As the weather improves, most boaters have one major question in mind — when can I get on my boat? The rules around boating are evolving all over North America, with recommendations and regulations in place to maintain physical distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19.
During this pandemic, many states in the U.S. have not banned boating, while others have modified or lifted recent restrictions. In Canada, boating rules differ province to province.
In Ontario, public and provincial parks are closed until May 31, boat launches are closed and most marinas were deemed closed indefinitely as part of the Ontario emergency orders effective until May 12. Marinas servicing recreational boats are considered non-essential businesses and are not allowed to operate, work on boats, launch boats or deliver sold boats. For boat owners, this has prevented servicing and boat preparation for the upcoming boating season. For dealers, selling boats has been drastically diminished with showrooms closed or operating virtually — and not allowed to deliver purchased boats to marinas and customers. Update *** As of May 4, the Ontario government is allowing marinas to service boats but remain closed to the public. More information is available on the Global News website.
In response, the Boating Ontario Association that represents over 500 member companies including private and municipal marina operators and boat dealers, has been working on behalf of Ontario’s marine industry to lobby the Provincial government to lift restrictions.
Boating Ontario has proposed a two phased approach to the Ontario government, to maintain public safety and save the boating season. The approach allows marinas to service boats while adhering to physical distancing and sanitization protocols, launch boats but leave them disabled at docks and offer curbside pickup — like other retailers.
Requested for May 1st, phase 1 proposes that boats can be launched at marinas and disabled at docks, and safely “deliver sold boats in a ‘touchless’ process, service boats and provide home delivery or curbside touchless parts pick up”. In addition, the Boating Ontario proposal requests that by May 15th “we be able to return to more ‘Open for business’ full operations under new Social Distancing protocols. We would offer to be your conduit to communicating Best Practices for Social Distancing at marinas and recreational boating workplaces”.
Details of the proposal are outlined on the Boating Ontario website.
In Quebec, organizations like Nautisme Québec are working with businesses and the government to facilitate access to boats and marinas in a safe manner — when the times comes. Marinas in Quebec were deemed non-priority and closed until May 4 and non-essential movement is prohibited and managed by law enforcement in the province.
United States of America
Regulations have been more relaxed in the U.S. and continue in that direction, especially after President Trump released his reopening plan on April 16 — Opening Up America Again — a three-phased approach based on advice of public health experts.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
On April 18, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, announced the opening of marinas and boatyards for personal use, with protocols in place for social distancing and sanitization.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve worked closely with our friends in neighboring states to implement a uniform regional approach to reducing the spread of the virus. Aligning our polices in this area is another example of that strong partnership, and will help ensure there is no confusion or ‘state shopping’ when it comes to marinas and boatyards.New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
The state of Michigan did not restrict boating in March and the beginning of April, but then shortly after reports were made public that people were not following social distancing regulations at boat launches, the state prohibited motorized boating. Rules have changed once again. On April 24, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order that is in place through May 15, that allows motorized boating. The NMMA successfully helped lobby Michigan’s congressional delegation and state officials — the NMMA website has more information.
Data shows that most Michiganders are doing their part by staying home and staying safe. That’s good, but we must keep it up. Social distancing is our best weapon to defeat this enemy. With new COVID-19 cases levelling off, however, we are lifting some of the restrictions put in place in the previous order.Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
While beaches remain closed and social distancing guidelines including wearing face masks are encouraged, boating is allowed with some limitations. Although Palm Beach County — which includes the coastal cities of West Palm Beach and Boca Raton — was significantly impacted with cases of COVID-19, county officials recently eased off on regulations. On April 29 — after over a month of closures — Palm Beach County reopened parks, golf courses, marinas, boat ramps, community pools and other recreational activities. However, boats are prohibited from beaching, landings, anchoring or mooring on sandbars, islands and open shorelines.
Other boating limitations include:
- Boats 25 feet or less: four adult passengers maximum
- Boats 26 feet to 36 feet: six adult passengers maximum
- Boats 37 feet to 60 feet: eight adult passengers maximum
- Boats over 60 feet: 10 adult passengers maximum, not including crew members
This does not mean we are back to normal in any way, shape, or form. I would say that social distancing now is more important than ever.Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County Health Director
As our plans to enjoy time on the water are in flux — with this new reality of pandemic-life — we can be grateful if we live in an area that allows boating. If we need to continue to responsibly flatten the curve, then all we can do is stay safe at home, and be extra grateful next time we’re on the water.