091219 WES Fishing boat and moonrise 72.JPG

A small powerboat speeds past Watch Hill Light as the nearly full moon rises, on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

Early boating season has arrived, and with temperatures reaching 70 over the last several days, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Protection is asking boaters to maintain social distancing rules as they prepare their vessels and head out on the water.

DEM officials on Monday urged residents to remain safe on the water, and to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines as part of a "key element in Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s plan to reopen Rhode Island businesses and the state economy."

“As boaters prepare to launch their vessels during the COVID-19 public health crisis, we’re reminding them to stay close to home and practice social distancing,” said DEM Director Janet Coit.

“Responsible boaters know how important it is to wear a life jacket and take precautions to stay safe in cold water," she said. "This year, as we’re dealing with the public health emergency, we’re also asking boaters to take additional steps to protect themselves, their families, and the people around them so everyone can safely enjoy the boating season.”

In a press release, DEM spokewoman Gail Mastrati said those who plan to hit the water are encouraged to stay close to home this year, making it easier for the family to travel to and from the boat while limiting additional stops. Those boating are also urged to only go with those in their households.

While at the marinas and boatyards, those conducting work or preparing to get their boat in the water should continue to maintain a six-foot distance from others, as well as adjusting to avoid tying boats to other vessels or beaching near other boaters.

Boaters should also wash their hands frequently, including when fueling up and avoiding touching their eyes, nose or mouth while working on the boats. Whenever possible, boaters are also urged to continue using hand sanitizer regularly and consider carrying or using masks and gloves.

In addition, those planning to boat are asked to be patient — many access points may see delays in order to allow for people to safely maintain social distancing while getting their boat water-ready. This will mean allowing plenty of time and space when someone is launching or loading their boat. Similar rules apply at the docks.

COVID-19 concerns aren't the only ones to consider when boating, however. Capt. Steven Criscione with the DEM Division of Law Enforcement, said anyone engaging in boating activities should wear a life jacket and proceed to utilize all other safety precautions including making sure that boats are properly stocked with additional life jackets and equipment to remain safe on the water.

DEM officials anticipate an increase in early season boating this year, and Criscione said that means potential exposure to cold waters that can trigger cold-water shock, hypothermia and other issues.

“The best way to prevent a tragedy from happening is to wear a life jacket — actually wear it, not just have it along,” said Captain Criscione. “It’s the easiest and most effective way to prevent an unfortunate situation from turning into a tragedy.”

DEM also advises boaters that they should never boat alone, especially when water temperatures are low. During the COVID-19 public health crisis, people should boat only with members of their immediate household and let others on shore know where they’re going and when they plan to return.

For information on Rhode Island boating laws and regulations, including the mandatory boating safety education requirement and certification process, visit www.dem.ri.gov or contact the Division of Law Enforcement at 401-222-2284.

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