Renting a boat or joining a boat club has always been a popular option for those who, for whatever reason, aren’t yet ready to buy that dream boat of their own. So, does this have to change due to the coronavirus pandemic? Heck no.
In fact, boating during COVID-19 is one of the safest—not to mention most enjoyable—things you could possibly do. As long as you’re with family members living in the same household, it doesn’t get more socially distant than cruising across an open bay with the wind in your hair, the sun beaming down on your skin, and the nearest crowd miles and miles away.
Boating During COVID-19 Safety Guide
Can I Rent a Boat During Coronavirus?
The short answer to this question is (as long as your locality isn’t under stay-at-home orders that preclude boating), yes.
While it’s true that some boat rental locations across the nation may at times be temporarily shut down, many businesses that were previously closed have now re-opened. And boat sharing (also know as peer-to-peer rentals) is another option to consider. Most of the arrangements are made on an app or via the computer, minimizing personal contact and eliminating the need to ever walk into an office.
“The changes for us have been specific to location,” says Val Streif, of the boat-sharing platform GetMyBoat. “Our owners always follow local protocols and regulations so some are restricting the number of people, requiring masks when docked in the marina, or have extra sanitizing equipment aboard. And some are still waiting for their state or local government to reopen marinas.”
The issue of closed waterways has been a problem, in some states.
“We did see some slow weeks in April,” Streif explains, “but things are picking up. We’ve definitely seen an increase in bookings as many people have cancelled their travels but still want to get out and enjoy their vacation days and weekends.”
Of course, we can’t promise that specific areas or marinas won’t have to be temporarily closed again in the future. So before planning any trip, be sure to check up on the latest updates with both the local authorities and the marina you’ll be using.
Check the Status of Public Water Access Near You
Are Boat Clubs Still Open During Coronavirus?
Some boat clubs did also have some periods of interruption early in the COVID-19 emergency, but as we publish this article, most are back up and running.
“We’ve certainly seen a spike in interest in the Club," says John Giglio, President of Freedom Boat Club. "Most of our 232 locations are open and operating with new standard operating procedures to keep members and staff safe. This includes personal protective equipment for all dock staff, enhanced sanitation protocol of boats following each member outing, and staggered reservations to help reduce crowds at the docks. We have not been able to provide our normal concierge service of helping members with their gear when arriving to and from the docks, which has been strange for us to adjust to, but members remain happy.”
In some cases, marinas hit a bit of a logjam with boaters aching to get their pride and joy into the water for the season just as COVID-19 required them to cease operations. As a result, some boat clubs may not have each and every boat in the fleet prepped and ready for use just yet.
You might also find that your local boat club is asking people to avoid entering their offices, and/or to wear face coverings at the marina and on the docks. As with rentals, the important thing is to check on the latest news from your local government as well as the marina your boat club is located at, and the club itself.
“We’ve adopted procedures to fit CDC guidelines,” says Jessie Clark, of the Carefree Boat Club. “People can call from the parking lot and time their boarding so only one person walks down the dock at a time, we’ve extended the time between reservations so we can sanitize the boats, and all check-in and check-out now takes place on our app so you can do it right there on the boat without having to come into contact with anyone else. Members can even tip the dockhands electronically, to show appreciation for their hard work.”
New Member Orientations & On-Water Training
One major benefit for most boat club members includes new member orientations and on-water training courses that help new boaters gain confidence in completing basic seamanship and safety skills. With the current need for social distancing, it raises the question on whether these trainings will continue—and if so, how?
“Here in Southwest Florida we took quick action to suspend New Member Orientations (NMOs) along with our Club operations as COVID-19 was picking up momentum and cases were starting to pop-up locally in mid-March. Since returning to Club operations in early May, we have implemented new standard operating procedures to help keep members and staff safe," noted Giglio.
"All instructors are required to wear safety glasses, masks, and gloves. Classroom training is done with social distancing intact and on-water training is done with the member at the helm and the instructor behind the member and off to one side. Our instructor can still communicate and speak with the member. but remains close enough to take control of the helm if needed. We continue to evaluate the NMO process and refine as needed.”
Do I Need to Disinfect the Boat?
Like Freedom and Carefree Boat Clubs—along with other rental and club organizations like GetMyBoat, Boatsetter, Sailtime, and others—many businesses have made disinfecting their boats between uses a standard practice, at least for the time being.
In any case, you may want to disinfect the boat prior to use for your own peace of mind. If so, remember:
- Wear nitrile or latex gloves prior to disinfecting the boat.
- Wipe down solid surfaces with EPA-approved disinfectants.
- Some approved disinfectants, like bleach or acids, can harm certain surfaces of a boat. So make sure you’re using product that’s safe for boats and be particularly careful about the canvass and vinyls. These are a bit more susceptible to damage from chemicals.
- Rinse down the entire boat after disinfecting, to make sure chemicals don’t remain behind.
Peer-to-peer services may be a bit less regulated. However, many people are taking the bull by the horns and doing what they feel is best for the boating community. Doug, a GetMyBoat peer-to-peer renter, for example, says he has added boat sanitizing to his regular cleaning.
“Between every charter I make sure the entire boat has been washed down with an environmentally-friendly detergent and left to dry in the sunlight,” he says. “All storage lockers, grab rails, and helm controls are wiped down. When guests arrive, they are provided with hand sanitizer. And I have reduced my capacity from six people to four, for the time being.”
Ready to Rent a Boat or Join a Boat Club?
One final item to be aware of is that in some ways, it’s actually become easier to rent or use a boat club boat than it was last summer.
“One thing we didn’t expect is that people’s schedules are in many ways much more flexible than usual,” noted Clark. “As a result, we’re seeing people use the boats all week long and there’s not the usual weekend crunch. And we may never go back on some of the changes—many people like services like the online check-in/check-out, so we may make it permanent.”
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that renting, peer-to-peer sharing, and boat club boating aren’t exactly the same as they were a few months ago—almost nothing in our society is. But these are still all excellent ways to break into the boating lifestyle.
“We’re optimistic that this summer will be one of the busiest ones in the 30-year history of Freedom Boat Club," Giglio commented. "Many of our franchise partners are reporting increased inquiries in their Club locations as families are turning to boating to fill the summer days. We’re excited to welcome them into the Club and continue to strive to provide a fun and safe boating experience each time out.”
When it comes to enjoying outdoor recreation in the age of COVID-19, at least one thing does remain exactly as it always has been: there’s simply no better place to be than on a boat.
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