Coronavirus and Boat Shopping: What You Should Know

Despite continued uncertainty surrounding the current coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide pandemic, the kickoff to boating season is just around the corner. For many boaters across the country, our thoughts are gravitating us towards the water. For some, that means navigating new social distancing best practices as they prepare their boats for launch, and for others, that brings about the possibility of buying a new boat. 

coronavirus and boat shopping

The process of shopping for a boat during a pandemic raises a lot of questions for prospective boat buyers. How do you go about safely purchasing a boat while following social distancing guidelines?

The good news is that identifying, testing, purchasing and servicing a new boat is still very possible with proper preparation. Pair that with an effective use of technology, and it won’t be long before you find yourself at the helm, enjoying the best of social distancing on the water.

Are Boat Dealers Still Open?

Generally speaking, marine dealers are allowed to operate in all 50 states; however, many dealers and/or states have set capacity limits and other social distancing measures to ensure the health and safety of their customers and employees.

Prior to purchase, you'll not only want to confirm that your local dealerships are operating and arranging customer appointments, but you'll also want to confirm that you'll be able to launch and use your new boat safely within your local area. You can use our Public Water Access Map to select your state to see the latest updates on local boating guidelines, ramp availability and access in your area.

Remember, when choosing a dealer to work with, ask potential candidates about their safe boating and social distancing policies to ensure they’re aware and responsible in their business practices.

Advantages of Working with a Boat Dealer

Doing Research Online

There are a number of ways to research boat brands, models and features online to explore your options before you buy.

When you find a particular model you like, call your dealer and ask to do a quick walkthrough video of that model so you can rule it in or out, and then come prepared with specific questions so inspections can be conducted quickly. A lot can be accomplished via email, text and phone.

Explore NMMA Certified Boat Brands

buying a boat while social distancing

Scheduling Appointments and Sea Trials

As mentioned, instead of just dropping by a dealer showroom or marina location at your leisure, you'll want to set up a private appointment either online or by phone to see a boat model in person for a walkthrough or sea trial.

Before arriving at your appointment, here's a few additional tips to ensure a safe and efficient experience:

  • In order to limit the number of passengers on a sea trial, arrive with only those you live with who will be decision-makers.
  • Prior to a sea trial, arrange to meet the broker at the marina or slip directly without stopping at the marina office.
  • Stay at least six feet from dealer and marina personnel.
  • The total number of people aboard at any one time will be dictated by the size of the vessel. It may be necessary to split up your group into multiple rides.
  • Be prepared to wear personal protection equipment (PPE). In some cases, the dealer may provide masks, gloves, wipes and hand sanitizer, but bring your own if possible.
  • Arrive with sunscreen, water, and a notebook or phone to record your sea trial for review later.
  • Understand that the use of public restrooms may not be an option, so plan ahead.
  • Ask the dealer about how the boat was prepared and sanitized prior to stepping aboard.
  • Don’t assist with other people’s docking lines, and don’t linger on the docks before or after the sea trial.

Learn More in our Sea Trial Checklist

Closing the Deal and Getting Your Boat

When it comes to closing the deal, purchase paperwork can be completed in-person with your dealer at a "closing table," while following safe social distancing guidelines. In rare circumstances, some marine lenders do allow purchase documents to be finalized digitally. 

In terms of getting your boat, dealers are working hard to ensure that boats and user-manuals are cleaned, disinfected and sanitized per CDC and local health and safety standards by a technician before the boat is made available for pick-up or drop-off. If home drop-offs are available, the process will also include proper social distancing measures, and keys are to be handed off sanitized and in a sealed bag. 

On-Going Service and Support

For service, warranty claims, or additional equipment installation after the sale, much of the same social distancing and safety processes that were deployed during the sale can be utilized.

boat service and support during coronavirus
  • For service, call ahead to set an appointment to drop off the boat.
  • Clearly discuss via phone or online what the issue is, what needs to be done, how long it will take, how much it will cost and how the process will be managed and by whom.
  • A video call may help to communicate a performance issue more clearly to a technician who will be working on the problem.
  • Turn over the boat properly sanitized and request to get it back in the same condition.
  • You may need to complete online service forms and prepay work orders in advance.
  • Ask whether the dealer staggers service appointments to limit your exposure to others.
  • Again, come with PPE and distance accordingly.

For additional information about how boat dealers across the United States are sharpening their own processes for safe operations and ensuring that their customers have a safe and enjoyable time on the water, be sure to visit the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA).

Read Next: Boating During COVID-19 Safety Guide


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Editor's Note: This article was originally published in April 2020 and updated in October 2020.