Boating versus Covid-19: Re-Opening in Los Angeles County?

The county’s Board of Supervisors is being asked to allow multiple households on a single vessel, similar to protocols implemented for San Diego’s boaters.

LOS ANGELES—It’s a rare moment when a policy action in San Diego County influences possible regulatory action in Los Angeles County, yet America’s Finest City has certainly influenced a campaign to update its Covid-19-themed mandates for recreational boating in Marina del Rey, Redondo Beach, San Pedro and Long Beach.

San Diego County, in late September, approved a set of protocols allowing recreational boating to re-open. Boaters at San Diego Bay, Mission Bay, Oceanside Harbor and all local lakes are now allowed to have non-household members aboard, so long as certain protocols, such a social distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene practices, are followed.

The ripple effects of San Diego County’s re-opening protocols were felt more than 100 miles away in Los Angeles, where a campaign to implement a similar mandate for boaters in the nation’s largest county immediately took effect.

Updating the county’s protocols, which limits boating activities to members of a single household, could be up for debate at an upcoming L.A. Board of Supervisors meeting. A proposal to expand recreational boating activities in all of Los Angeles County to include members of other households aboard the same vessel already cleared one hurdle: The Small Craft Harbor Commission, which is part of the L.A. County Department of Beach and Harbors.

Will the campaign to re-open of recreational boating in Los Angeles County be successful? If so, will other California counties follow suit and enact similar protocols? Only time will tell. The Small Craft Harbor Commission – thanks to some campaigning by Redondo Beach’s King Harbor Yacht Club, the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs, and others – has recommended the county update its recreational boating protocols for Covid-19.


County Protocols

A draft document of stating an updated set of protocols for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to issue, and recreational boaters to follow, was obtained by The Log. The draft protocols, if approved, would provide guidance for marina tenants, sailing clubs, yacht clubs and those launching from public ramps.

County officials specifically mandated the protocols to be conspicuously posted wherever boats are docked or launched. All boat owners at marinas or yacht clubs must be informed of the protocols. Boat owners must also maintain a log of non-household guests who came aboard the vessel, for contact tracing purposes.

Face coverings are required for everyone aboard the vessel, and “must be worn when within 6 feet of another person not in the same household for more than 15 minutes.”

Land-based gatherings would be prohibited under the re-opening protocols.

“For regattas, it is recommended that skippers’ meetings and award presentations be accomplished online,” the draft protocols stated. “When rafted together, persons transitioning across boats or on someone else’s boat will wear face covering when 6 feet of separation cannot be achieved.”

Several measures must be taken to sure hygiene and sanitation aboard each boat.

“The person in charge of the boat shall be responsible for the cleanliness and sanitation of the boat prior to allowing persons on board,” the draft document stated. “The person in charge of the boat will be responsible for providing hand washing facilities and/or hand sanitizer effective against Covid-19 to all persons on the boat, to include requiring hand sanitizing before boarding.

“The person in charge of the boat will be responsible for providing disinfecting sprays and wipes that are effective against Covid-19 to sanitize equipment and frequently touched surfaces,” the draft document continued.

L.A. County Small Harbor Craft Commission

The Small Craft Harbor Commission, an advisory board which makes policy recommendations for Marina del Rey, voted in favor of requesting the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to develop protocols allowing non-household members to conduct boating activities together, Oct. 14.

Ken Johnson of L.A. Rowing Club, in addressing the Small Craft Harbor Commission letter, sought to have the county clarify whether use of rowing vessels would qualify as recreational activity under any new mandates to allow expanded boating in Marina del Rey.

Johnson added he reviewed the expanded recreational boating mandate for San Diego County and it appeared to him the protocols applied to motorized boating. Would non-motorized boating and sailing be included in any new mandates for on-the-water activities in Marina del Rey?

John Rushing, the commodore of the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs, said the topic of whether to allow members of different households to engage in boating activities – especially on the same vessel – has been a contentious issue amongst members of area yacht clubs. He said the best thing the commission could do is to provide direction and clarity as to how boaters and sailors could resume boating and sailing activities in the safest way possible.

Greg Schem of Marina del Rey Lessees Association said Covid-19-themed regulations, particularly when it comes to defining “gatherings,” has been confusing.

He added the San Diego County policy was concerning, stating the requirements to keep a log for contact tracing purposes might be government overreach, especially for non-local boaters who are using the boat launch ramp and have only a couple people on board the vessel.

“What scares me about the approach San Diego is taking to this, is that it puts the owner-operator [of the vessel] in a position of representing the history of each person coming aboard the boat,” Schem said. “I think there could be certain legal ramifications coming from that.”

Schem added he observed an increase of boating activities in Marina del Rey since the start of the pandemic. He opined on-the-water activities is a safe outdoor recreational activity, and L.A. County should make an effort to be as clear as possible about how boaters should be safe, without over-regulating boating activities.

Commission’s Letter

Small Craft Harbor Commission’s four members – David Lumian, Nathan Salazar, Richard Montgomery and Allyn Rifkin – formally approved a letter to the Board of Supervisors, expressing their collective position on “the Safe Reopening Protocols of Private Recreational Boating.”

Commissioners acknowledged L.A. County’s Department of Public Health, through the “Protocols for Small Water Vessel Charter,” limits those who can be on a boat to members of the same household.

San Diego County’s expansion of recreational boating activities to include members of different households on a vessel gave the commission an opening to request a similar relaxing of protocols in Los Angeles County.

“It has come to our attention that recreational boating, in most other nearby counties, was never similarly restricted [as Los Angeles County],” the commission letter stated. “And San Diego County has recently re-opened boating to both household and non-household persons, through a new boating protocol. We are requesting your board’s support in implementing similar protocols for the waters under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County, including Marina del Rey, King Harbor, Los Angeles, and the San Pedro Bay, as well as the local lakes.”

King Harbor Yacht Club

The commission’s request for expanding boating protocols would apply to all of Los Angeles County, meaning all lakes and harbors within the county would be bound by the updated mandate, not just Marina del Rey.

At least one yacht club outside of Marina del Rey formally expressed its support for direction and protocol for recreational boating activities for all of Los Angeles County.

King Harbor YC in Redondo Beach, through its commodore, sent a letter to members of the Small Craft Harbor Commission on Oct. 13. The letter formally requested the county’s Board of Supervisors and Department of Public Health to “provide protocol direction for private recreational boating in Los Angeles County.”

“Guidance for recreational/private boating among the counties in Southern California has been inconsistent.” Lee Coller, King Harbor YC’s commodore, said in his letter to the Small Craft Harbor Commission. “In Los Angeles County, private recreational boaters see a specific protocol for Small Water Vessel Charters that allows fishing and whale watching using specific protocol guidelines. The restaurant protocol has allowed for the operation of large charter vessels in Marina del Rey, which serve food to small groups of diners.

“Differing interpretations of what is allowed among various harbors within Los Angeles County, as relating to private recreational boating, have served to increase confusion during this already stressful time,” Coller continued.

Coller’s letter also referenced the San Diego County “Safe Opening Protocol for Recreational Boating” order. He added common-sense guidelines would be embraced by boaters.

“A recommended reopening protocol from the Recreational Boaters of California encourages all boaters, boating organizations and yacht clubs to follow their common-sense guidelines … when boating with friends, family and members,” Coller said. “Boating is a unique recreational activity that can be enjoyed outdoors, in fresh air and sunshine, which are thought to inhibit the spread of Covid-19, in a manner consistent with social distancing.”

When this matter will be taken up by the Board of Supervisors was not yet announced when this story went to press.

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