The pandemic has been a boon for the boating industry, as people have looked to the water as an outlet to get-away for family-friendly fun, according to marinas and yacht brokers. 

But at the same time that the sale of yachts and power boats have soared, there has been a spike in boating accidents on the ocean, rivers, lakes and ponds, resulting in injuries and deaths, say public safety officials, who attribute the uptick in accidents to more boat traffic and inexperienced boaters.

Don Ranger, who owns Somerset Marina on the Taunton River, and Mark Edwards, a yacht broker at Cape Yachts on Padanaram Harbor, Dartmouth, said sales have taken off.

“I think people are looking for ways to entertain themselves. Boating is family-friendly,” Edwards said. “Boating is perceived as a very good way to spend time with the family in these COVID times.”

Similar to the rise in the sale and rental of recreational vehicles during the pandemic, Edwards says part of the boon is because people are foregoing expensive vacations because of health concerns and redirecting their money on some type of sailing vessel.

Cape Yachts is usually busy in the spring and slows down around Memorial Day, he said. This boat buying season has been different. The buying started in the fall with customers purchasing power boats, didn’t slow down around Memorial Day with people buying yachts and power boats and continued right through the Fourth of July.

“It’s still busy now,” Edwards said. He cited a boating trade publication that reported a 20 percent hike in boat sales for June, including power and sailboats. Pre-owned power boats sell for between $20,000 and $30,000 and sailboats go for $100,000 to $500,000 and upwards of $1 million-plus.

“It’s the busiest I’ve seen it in 36 years,” said Somerset Marina owner Ranger, who sells power boats. “People can go anywhere and have their freedom. The price is through the roof. You can’t get a boat. I don’t have anything left to sell. People call me all the time.”

He put a used power boat for sale on and within an hour he had 83 inquiries, he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I have never seen anything like it.”

A pre-owned, 25 to 30-foot power boat sells for between $25,000 and $40,000, depending upon its age and condition, he said. A new, 30-foot power boat sells for anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000, he said.

Lt. Col. Patrick J. Moran of the state Environmental Police said in an email to The Standard-Times that dealers report the sale of boats and jet skies have increased and there also has been an increase in the number of boating accidents and water rescues from 2019 to the present.

Dealers indicate the sale of boats and jet skis are up and the state has received and processed more than 2,000 new requests for registrations, Moran said. Inexpensive fuel is another reason for more boats on the water.

It also appears that the number of boating accidents “may” surpass last year’s numbers, Moran said in the email. His numbers do not include accidents handled by local police and fire departments and harbormasters in Massachusetts. He is only referring to the number of rescues and accidents handled by the state.

In his opinion, a lack of education is responsible for the rise in boating accidents. “People can buy boats and personal watercraft (PWCs) and throw them in the water and expect to be competent in their use without some sort of formal boating education. This is not a new problem,” he said in the email.

Also, alcohol use is “the number one contributing factor” in accidents and fatalities on the water, he said.

The state Environmental Police hasn’t been able to conduct boating safety education classes because of COVID-19 and has been trying to arrange virtual classes through private providers, he said.

MEP has been working with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators to allow private providers to offer courses in a virtual format and issue a temporary boating certificate with a proctored exam being given at some future date, he said.

The water rescues and boating accidents are occurring on every body of water in Massachusetts — rivers, ponds, lakes and the ocean, he said.

Moran advises boaters and others who use the water for recreation to wear a life jacket or have them easily accessible. “Learn what safety equipment your size vessel needs and make sure it is in working condition,” he said.

Earlier this summer, eight young people were injured, including one seriously, when their 20-foot power boat ran aground in the Westport River.

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Source: South Coast Today