Boating In 2020 | The Pandemic, The Rules & The Regulations

Boating In 2020 | The Pandemic, The Rules & The Regulations

These are dynamic times. Every couple of weeks, the rules of the game are changing and evolving as the pandemic does, and if you’re into the boating lifestyle, there is a lot to keep up with.

Like what you can and can’t do in the different states, and the rules and regulations for getting on water. In Miami-Dade County for instance, boating is allowed as long as all boats, kayaks and canoes remain 50 feet apart at all times. Charter vessels are also operating but they can’t exceed the specified capacity. On the other hand, rafting and the beaching of boats on Monument Island, Sandspur Island, Pace Picnic Island and others, is not allowed.

In Alabama where some 1 million boaters take advantage of the state’s lakes, rivers and miles of coastline every year, restrictions have been placed on hitting the water, including limiting the number of people aboard.

The general guidelines

Since the outbreak of the pandemic last December, one thing has been very clear: If we are to beat this virus, we have to be mindful and on our guards at all times. This means that, in addition to the usual boating rules and regulations like no loading a vessel beyond its safe carrying capacity and no compromising on the safety equipment required by law, in 2020, you also have to think about:

1. Washing your hands and keep washing your hands regularly
2. Covering your face
3. Keeping at least a meter away from other people
4. Being self-sufficient and carrying your own supplies like soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and food to minimize stops

If you feel unwell, either before going on a trip or after coming back, think of getting a test and isolate for at least 10 days. These measures are not fun, yes, but they are essential to keeping you and your loved ones safe.

Depending on the state you call home, you might also want to check the rules pertaining to gatherings, particularly on a vessel, which can mean any ship, boat or barge used for navigation.

More specific considerations

Different states are releasing different infographics to illustrate the safety measures they recommend but some guidelines appear in most of them. For instance, it’s recommended that you stay close to home and only boat with people in your immediate household.

They also recommend against beaching right next to someone else and rafting to keep your distance on water. Then there are considerations like:

1. Maintaining your distance at the fuel dock and boat ramp
2. No unnecessary contact with anyone
3. No sharing of equipment and carpool

You want to leave your home and go straight to your boat, and stay at least 6 feet away from people at all times.

Where can you go

Many states, and in many cases, many municipalities and counties are following different rules when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. Currently, no state is closed but some have restrictions in place…like Oregon.

Oregon beaches and parks are open for a limited period of time every day and if a park is closed, their boat ramps will be closed too. The same is true for California, which experienced its deadliest month in August. Other states with boating restrictions include New Mexico, Texas and Mississippi.

It’s also worth noting that, right now, there are active patrols being conducted by marine law enforcement to ensure compliance with the statewide and local rules. You don’t want to get on water without proper documentation and equipment, including your boat registration, boater education card and waterway access permits where applicable. Officers are mostly on water to educate people about social distancing measures but they still can still legally write citations. Play by the book when it comes to the safety equipment you need to have on board.

Charter vessels

If you own a boat, the rules for getting on water are pretty easy to understand. The same can’t be said for charter vessels. For a start, the captain, crew and patrons must wear facial coverings and gloves at all times and follow the CDC-recommended 6-foot minimum spacing. Additionally

1. All fishermen must have their own equipment; No sharing is allowed
2. The head must have CDC’s cleanliness guidelines clearly illustrated
3. Charters can only have one person per station at a time

After each trip, you also need to disinfect the surfaces of your boat. The CDC recommends EPA-approved disinfectants but be aware that some can damage your boat, particularly the canvas and vinyls. The trick is to give your boat a thorough wash-down after the disinfection.

Assistance with mechanical issues

The last consideration given the pandemic is what happens if you encounter a mechanical issue on water. The good news is that boat towing services like BoatUS and Sea Tow are working and their centers can be reached 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to answer any question, dispatch towing or provide trailer assistance.

So whether you have a dead battery, faulty electrical connection or snapped belt on your hand, you can just make a call and help will be on its way.

The final word

Pandemic or not, boating is still a lot of fun. There is fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a state like Texas or Alabama with more rivers, lakes and bays than you can explore in a lifetime, things get just a little better.

So yes, you’ll need to limit the number of people aboard to family members only and you’ll need to be careful when doing things like loading up at the marina and fueling, but nothing compares to the peace and seclusion out there, or seeing your kids enjoy a day of wakeboarding. If you have a cabin cruiser, you can even sail to a distant port for a few nights.

If you think about it, boating is social distancing at its finest so there is nothing stopping you from choosing safe togetherness on water as compared to the scheduled and stressed life on land.

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