Is It Safe To Go Boating During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Experts weigh in on the safety of recreational boat outings in the age of COVID-19.

With traditional summer activities and travel plans largely on hold, people are seeking safe ways to enjoy the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One popular approach is recreational boating.

It’s not just your Instagram feed suggesting that boat trips are all the rage this summer. The data backs it up.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in boat rentals,” Jackie Baumgarten, founder and CEO of peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace Boatsetter, told HuffPost. “Without increasing our marketing, Boatsetter recorded our highest ever booking numbers for the month of June. Peer-to-peer rentals were up 74% compared to the same time last year.”

She also noted that Boatsetter listings have increased 40% as people seek to offset the coast of boat ownership during the recession. Meanwhile, demand has spread beyond traditional boating markets like Florida and Southern California to different lakes throughout the U.S., especially up and down the East and West Coasts.

“The number of first-time boat buyers is also on the rise,” said Ellen Bradley, senior vice president and chief brand officer at Discover Boating. Data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association shows total new boat sales up 19% in May 2020 compared to the same month last year ― the highest they’ve been in a single month since 2007, she added.

Bradley said that people have been especially drawn to smaller cruising
and watersports boats and pontoons ― “in other words, boats that are particularly appealing for family recreation.”

“People are canceling summer trips, they want to stay close to home, and they’re looking for an activity they can do outdoors while social distancing with their families,” Baumgarten explained. “About 95% of Americans live within an hour’s drive of navigable waters. You can enjoy the outdoors and water with your family and loved ones. A day on a boat is a great escape. It feels like you’re on vacation for a day.”

But is it safe to plan a boat day during the pandemic? Experts say it can be.

“Outdoor recreational activities, including boating, may be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic if you keep the proper precautions in mind,” said Kristin Dean, the associate medical director at Doctor on Demand.

“Boaters must continue to maintain social distancing and wear face coverings when around others,” she added. “The fresh air and peacefulness of open water may help to decrease some of the pandemic blues that many of us are feeling, so boating may be beneficial for your health if it is done safely.”

If you’re considering a boat outing in the coming months, read on for some expert-backed guidance to protect your health and safety.

Keep your group small.

To ensure health and safety amid the pandemic, it’s best to only go out on a boat with the people in your household or quarantine “pod.”

“Remember to consider your local area’s regulations,” said Dean. “Many places have set limits on the maximum number of people that are allowed to gather in a group. These same rules apply even on a boat.”

Baumgarten noted that Boatsetter has capped the number of renters allowed on a boat in order to maintain smaller groups.

“The CDC has advised against gatherings of more than 10 people,” she explained. “We recommend when you choose who to go on the boat with, it should be the same group of family or friends you’re practicing social distancing with.”

It's best to limit your boating group to those in your household.
Cavan Images via Getty Images
It's best to limit your boating group to those in your household.

Assess everyone’s health.

“When going boating, it is important to consider the same factors as you would when going out in public during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dean noted. “If anyone has had symptoms of COVID-19, or has any possible exposure to COVID-19 within the past 14 days, it is important that they stay home.”

If you’re planning a boat outing with anyone outside your household, consider your personal risks of developing complications if you contract COVID-19 before deciding to embark. It’s also important to think of the health of others in your household and what could happen if they were to get the virus.

Examine the location.

Public health experts continue to advise against nonessential travel, as the threat of coronavirus has hardly disappeared. So if you want to go to on a boat, it’s best to keep it local. Discover Boating’s website has a map with information on public water access throughout the U.S.

Deciding whether to make the journey to your local body of water should also depend on the COVID-19 situation in your community.

Research the local coronavirus activity where you live. The University of Chicago’s interactive map shows daily new confirmed COVID-19 case counts by county. If that number is getting high, it’s probably best to stick to at-home activities for a bit.

“This summer, we are all experiencing the difficulties of missing our favorite summer activities,” Dean said. “Try to remember when making decisions about recreational activities, the sooner we can stop the spread of this virus, the sooner we can all start to enjoy those activities again. Every person’s actions make an impact.”

Consider distance and masks.

“Some people may never develop symptoms of COVID-19 or they may be in what is known as the pre-symptomatic phase, just before they start to feel sick,” said Dean. “In both of these scenarios, the individual may easily spread the virus to others.”

If you’re planning to go boating with people outside your household, it’s best to wear a face mask while you’re together, Dean added. She also advised ensuring that the number of people on the boat doesn’t exceed the space needed to safely maintain social distance from one another.

“Wear a face mask and distance yourself when entering or exiting marinas, dockside restaurants, boat ramps and fuel pumps,” Bradley suggested.

Wearing a mask adds another level of protection when boating with people outside your household.
Miquel Benitez via Getty Images
Wearing a mask adds another level of protection when boating with people outside your household.

Be sure to sanitize.

“Ideally it is better to use your own boating equipment to reduce the transmission of the virus that can occur with shared surfaces,” Dean said.

If you don’t own boating equipment, confirm that whatever you’re renting is properly sanitized. Surfaces should be sanitized before and after each trip.

“Make sure to have hand sanitizer available on your boating trip so that you can disinfect your hands if you touch any communal surfaces while on the boat ― railings, for example,” Dean recommended. “If a rental boat is your only option, ask the company about their cleaning procedures between renters. You can also bring your own disinfectant with you to clean the surfaces again before you take the boat out.”

Baumgarten noted that Boatsetter offers resources to boat owners with information about CDC cleaning requirements and recommended products for sanitizing boats.

Keep your distance from other boaters.

“Your boating trip should be carefully planned to avoid congested waterways,” Dean noted. “Although many regions have spaces where boaters can dock up together and enjoy the water, it is best to avoid large group gatherings even while boating.”

Nagrani advised remaining six feet away from others at the marina and whenever fueling or docking.

“Do not tie to or pull alongside other boats,” he added.

Follow general boat safety rules.

If you decide to go boating, take the necessary steps to ensure general safety beyond COVID-19 protection.

“Make sure there is a life jacket available for everyone onboard the boat and bring sunscreen to prevent sunburns,” Dean said.

“In addition to coronavirus precautions, please consider reviewing boating safety materials online, such as those provided by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety website,” Nagrani recommended.

Many states require people to pass a safety course or have some level of boating education before operating boats. Discover Boating offers resources for on boating education and safety best practices if you are a new boater.

Bradley offered some other essential tips for safe boating, like swimming only in designated areas, designating a sober skipper, practicing clean boating, and monitoring the weather forecast.

If you’re not an experienced boater, you can also hire a boat with a captain to helm the vessel. In this instance, mask-wearing would be advisable.

“At Boatsetter, we have over 1,500 U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captains,” said Baumgarten. “I would strongly recommend choosing an experience led by one of them. We also offer a ton of information and links to online boater safety courses that are free.”

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