Despite rain, South Florida boaters take to the sea this Memorial day

Despite rain and Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s local state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, Miami-Dade County boaters cast off this Memorial Day weekend.

It has been almost a month since marinas and fishing piers reopened after Gimenez ordered them closed as a way to save lives and flatten the curve. Since then, boaters have arrived at marinas almost early every day, particularly on weekends, to secure parking spots.

This weekend, though, is special. It marks the beginning of summer and is traditionally the busiest boating day of the year. It is also a time of heavy drinking — people begin to relax after the school year ends and are less careful. The number of boating accidents usually rises. 

Though boat traffic has been especially heavy the last few weeks county-wide, it is unclear what will happen this weekend. Friday was busy — but traffic the last couple days has been thinned out by rain.

In an informal SFMN poll, 31 South Florida people were asked if they planned on going out on a boat between May 22 and May 25. The majority, 90.3 percent, said they planned to stay on land this Memorial Day weekend and not on the ocean. 

Research and chart by Emma Delamo

That number is actually high. In 2018, the latest year available, about 67,000 boats were registered, according to state statistics. About 2.7 million people live here

According to Miami-Dade County Emergency Order 21-20, face masks are to be worn until boats have departed the marina, only one boat is allowed to launch at a time, and all passengers must remain in the boat until it is ready to be attached to a trailer. All of these protocols are in place to keep individuals safe and encourage social distancing. 

“Those in violation of these requirements may be subject to a misdemeanor fine of $500,” Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces wrote in “Moving to a New Normal: Marina Rules.”

The department created the “Moving to a New Normal: Marina Rules” flyer with information about what is and is not allowed at the marinas. 

On Friday, Jesus Roque, his brother, his step-brothers, and his father arrived with their boat at the Haulover boat ramp for an early morning of fishing. He said he received the “Marina Rules” flyer when he got to the booth to pay and was given a few safety rules. 

Roque believes that there is a chance that the volume of people out on boats this weekend will cause more to catch the virus. The reason: social distancing rules are sometimes not followed when boats anchor on sandbars.

“Boating is a safe, social-distancing activity, especially since [marinas] are being very strict,” said Roque. “We all wore masks while at the ramp and getting bait.”

Roque said he and his family were never told they would be issued a fine if they broke safety rules. “It said [there was a fine] on the flyer. The police were there.” This was no problem for him and his party but could cause problems for those who don’t follow the rules. 

Memorial Day celebrations do not mean there is a change in the capacity of boats. Those 25 feet or less are allowed a maximum of four adults, plus children, with a maximum of eight people on board. Those 26-36 feet allow for six adults maximum, plus up to four children. Boats 37 feet and larger are allowed more.

“People were trying to be socially distant in parking their boats, but eventually people did congregate with close family and friends,” said Alexis Pozo, a boater who traveled to the keys this weekend with family and friends.

Pozo believes that boaters on the water will not increase the cases of coronavirus in South Florida, even during a holiday weekend.

“In the Keys, crowd levels have been far, far less than usual,” said Pozo. 

The Florida Keys will open to non-residents June 1. The South Florida vacation hotspot closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Sandbars and popular areas in the Keys are being patrolled by police, according to Monroe County’s website, which lists boating, fishing, and boat ramp information.

“We aren’t congregating as closely as usual,” said Pozo. “The distance is visible to people who go out on the water on a common basis.”

Emma Delamo is a senior FIU student majoring in Broadcast Media. She is pursuing a minor in Social Media and E-Marketing Analytics and a second minor in Global Communication. She loves journalism and has a passion for reporting local and entertainment news.