Covid-19 Safe Boating Guide. Photo: Pond5.

Covid-19 Safe Boating Guide. Photo: Pond5.

Like all aspects of life, Covid-19 has changed the way we go boating as well. Fortunately, there’s not many places safer from Covid than being out on the water on your boat with your close family.

Of course, all responsible boaters know that each and every time you shove off the dock, boating safety is job number one — and in the age of Covid-19, that means considering some new adaptations. First, let’s again point out that few places on Earth are likely to be as safe from Covid-19 as being on the open water, with your family. As a result, many of the modifications we need to make to stay safe when boating relate mostly to getting from your home, out to that open water and back again. Then, there are the social boating situations to take into consideration. And finally, boat clubs and peer-to-peer boat rentals  - each have their own sets of challenges.

So let’s consider each aspect of boating one at a time.

Covid-19 Safety at the Marina

Whether you’re launching your boat at a public ramp or going to a marina, you’ll be exposed to communal spaces. Minimizing the time spent in such areas, obviously, is a good idea. Additionally, you may want to avoid enclosed spaces like public restrooms and marina offices. If you do need to enter a marina office for any reason, be aware of the masking requirements in your area and check the door for signs outlining rules specific to the marina before entering. Note that in some cases, marina offices may be locked and will only be open by appointment.

Docks are another area of concern, because even though they’re an open-air environment, few docks are wide enough to maintain safe distances when passing other boaters. To account for this you may want to take a look at the dock you’ll be transiting and wait for other people already heading in the opposite direction to get off the dock before you get on it. It’s also polite to move over onto a finger pier if necessary, to allow others to pass while maintaining distances.

Fuel docks and pumping stations are another place you may need to visit where you’ll potentially be exposed to other people. While fueling, you may want to wear a mask and/or gloves, use a pen or key to touch the buttons on the credit card machine keypad, and sanitize everything that comes in contact with items touched by others after you pull away from the pumps.

At public ramps, now more than ever proper boat launch ramp etiquette for loading and unloading is important. Most of the best practices revolve around getting on and off the ramp rapidly, and not causing a backup. That can go a long way in allowing trailer-boaters the ability to maintain distance, rather than bunching up while waiting for their turn.

Social Boating

As we said earlier, when you’re out on your boat with your family, your exposure to other people and thus Covid-19 is virtually nil. If, that is, you avoid all social situation. But many people enjoy the social aspects of boating. If you usually pull up to a beach and enjoy swimming, grilling, and other activities, great — just try to do so in an area where the boats aren’t lined up gunwale-to-gunwale, and maintaining safe distances from your beach neighbors is practical.

What about rafting up? This will undoubtedly increase your level of risk, since it means another boat and other boaters will be exceptionally close. You’ll have to use your judgement accordingly. And mass raft-ups where multiple boats all tie one to another is definitely not as safe as enjoying the water on your own.

Boat Clubs, Peer-to-Peer Boat Rentals, and Covid-19

Boat clubs and peer-to-peer boat rentals, as well as other boat rental operations, offer up some very different challenges. In these cases a different family or group may have stepped off the boat shortly before you arrived, so it’s a good idea to follow CDC recommendations for disinfecting the boat just as you would a home or business. Many commercial boat rental facilities and boat clubs are currently performing this task as part of their services, but check with your club or renter to find out their exact policies. Also note that when it comes to peer-to-peer rental you’ll likely be responsible for disinfecting the boat on your own.

Another item to consider is life jackets. If you usually wear one when boating, you may want to bring your own rather than using one provided by a club or renter. The CDC specifically references life jackets and says “If you think your life jacket may have been exposed to a virus, clean it as recommended by the manufacturer and then let it dry in a warm, low humidity environment for at least 72 hours before reuse.” Note that some disinfectants can damage certain fabrics, so be sure any you use is safe for use on PFDs.

No one’s happy about Covid-19 and all the restrictions it’s put on our daily lives. Thank goodness, we can still go boating safely and confidently by taking these simple factors into consideration. It’s always been true that life’s better aboard a boat — and now more so than ever before.

You may also want to see the Boat Trader Covid-19 Boating Guide, and Yachtworld’s article on tips for Social Distancing on the Water.

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld,, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.