Boating Restrictions Create A New Normal At Saquatucket

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Boating , COVID-19

Social distancing and other restrictions will apply to boating this summer.  Picnic tables have also been removed from the deck at Saquatucket Harbor. KAT SZMIT PHOTO 

HARWICH — With Memorial Day, people start to get anxious about the upcoming boating season. Harbormaster John Rendon said the early birds are already arriving at their slips in Saquatucket Harbor.

“I’m expecting a good boating season,” Rendon said. “People ask me if I think it’s going to be a terrible boating season, but I think it will be an opportunity for people to get outside, on the water. I think it will be an active boating season.”

But Rendon is reminding boaters that Gov. Charlie Baker has issued boating guidelines while the state remains under an emergency order which his department will be adhering to. Those regulations include directives on the use of public access ramps, recreational and commercial boating activities, social distancing and the congregation of people on boats.

The guidelines also state that boating access facilities and state-owned properties managed by the commonwealth are open for use only by boats being launched by vehicles registered in Massachusetts. Rendon said he interprets those provisions as addressing the ramps that have been funded in part by the commonwealth, such as the ramp at Saquatucket and Allen harbors. Social distancing and quick launching with no lingering is anticipated at all ramps, he added. The ramps also cannot be used for organized fishing tournaments.

Baker issued his four-phase plan for opening up the commonwealth on Monday, and while there was not much in the way of changes for recreational and commercial boating, there was a major shift for charter boat operators. Earlier provisions prohibited charter boat, whale watching, harbor cruises and sightseeing vessels from operating. Monday’s revised provisions continue to prohibit whale watching, harbor cruises and sightseeing vessel tours through phase three of the reopening plan, but charter boats will be allowed to operate effective May 25 under strict guidelines.

“It’s a good thing,” Rendon said of allowing the charter boats to operate.

Under the orders issued Monday, no more than 10 people, including captain and crew, can be aboard a single vessel at any one time. This means that vessels with more than 10 passengers and crew are not allowed to operate.

The new provisions put in place strict protocols for protecting against transmission of the coronavirus, including social distancing and the wearing of cloth face masks; hygiene protocols including hand-washing capabilities and regular sanitation procedures; protocols for training employees; continued screening; keeping a log; a reporting procedure for an employee infected by coronavirus; and maintenance cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

According to the guidelines for recreational boating, only people from the same household should be together on a boat at the same time and no gatherings from multiple households are permitted at boat ramps, docks and piers. Recreational boats are required to remain a safe distance apart and boats cannot be tied together.

Operators who fail to implement applicable COVID-19 measures can be sanctioned, according to the new directive.

Marine transportation works, including dredgers, port workers and mariners, ship crew members and equipment operators are considered essential services, as are commercial fishing operations.

There have been a number of questions posed by mooring holders in town, according to Rendon. The town has a harbor management provision that requires mooring holders to use a mooring for at least 30 days. He said given the exceptional circumstances with COVID-19, people who do not use their boat will not be at risk of losing their mooring.

Rendon said he has been told by Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers to move ahead with seasonal hiring, as it is important to have people on board by Memorial Day. The harbor will require the same number of employees as previous years and he is trying to hire back those who have worked there before so there is no need for training. He said this is important for safety reasons.

There have been some cancellations of transient vessel slip rentals at Saquatucket Harbor, Rendon said, but there are still quite a few rentals coming in. Once the season gets going, he said he is sure the rentals will do well.

“Hopefully, we can accommodate everyone,” he added.

As for people who just come to the harbor to view the setting, Rendon said picnic tables, some of which are used by patrons of the Dockside Seafood Shack, will not be out on the deck and there will be signage warning visitors to maintain social distancing and follow safety rules. Under the current guidelines Dockside can only serve take-out orders.

“Moving forward, I’m sure it will have an impact on that business,” Rendon said.

As for the artisan rental shacks, Rendon said he has not heard what the plans are for them for this summer.