Long Island’s recreational boaters cheered the reopening of marinas this week even as social distancing due to COVID-19 and a late start promise a boating season like none other.
Last week Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order allowing marinas and boatyards to open for recreational boats, although chartered vessels and rentals are still not permitted.
As families rethink summer vacations amid uncertainty about how the pandemic will affect travel in the coming months, boat owners have a nearby escape.
“Boating is going to become more popular because people will be traveling less and every time you step onto your boat you are literally going on a vacation,” Yvonne Lieblein, general manager of Port of Egypt Marine in Southold predicted. “When you leave the dock, you leave your worries behind. Even in the social distancing parameters that we have now, it is something you can do with your family that you have been sheltering in place with and quarantined with.”
Social distancing is practiced at the marina, Lieblein said, with people required to stay 6 feet apart and wear masks on the docks. Selling boats is different too, she said, pointing to a recent sale to a buyer who sized up a 21-foot motorboat from the shore through binoculars rather than checking it out in person before putting down a deposit.
The private Sagamore Yacht Club in Oyster Bay has changed the way it will take members out to their boats on moorings in Oyster Bay Harbor to enforce social distancing. Past practice was to take groups on a launch boat to their moored boat. Now to maintain separation of 6 feet between people, no more than six passengers can be taken on the launch boat a time, said Michael Maffucci, commodore of the club.
“It’s going to take us longer to get everybody out,” Maffucci said. “Where we could take 10, 15, 20 people on a launch now we’re going to be making more trips.”
Maffucci said when things got busy the club’s launch boat would take only boat captains to their vessels. Those captains would then return to the dock to pick up their crew.
The inconvenience isn’t going to be a deterrent to enthusiasts eager to get on the water, he said.
“Everybody is so anxious to get out,” he said.
Marinas opening doesn’t mean boats are ready to launch. At the beginning of each season, boats that have been stored on land get their bottoms repainted and their engines and mechanical systems tuned up.
Stay at home orders in March and April mean there are now backlogs on boat prepping, said Ron Ferina, commander of the Oyster Bay Sail and Power Squadron, a local branch of a national boating organization.
“Having these three weeks of no work being done on the boats it’s going to delay everyone’s launch schedule,” Ferina said.
The boating culture will be less social this season because of COVID-19, he said.
“A lot of people enjoy having company on their boats — they enjoy friends, relatives,” Ferina said. “I could see where that will probably not occur for quite a while until things settle down.”