines from the CDC, and keep these smart guidelines in mind so that we can protect one another:

  • THE VELVET ROPE: Restrict those on board to immediate family or to close friends you're confident are playing it smart in their daily lives. If you or a family member are immune-compromised, go boating only with the people with whom you live.
  • NO DILLY-DALLYING: This is not a typical summer, so be efficient going from house to boat, to back home. Minimizing contact with others can make a big difference.
  • NO RAFTING UP: Do we really need to say that? The same goes for beaching proximity.
  • BE CONSIDERATE: Wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart when chatting with the marina crew. At the fuel dock, maintain distance, and wear a mask. Wear gloves, discard them after fueling up, then wash or sanitize your hands.

Discover Boating has more helpful tips on social distancing activities to do on a boat. The take away as we sail into summer? Get out there and enjoy — safely enjoy! The water awaits!

Say 'Yes' To Charters & Rentals

People may be reluctant to crowd onto a giant cruise ship this year, but the private chartering industry has established protocols that allow for the safe chartering of a boat.

LeBoat Rideau Canal cruise

If you can get across the border into Canada, a Le Boat charter on the Rideau Canal near Ottawa is a delightful getaway for the whole family.

The Moorings is taking safety steps at its 20 charter bases. Staff will maintain a 6-foot distance from customers, wear masks and gloves, and have their temperatures checked daily. Fleet yachts are disinfected (via fogging) after returning, then sanitized and disinfected again before the next charter. Clients' arrival gifts now include disinfectant spray, hand wipes and sanitizing products.

Le Boat, the canal-boat charter leader in Europe and Canada, and other smaller charter firms around the country, are open and following similar protocols.

Boat clubs, such as Freedom Boat Club, and boat rental companies, such as Boatsetter, are following similar guidelines specific to their local guidelines. Both companies report they're seeing an uptick in business as those without boats seek their own means of escape.

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Rich Armstrong

Senior Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A journalist by training, BoatUS Magazine Senior Editor Rich Armstrong has worked in TV news, and at several newspapers, then spent 18 years as a top editor at other boating publications. He’s built a stellar reputation in the marine industry as one of the most thorough reporters in our business. At BoatUS Magazine, Rich handles everything from boat and product innovation and late-breaking news, to compelling feature stories, boat reviews, and features on people and places. The New Jersey shore and lakes of lower New York defined Rich's childhood. But when he bought a 21-foot Four Winns deck boat and introduced his young family to the Connecticut River, his love for the world of boats flourished from there.