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DEM Issues COVID-19, Other Safety Guidelines as the Boating Season Kicks Off in Rhode Island Waters

PROVIDENCE – As we approach Memorial Day and the start of the boating season, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is asking boaters to follow COVID-19 social distancing rules and other safety guidelines at marinas and boatyards and while they're on the water.

"This year, as we're dealing with the public health emergency, we're asking boaters to stay close to home and practice social distancing to protect themselves, their families, and the people around them so everyone can safely enjoy the boating season," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Responsible boaters know how important it is to wear a lifejacket and carry flares, a navigation light, a horn, and a first aid kit on their vessel every time they are out on our waterways."

Boating during COVID-19

Boaters are urged to follow these safety rules to protect themselves and others:

- Stay close to home. Travel to and from the access site without making other stops.

- Boat only with people in your immediate household.

- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others at all times and keep your distance on the water by not tying up to other boats or beaching your boat near other boaters.

- Fuel up and plan ahead by packing hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and disposable gloves. When fueling, wash your hands as you would when fueling a car. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

- When launching and loading your boat, give people ahead of you plenty of time and space to finish launching or loading before you approach.

- Do not enter the marina office unless you have an appointment.

- While on the water, find a secluded spot away from others to relax.

- Call ahead to your destination to make sure it is open and accepting visitors.

- When returning, be prepared to dock or trailer with your own crew and avoid assistance.

- Keep distance at dock. Dispose of trash according to marina rules and guidelines.

- If you are sick or exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, stay home and self-isolate for 14 days.

Cold-water safety Captain Steven Criscione of DEM's Division of Law Enforcement reminds boaters about the importance of wearing a lifejacket because the water is dangerously cold at this time of year. Falls into the water can quickly turn tragic. With water temperatures in the low 40s, a fall in likely will trigger cold-water shock. Numbness will set in quickly, swimming or calling for help will be difficult, and the falling victim probably gasp uncontrollably and draw water into their lungs. Even strong swimmers may drown within minutes.

"The best way to prevent a tragedy from happening is to wear a life jacket – actually wear it, not just have it along," said Captain Criscione. "It's the easiest and most effective way to prevent an unfortunate situation from turning into a tragedy."

DEM also advises boaters that they should never boat alone, especially when water temperatures are low. During the COVID-19 public health crisis, people should boat only with members of their immediate household and let others on shore know where they're going and when they plan to return. They should also keep the floor of the boat free of clutter to avoid tripping and falling into the water and ensure that all required safety equipment including life jackets, fire extinguisher, audible and visual signaling devices, and a first-aid kit is aboard the vessel.

Important Reminders

- Children under 13 years old must wear an approved life jacket on recreational craft unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin.

- Make sure life jackets are U.S. Coast Guard-approved.

- Double-check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Today, life jackets are stylish, versatile, comfortable, and lightweight. New technology allows many to inflate automatically when immersed in water.

- Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can be hazardous.

- Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to "grow into."

Boating Safety Challenge Exams

DEM's Division of Law Enforcement will again be offing Boating Safety Challenge Exams beginning May 30. Exams will be held on Saturdays from 9:00-4:00 at DEM Headquarters located at 235 Promenade Street in Providence by appointment only. Boaters wishing to take the challenge exam should email with their name, DOB, address, phone number and email address and write Challenge Exam Request in the subject line. Boaters will receive an email response with an appointed time and date for their test and the procedure to follow on the assigned day. Due to the high volume of exam requests, exams are being scheduled three to four weeks out from the date of request. For questions, please contact Lt. Schipritt at (401) 222-1981.

For more information on Rhode Island boating laws and regulations including the mandatory boating safety education requirement and certification process, please visit or contact the Division of Law Enforcement at 401-222-2284. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at for timely updates.