What a difference a few months makes. In mid-March, many of the nation’s outdoor recreational activities were shut down due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus. Authorities in many hard-hit states like Washington, Michigan, New York and Maryland were taking no chances and prohibited most recreational boating within their borders. Now that we’re edging into summer, boating in all 50 states has opened up again. And if ever we needed boating in our lives, now’s the time.
For the last few months, most of us have followed the recommendations and orders to stay at home — isolated from others whenever possible. But a family can only do so many jigsaw puzzles or binge watch TV for so long before the onset of cabin fever. Constantly watching the news and surfing the web to see what’s going on in the world can also take a toll on a family’s well being. For young kids, this is likely the first crisis they’ve ever gone through and even if parents reassure them, they’re probably fearful right now. Fortunately, boating offers one of the best ways a family can responsibly have fun together outside the home and at the same time demonstrate to the young ones the sky isn’t falling. And when this pandemic finally abates, time spent on the water will likely be the best memories from these scary times.
Is It Okay to Go Boating with My Family?
If your family is living as a unit under one roof, boating together poses little additional risk to contracting the COVID-19 virus providing you keep your distance from other boaters, which is easy since your vessel acts as a fiberglass or aluminum buffer. In normal times, inviting friends and extended family members to join you is automatic but for the time being, it’s better to go boating only as a family. In fact, in many areas, recreational boating is still restricted to 10 or fewer people to a boat and, in some places, it’s limited to those who live together. A great resource to find out if your area has any restrictions can be found at the National Marine Manufacturing Association’s website, which has information on all 50 states and is being frequently updated at https://www.nmma.org/press/article/23200.
The coronavirus is taking an especially heavy toll among those older than 65 so for the time being it’s probably wise to just take lots of photos and videos for the grandparents so they can share the experience and stay connected while keeping them safe. Hopefully, it won’t be long until they can join the fun.
Although many businesses are opening up with social distancing restrictions and other precautions, in some situations it’s hard to avoid close contact with others. Boating offers a safer alternative to getting out of the house. It also has many other benefits that can further enrich the lives of your family. For the last few months, kids have been taught via homeschooling and a boat makes an ideal alfresco classroom. Many adults are still working from home and there’s no reason that can’t happen on a boat while the kids have fun swimming, which gives you bonus togetherness time. Being on the water also creates an opportunity for hands-on learning about ecology and the environment. Also, it’s the perfect chance to teach your kids all about boat handling. And fishing is always a fun family activity. Now that we are moving into summer and the water is heating up, this will be a great opportunity to have fun doing watersports. Face it, after months of being cooped up in the house we can all probably use the exercise.
Can I Go Fishing with My Buddy?
This is trickier because we are being urged to minimize contact with those outside our immediate families and in some places it isn’t allowed yet. But by taking a few precautions there are ways to reduce the threat of exposure while still being able to spend the day fishing with your best friend.
This is one of the few times it’s better not to carpool. Instead of riding together in an enclosed vehicle, consider taking separate rides and meeting at the ramp or marina while practicing social distancing regulations.
If you want to take advantage of the cheap gas and fill up on the way, pay at the pump and use a disposable towel or glove to handle the pump and also use it as a barrier while punching in security codes. At the ramp, make sure you have everything ready and wait until the previous boaters have cleared the dock before launching.
Fortunately, a lot of pontoons have fishing areas at the bow and stern, which helps you practice social distancing. The current recommendation is for people to stay six feet apart and most fishing rods are at least this length, so if your fishing buddy intrudes into your personal space, you can use your fishing rod like a fencing épée to good-naturedly remind them to back off. If one of you makes a great catch, celebrate with an “air” high-five.
Just Say No to Raft-ups and Sandbars… For a While
During the Memorial Day holiday weekend, there were scenes of boats clustered together that received negative press and presented a bad look. Boaters are naturally gregarious people but for the time being, give others a wide berth. There are plenty of alternative places to hang out with the key off. Instead of meeting at the sandbar, find a secluded cove or pull up to a deserted beach and enjoy the solitude. Even popular boating spots like Lake Powell and Lake of the Ozarks have plenty of space to spread out and practice social distancing. It’s really important to keep the pressure on to keep the curve flattened so we can return to activities like coving sooner. If areas where boaters congregate see a spike in COVID-19 cases, we run the risk of restrictions returning.
Boating offers a unique opportunity for families. Instead of everyone retreating to their personal space or becoming hypnotized while staring at a screen, make the most of this time by turning it into a fun way to grow stronger together.