News & Events for Chesapeake Bay
Cruisers Confused by Complicated COVID-19 Regulations (UPDATED 3.25.2020)
Date Posted: 2020-03-24
Source: Ed Tillett, Editor-In-Chief
Editor's Note: Waterway Guide Media is committed to researching and presenting up-to-date and verified information specific to the status of access to marinas and service facilities across our coverage areas. Jurisdictions and state governments are also issuing orders and changing rules moment-by-moment in response to conditions in their locales. The Waterway Guide team is collecting reports from our sources and has compiled them in a portal that you can access here. For a list of government regulations and orders, use this link.
Most marinas remain open for business, albeit with caveats, as seen in the COVID-19 Marina/Services Report that Waterway Guide is compiling with its reporting partners including AGLCA, Dockwa, Marinas.com and Snag-a-Slip. However, it is too early to tell whether stricter guidelines will be invoked in the days and weeks ahead. Cruisers should remain prepared and ready to adapt.
Our transient and extended-cruising boating communities are beginning to struggle for tolerance and sanctuary during these extraordinary times. The situation is not as bad as in the film Waterworld, in which nomads are in search of dry land. But recent actions by Monroe County Florida, while well-meaning and necessary in particular cases, has forced some boat owners to leave their vessels, marinas or anchorages. The result is that sheltering-in-place orders, whether voluntary or mandated, are clearly in conflict with requirements to vacate.
The vacate orders appear to originate with policymakers who lack familiarity with this sector of the boating community. For some who live aboard, or who have been on extended travel as COVID-19 emerges, the mandates are akin to being told to stay home while at the same time being evicted.
Recreational travel should not be considered an extension of cruising at this time. The intent of this message is not to champion congregating in large groups for “docktails,” rafting up, or partying in numbers while anchored on sandbars.
The jurisdictions in Florida that have closed marinas and boat ramps did so because people did not follow “suggestions” to stay home and socially distance themselves. If too many of us carry on as if nothing has changed, we invite more draconian and unambiguous measures that will impact the entire community.
Waterway Guide Media, America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association, Marinas.com, Dockwa, Snag-a-Slip and members of the cruising community are asking lawmakers for realistic options for boat owners who are currently on their vessels, or who require travel on their boats.
The concern today is for those who are already either en route to another destination or are unable to make arrangements to leave their vessels for reasons ranging from preemptive self-quarantine due to choice, age or underlying health issues, to using their vessels as their primary residence.
This is complicated. Monroe County Florida (all of the Keys) has been closed to inbound boats. If you are already tied up there, the following applies:
- Boaters who don’t have a lease greater than 28 days for a slip or mooring were required to move by 6 p.m. on Sunday 22 March 2020. Many boats were evicted from marinas and moorings.
- Those with leases greater than 28 days must leave upon expiration or renew their lease for another 28 days. (This remains open for interpretation.)
- Inbound vessels are not allowed to stay longer than it takes to refuel.
- There is no provision for clearing into customs.
Has this regulation assisted in achieving intended results of sheltering-in-place? Not for those persons aboard boats who were forced to move.
Miami Dade County and Palm Beach County have also imposed restrictions that are now requiring vessels to respond in various ways. Miami Dade issued updates to its orders on 23 March 2020 further defining allowed activity by boats. Those living aboard are not being required to move at this time and some marinas remain open. But confusion remains.
Why would anyone want to leave a dock or anchorage in these troubled times and subject themselves and others to problems associated with personal contact and logistics of pumping out and docking?
The answers include:
- Getting home from their southern wintering grounds (snowbirds)
- Not being able or willing to leave their boats unattended
- Leaving in advance of hurricane season for insurance purposes
- Family obligations
- Work obligations
- Financial and resources constraints of staying on the boat longer than originally planned
- Choosing their vessel as a shelter
Ed Kelly, President of the Seven Seas Cruising Association, said, “Our cruising community is not a 'one size fits all' entity. Many cruisers have already quarantined themselves aboard for a significant time. Many of our vessels are meant for ocean cruising long distances without visiting marinas en route, and others hold huge stores of food and water (and have water-makers) that make them truly self-sufficient moving north on the East Coast. Those vessels inshore on the ICW have many spots to anchor without using marinas. In effect it is quite easy for many vessels to travel while quarantined without endangering themselves or others.”
Invoking regulations that create impediments to practicing safe contact and distancing only exacerbate the problem, as in the case of Monroe County Florida forcing vessels to leave safe harbor. Decision-makers are not dealing with a normal situation. Conditions are changing rapidly and the likelihood that everything goes back to normal after the expiration of the current orders here and abroad is in question.
While policymakers and law enforcement and governors and mayors and county administrators all are making rules, it’s important for them to remember that boaters, marinas and service facilities contribute to our collective economies and well-being. They provide essential services to a segment of our population.
Anyone considering moving their vessel should have a plan B that includes the means and measures necessary to remain aboard with minimal shoreside support for an extended period of time.