We are all navigating uncharted waters during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is only 20 weeks old, so there is still a lot we don’t know about it. Therefore, the course forward needs to be plotted with caution.
While we’re paying so much attention to the coronavirus, we also must remember the basics about staying healthy.
This is a stressful and uncertain situation for everyone – our daily lives have been disrupted. Getting outside and changing our environment are great ways to reduce some of that stress. Natural sunlight exposes your body to vitamin D, which is essential for a well-functioning immune system. Being in nature reduces anxiety. Finally, the outdoors provides aromatherapy that boosts your immune system. Scientists have determined that breathing in phytoncide airborne chemicals produced by plants increases our levels of white blood cells, which help fight off infections and diseases.
At the time of this writing, there are some boating and fishing restrictions in place and we are all going to have to live with this virus for a while longer. Recent Washington state COVID-19 metrics have been encouraging and Washington residents are beginning to see an easing of some of the restrictions announced in the Governor Jay Inslee’s Stay Home – Stay Healthy Proclamation on March 23, 2020.
State officials have established a four-phased approach to reopen businesses and modify physical distancing measures. Washington state has begun to loosen its hold on the Stay Home – Stay Healthy lockdown, with the reopening of some state parks and DNR lands for day use only, along with allowing some recreational fishing.
British Columbia has closed its provincial parks and there is no indication when they will be reopening. The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) has requested boaters stay off the water unless it is needed. With each response, the CCG says their specialists are putting themselves at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and using up the supplies of personal protective equipment that is desperately needed by critical health care workers.
Boaters have also been asked to respect community requests in Washington and British Columbia to stay away, decreasing their exposure to the virus and not taxing local communities limited health care facilities. As marine facilities begin to reopen with limitations, we boaters need to protect ourselves and others by following federal, state, and community guidelines for social distancing and use good hygiene habits to stop the spread of COVID-19 as we successfully work our way through the four phases of recovery.
Many boaters are wondering if boating is considered a safe social distancing practice. The quick answer is yes, but the long answer is a bit more involved. The following are tips on how to enjoy being on the waters of the Northwest without violating the spirit of the Governor’s Stay at Home – Stay Safe order. We all need to follow a few additional safety guidelines so everyone heading out onto the water can do so safely. Now more than ever, we need to make sure we’re considering how our actions affect those around us.
Here is a quick rundown on the do’s and don’ts of boating in a time of pandemic:
- If you have symptoms of fever, coughing, sore throat, or shortness of breath, stay home and seek medical attention. Do not go boating if you have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past fourteen days.
- Wear a manufactured or homemade cloth face covering when you leave your home and travel to the boat. The use of a face covering may help protect others from your respiratory droplets, but is not a replacement for social distancing.
- Only boat with those in your immediate household.
- Do not invite guests aboard your boat. This includes family members not in your immediate household and your favorite fishing and boating buddies.
- Go directly from your house to the boat and back, avoid all unnecessary contact with anyone during your trip.
- Ensure that you have everything you will need for the time you are out on the water. Don’t make provisioning stops along the way or while out on the water.
- Maintain a safe distance (6 feet) from others when doing things like loading up at the marina or fueling the boat.
- After doing anything that requires touching an item someone else may have touched, like a marina gate, dock cart, or fuel pump, disinfect by washing your hands or using a hand sanitizer as soon as possible.
- For high-use surfaces such as gas pump handles or the handrails at a boat ramp consider wearing disposable gloves, latex or nitrile works best.
- Be prepared to self-rescue. Before leaving the dock ensure your vessel is well serviced and maintained. We don’t want to place additional burdens on first responders and emergency services who assist boaters that find themselves in trouble. Our first responders and search and rescue teams are all facing COVID-19 challenges along with us.
- Planning ahead also means staying up to date with closures and general news about your intended destination marina, town, and region. Contact local communities to assure they are accepting non-resident guests.
- Be sure you can pay online, by phone, or with a debit or credit card (no cash). Don’t show up anywhere without first having contacted the relevant personnel to determine what services are and are not available.
- Be self-reliant and practice good personal hygiene; have onboard soap, water, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and disposable gloves, as well as a mask or bandana for everyone to cover their nose and mouth.
- Social distancing does not include tossing a line to a dockhand waiting to assist you upon your arrival.
- After using a pay station or self-registration station, use hand sanitizer.
- Avoid crowds and practice social distancing. Be prepared to go somewhere else or return another time if your destination looks crowded.
- No beaching or rafting to other boats. Keep your boat and the people in it at least six feet away from other boats and individuals.
- Do not use a beach, park, boat ramp, or marina that is closed.
- Do not use playgrounds, picnic tables, barbeques, or benches. Assume such equipment has not been sanitized. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer if you do come in contact with shared amenities.
- Do not participate in organized activities or sports.
- Wear gloves when using pump-out station and wash hands afterwards.
- Giving your boat a post-cruise rinse, or even better a good washing with soap and brush, and whip down the inside with disinfectant is a good practice.
- Anytime you leave the boat, sanitize your hands before coming back aboard, or get on without touching anything and wash them immediately.
• Respect signs limiting access or providing temporary direction regarding trail or site usage.
Recreational boaters should continue to think ahead about the actions they can take to protect themselves, fellow boaters, and prevent the spread of COVID-19. As there is still no cure for this virus, we must take repeated precautionary measures to continue enjoying the lifestyle we treasure. We are all in this together, and we can get through the challenges of COVID-19 if we work together.