Safe boating in the age of COVID-19 – still plenty fun, but a few things to consider

Safe boating in the age of COVID-19 – still plenty fun, but a few things to consider
Boating is an excellent recreational activity during the pandemic as long as boaters take the usual safety measures along with some COVID-19 precautions. One rule for right now: Share a boat only with people who share your home. (Billy Brown)

More than 1 million boaters take advantage of the state’s 1 million acres of lakes, 1,600 miles of rivers and 53 miles of coastline every year, according to the Alabama Marine Patrol.

And with COVID-19 placing restrictions on many other forms of entertainment, hitting the waters – be it via kayak, motorboat or sailing vessel – has become a particularly popular form of recreation this spring.

Capt. Matt Brooks, with the Marine Patrol, said there was a surge of boating traffic during the initial weeks of the pandemic, with the onset of the virus coinciding with spring break and families staying closer to home taking to the water. In recent weeks, the number of people boating has steered more toward traditional patterns.

With the virus still threatening communities, and the weather fine for boating, experts say that more than ever, folks enjoying the water should be focused on safety – which is what National Safe Boating Week is all about this year. The annual recognition begins May 16, with multiple boating organizations, the boating industry, and marine and law enforcement agencies taking part – at safe distances – through virtual events and awareness campaigns.

“Is boating a safe social distancing activity? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is a bit more involved,” the National Marine Manufacturers Association explains on its website,

“First and foremost, all the usual rules apply” for boating safety, the association advises.

Alabama Power provides on its Shorelines blog a detailed list of boating safety tips, courtesy of the Marine Patrol. They include:

  • Knowing and following the state’s boating rules and regulations.
  • Making sure your boat is in safe condition and fully equipped with required safety equipment, including personal flotation devices.
  • Staying aware of weather conditions.
  • Avoiding alcohol if you are the boat operator. In fact, drinking alcohol while operating a vessel is against the law.

In the age of COVID-19, however, there’s more to consider:

(National Safe Boating Council)

“You need to limit the people aboard to those family members you share your home with, period – no guests,” the marine manufacturers association states. “You also can’t raft up with other boats or pull up onto a beach close to another boat, as that could put you in close proximity with the occupants.”

Indeed, maintaining the government-recommended safe social distance from those not in your immediate circle – a minimum of 6 feet – applies to any boat outing. That means keeping your distance from others when docking or fueling a vessel. Washing hands thoroughly after any contact with items such as marina locks or fuel pumps is important.

Another consideration is cleaning and safely storing life jackets that may have come in contact with the virus, according to the Life Jacket Association. The group advises following manufacturers’ cleaning instructions and then letting jackets dry in a warm, low-humidity environment for at least 72 hours before reusing.

For those enjoying the Gulf Coast and cruising or sailing near Gulf Islands National Seashore, the National Park Service has issued its own guidance. As of mid-May, park islands were closed, which means boaters can’t beach their vessels or walk on to dry land.

As for Alabama State Parks, state lakes and boat ramps, most are open for use, although safe-distancing rules apply. More information is available at

Alabama Power lakes are available for boating and other forms of recreation, with some restrictions. Learn more at

To find out more about safe boating and National Safe Boating Week, visit

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