Boating and coronavirus: Boating is back as lockdown eases

What you can and can't do on your boat now that boating has been included in the return to unlimited outdoor exercise...

Boating and other watersports have been permitted in England since May 13, but there are still some important restrictions that need to be observed, the RYA has reminded boat owners.

The association has clarified the government’s latest lockdown update, urging boat owners to abide by social distancing measures and only go boating alone or with members of their own household.

The measures initially applied to England alone, but this has since been expanded to included all boating activities in Scotland and Wales as well. A separate ruling in Northern Ireland is currently awaiting sign-off by the Health Minister.

Gerwyn Owen, CEO of RYA Cymru Wales, said: “Any kind of outdoor activity can be undertaken locally, which generally means within about 5 miles of your home.

“However, it is recognised there are certain forms of exercise which, though you start locally, may temporarily take you further afield. Our guidance is to boat within your ability, be aware of the weather conditions and stay in familiar waters navigating in daylight hours.”

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Boris Johnson announced the gradual easing of restrictions on 10 May with confirmation coming three days later that, “all forms of watersports practised on open waterways, including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, rowing, kayaking, surfing, paddle-boarding and the use of privately-owned motorised craft (in line with the guidance issued by the relevant navigation authority) are allowed.”

France, Spain and Italy have also started to ease restrictions, although it’s not yet clear when British owners with boats based overseas will be able to travel to them or whether they will have to stay quarantined on arrival.

What are the boating and coronavirus guidelines?

Despite the gradual opening up of marinas and harbours, boating life will still look very different for a while. To the best of our knowledge the current guidelines on what boat owners can and can’t do are as follows:

  • Owners of both private and commercial boats can make day visits to their boats in marinas and elsewhere for leisure or maintenance purposes.
  • Non-essential travel by privately owned boats (powered and non-powered) is allowed, subject to the relevant navigation authority (some authorities may apply a time-lag to carry out essential safety inspections and maintenance).
  • You may partake in outdoor water-based activities as an individual, household group, or as a group of up to 6 people from two or more different households provided you can maintain socially distancing (honouring the two-metre rule).
  • If your boat is too small to make this practicable you may still go out with members of your own household but not with someone from outside your home.
  • On larger private boats, the guidelines still recommend that you avoid sharing a boat with a person from a different household. However, if you do, you should stay outside, at least two metres apart and with a maximum of 6 people.
  • Cleaning protocols should be put in place to limit coronavirus transmission on boats, particularly on touch points such as handrails.
  • The guidance on staying at your primary residence still applies, so overnight visits or extended visits to private boats are not permitted.

It is this last statement that is causing the most concern for boat owners, particularly those who live some distance away. A new law passed on 31 May states that: “No person may, without reasonable excuse, stay overnight at any place other than the place where they are living.” The accompanying list of reasonable excuses is defined and limited and does not appear to include any significant leeway for recreational boating, unless your boat is your primary residence

The Royal Yachting Association and Cruising Association have both adopted the ‘no overnighting’ advice, as have the main marina chains. That said Motor Boat & Yachting has heard reports of leisure boats staying overnight at anchor in popular South Coast haunts and has not yet heard of anyone being moved on or fined by the police.

Trips to most European countries on private leisure boats are also severely restricted, requiring special international travel certificates. Some popular short-haul cruising destinations such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man also remain closed to visitors from mainland UK.

Staying safe

The rule changes have triggered a scramble to put social distancing and hygiene measures in place in marinas and harbours. Everything from pontoon access to washroom facilities have had to be adapted to meet the new guidelines.

The RNLI has also reinforced its ‘safety first’ message, saying: “Our volunteer lifeboat crews are still ready to respond during the public health crisis. However, we are urging anyone who is planning a return to the water to follow key water safety advice, which includes ensuring equipment is maintained and functioning correctly, and making sure that lifesaving apparatus is available.”

The marine industry has also started to open up. Boat builders and dealers have resumed socially distanced boat viewings and sea-trials. Chandleries are working out how to keep customers safe in store and some companies have extended warranties and servicing intervals.

Fairline is giving new customers a two-year warranty rather than the usual 12 months, and Barrus has announced 90-day extensions to warranty terms and maintenance periods for many of the engines it imports.

Last but not least the organisers of the Cannes Yachting Festival have confirmed that the first big show of the autumn season will go ahead as planned, albeit with strict safety measures in place.

British Marine Boat Shows is also working on the assumption that the Southampton Boat Show will still take place in September, although a final decision won’t be made until July.

I guess we should be grateful that any form of boating is back on, but I am struggling to see the logic of not allowing people to stay overnight on their boats,” said MBY editor Hugo Andreae. “Surely staying on board creates a lower risk of transmitting the virus than shuttling to and from it each day?”


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