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Rhode Island to out-of-state boaters: Shove off

Adam Bergamo of Burr's Marina in New London was at the end of the dock one afternoon and looked up to see that it was snowing.

April is usually an uncertain month for boating in Connecticut, because you never know what the weather might bring.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a huge spring question mark over the entire boating season. What will the summer bring?

Marinas and boatyards have been deemed essential businesses and can remain open. As one marina manager told me, they have good lobbyists. It's a big industry.

Indeed, launchings have begun, and most of the boatyards I checked in with up and down the eastern Connecticut shoreline report that spring boating life goes on, cautiously, with yard workers social distancing, working on separate boats, and do-it-yourselfers pulling back winter covers.

Still, the pandemic is going to present challenges to the boating status quo, and at least some boat owners are putting a foot on the brake to see what unfolds in the coming weeks, the boatyards say.

One big red warning flag flying for Connecticut boaters is the hard line Rhode Island is taking toward anyone arriving on the water from out of state.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has issued guidelines that essentially say the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from out of state applies to boaters, as well.

That means Connecticut-based boaters accustomed to making jaunts to Watch Hill, Block Island or Newport will have to stay on their boats and quarantine for two weeks before going ashore.

Rhode Island is asking local municipalities to post "sentries" at their harbor entrances and arriving boats will be asked to fly the international quarantine flag to indicate they are complying with the order.

The Block Island harbormaster has posted a billboard warning of the quarantine requirements at the channel entrance leading into Great Salt Pond, the island's largest harbor.

The same rules apply for the many Massachusetts and Connecticut residents who keep their boats in Rhode Island. One exception to the two-week rule would allow out-of-state residents to come and retrieve their boats and take them out of Rhode Island.

Police in Jamestown, R.I., say they will be checking marina parking lots for out-of-state plates.

No one knows if the order will last into the summer. Violators can be fined up to $50 or up to two years in jail.

The Rhode Island order makes Bergamo wonder if he will sell less diesel at his New London fuel dock, since boaters won't be making longer trips to Rhode Island or New York, where marinas actually have been shut down.

And the difficulties of social distancing aboard small boats might discourage fishing buddies who don't live in the same household from their usual trips together.

On the other hand, for families who boat together, boating is a natural way to get away from other people. Even while docked, most boats are more than 10 feet apart.

And for people who feel shut in now, the open water might seem especially appealing this year.

"What better way to quarantine," said John Lewis, general manager of Essex Boat Works. "We have had people call and say they want their boat in sooner. ... I think everyone is looking forward to it and holding their breath to see what happens."

Peter Barry, manager of Between the Bridges Marina in Old Saybrook, said spring work and launchings are on schedule.

"Get out there and social distance on the water. That's what we've been saying," Barry said.

Bergamo said it might end up being a fantastic summer boating season. Connecticut has lots of places to go on the water if you can't travel to New York or Rhode Island.

"People may want to get on their boats and get out of here because they are going stir crazy," he said.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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