2020 boating season faces unfamiliar waters

Apr 30, 2020

With warmer weather on the horizon, boating season is fast approaching in Wareham. However, Governor Charlie Baker has implemented a series of new boating regulations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, creating a sea of uncertainty for how the 2020 boating season might differ from previous years. 

According to the new regulations, recreational boaters are not allowed to be on board a vessel with anyone who does not live in the same household as them. Tying boats together, and loitering near boat ramps is also prohibited. 

Wareham Harbormaster Garry Buckminster said that one of the biggest hits to the town’s boating season is that sightseeing vessels like “The Viking” and  “head boats” that are rented by passengers to go on fishing excursions  will not be allowed to operate until the new regulations are lifted. 

For Chris Whitton, Captain of the “Miss Chris” head boat, the new limitation has severe financial consequences. 

“For us, it’s very, very difficult,” he said, as May and June tends to be the busiest time of the year for his fishing trips, bringing in an average of about $200,000.

He said that from May 10 to June 2, his boat takes two trips per day, with about 55 people per trip.

Whitton said he typically employs four full time staff, and three to four part-time staff, all of whom are now laid off. 

He said that he is able to collect unemployment, but he worries that once he is legally allowed to continue his business, customers might still be wary of being on a crowded boat because of the pandemic. “Once we’re allowed to start fishing, I don’t even know if we’re going to have any people,” he said.

Buckminster said that the economic impact to the town caused by the regulations is tough to predict at this point because there is no clear precedent for what is happening right now.

With limited options for boating, he said that the town could be in for “a very quiet summer.” 

He added that a decline in boat use could  also mean financial hardships for companies that sell fuel and fishing gear, but the extent of those hardships is difficult to determine.

Another uncertainty is just how long the new regulations will be in effect. “This is such a fluid event,” Buckminster said of the pandemic, as government regulations are subject to sudden changes as the situation develops. 

The boating regulations are part of Baker’s stay-at-home advisory and essential services order. The order is currently effective through May 18, but it may be extended beyond then if necessary.

Buckminster said his department typically hires seven to ten seasonal employees in the summer, but that number might have to be reduced if the town sees a pronounced decline in boating this year. 

Mike Dumas, of West Wareham, took his boat out to go fishing in Onset on a sunny Sunday afternoon on May 3. 

He said that despite the new regulations, he felt that being out on the water is an activity that is well suited to social distancing.

“It’s a place that I feel you can absolutely isolate yourself, and not have to worry about things like that,” he said.