Photo: Marine Trades Association of Maryland

Md. Updates Boating Restrictions, Va. Boating Remains Legal

On the Chesapeake Bay, two governors’ executive orders have created two very different guidelines for boating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Maryland, pleasure boaters must stay off the water except for essential purposes, which the state continues to clarify. In Virginia, boaters may go out freely as long as they follow social distancing rules (more on that below).

In light of the flood of questions from Maryland boaters since Governor Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has updated its guidelines about what is and isn’t allowed, with a couple of notable changes.

Recreational boating is still forbidden in Maryland, with a few exceptions. According to DNR’s “Frequently Asked Questions about Governor Hogan’s Stay at Home Order” web page, those exceptions now include moving a boat from a marina to your home. Here’s the language DNR uses to address the issue:

Can I move my boat or have my boat moved from a marina to my home or my boat slip?

Yes, you can have your boat moved or delivered to your residence or boat slip. While it is not necessary for drivers in Maryland to have documentation about the purpose of travel, having such documentation may help. General recreational boating is not allowed.

The agency’s current guide also addresses traveling through Maryland by boat:

“While there are no orders limiting travel through Maryland by boat or car at this time, travelers are advised to make trips only for essential purposes.”

But DNR urges anyone traveling by boat or otherwise to avoid close contact with others in Maryland and to follow CDC guidance on domestic travel.

DNR maintains that fishing to feed yourself or your family, from shore or from a boat, is allowed as long as you follow social distancing rules and all existing fishing regulations:

“All current fishing, crabbing, and hunting rules and regulations still apply, including the requirement to have the appropriate licenses, permits and stamps.”

On its Frequently Asked Questions page, DNR says its current guidance is “subject to change throughout the duration of the public health emergency,” but the intent of Governor Hogan’s executive order is simple: “stay home unless you absolutely must leave.”

Bay Bulletin has reported on the differences between Maryland and Virginia’s current boating regulations. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order “permits continued engagement in outdoor activities that can be beneficial to us all.” The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) says recreational boating is allowed as long as boaters maintain at least six feet from other people who aren’t family, household members, or caretakers.

Virginia bans gatherings of 10 or more people, including:

     “- When present at access points for fishing or boating, whether state or locally-owned;
      – The beaching of vessels on sandbars, islands or banks while out on the water;
      – The “rafting” of vessels together; and the numbers of individuals present on any vessel.
      – When present at outdoor recreation lands, including Wildlife Management Areas.

Virginia says its Conservation and Marine Police officers will be monitoring water access points and activity on the water, even as recreational boating remains allowed.

” DGIF and VMRC want the outdoors to be a place of safe escape for you during this difficult time, and our ability to continue to promote this depends upon your assistance.”

Charter fishing, meanwhile, is considered a nonessential business in Virginia, say the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and charter boats may not operate. In Maryland, on the other hand, charter fishing is considered essential as part of the food supply chain, and is allowed.

Meg Walburn Viviano