The following article is by Mark King. It will appear in our upcoming Power Boating Canada Volume 35 Number 3. Want to subscribe for future issues? Click here!

I would not have guessed in February, while writing my last column, that COVID-19 would become the largest safety-related story of the year. It has adversely affected every boater, even those fortunate enough to get their boats on the water. Facilities were limited, destinations were closed, and socializing was out of the question.

In early spring, Transport Canada issued COVID-19 guidelines for the marine industry. This was just when everyone was preparing their boats for the season. Here are the guidelines in a nutshell, with the full list on Transport Canada’s website. Many are common sense ideas designed to both keep boaters safe and limit contact with responders. The points emphasize precaution and social distancing, and most are safety recommendations for any circumstance.

  • Wear your lifejacket or Personal Flotation Device.
  • Ensure your boat is in proper working order and equipped with the required gear before heading out on the water.
  • Limit your boating trips as much as possible, departing and returning to the same location and avoiding stops along the way.
  • If using a pleasure craft, avoid any unnecessary contact with others during your trip and respect your local health authority’s measures regarding the size and makeup of your boating party.
  • Keep a distance of at least two metres from other people and boats as much as possible including at launch ramps, on docks, and at service facilities.
  • Use face coverings and non-medical masks for short periods of time when physical distancing is not possible while in public areas.
  • Keep a safe distance to the shore at all times to limit the need for search and rescue efforts.
  • Avoid using your pleasure craft during bad weather and extreme temperatures.
  • Limit using your pleasure craft to daylight hours.
  • Do not beach or raft your boat right next to someone else.
  • Avoid sharing your boating or fishing equipment.

These guidelines were, understandably, created in a hurry: they were written in response to the pandemic’s initial recognition and spread. Yet the accompanying photograph unfortunately illustrates just how empty or near-empty innumerable marinas were this summer.

We hope that, by next summer, there will be improvement. By then, we hope the spread and effects of COVID-19 will be better understood – perhaps a vaccine will have been developed – and guidelines will be rewritten for greater flexibility in boating. Meanwhile, there are actions you can take to make sure you’re prepared.

As always, you should take some time this fall and next spring to confirm your boat is in tip-top shape. If your boat has sat onshore this past summer, go through it before winter strikes to ensure it remains clean and free from mold, mildew, and critters who might see a suitable home. If you find signs that unwanted guests have been aboard, take some further time to check lines, hoses, bellows, and all exposed wiring for signs of animal damage.

Air out enclosed spaces and equipment such as life jackets and PFDs. Humidity in the summer, in a closed boat, can cause mildew on tightly packed items. You might not have made it onto the water this summer, but that is not reason to ignore your boat and its maintenance. It’s reason, in fact, to be even more mindful of items you might have noticed had you been aboard all summer.

Yes, this year has been frustrating. When the new season begins, check the urge to rush back on the water and regain lost time. Rather, it’s important to keep your wits about you: remind yourself that you are the skipper and in command of your boat. How you act on the water and to those around you is your choice – remember to not let frustration control your actions. Anyone on your boat will look to you for their own comfort. It will show if you seem edgy, irritable, or hasty. You must make the difficult decisions and manage expectations.

As outlined in previous columns, it will be important to educate everyone on their roles and necessary emergency procedures. Before leaving the dock, discuss important matters such as the safety gear’s location and use, emergency protocol, and who is ultimately in command. A well-founded boat and proper gear in place will add to your confidence. Don’t shortchange your own preparation for the season which begins onshore and continues each trip you take.

Above all, remember that we boat because it is enjoyable. If it stops being enjoyable, it’s time to stop boating. When something irritates you and it isn’t about safety, let it go. You can’t control what people think and say, but you can control how you react. Relax, smile, and ensure you have that “better year, next year” experience we all hope takes place.