Wisconsin’s recreational boating industry copes with COVID-19
May 27, 2020
By Georgia Beaverson
Recreational boating is as Wisconsin as, well, cheese, brats and beer. The industry has a huge impact on Wisconsin’s economy every year. As it gears up for summer, how is the industry dealing with the restrictions brought on by COVID-19?
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), more than half a million boats cruise Wisconsin waterways, lakes and the two Great Lakes that border its east and northern shores. Over half a million of those crafts are power boats. Almost 35,000 personal watercrafts (PWC) like jet skis skim Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers, while over 10,000 sailboats navigate them along with over 10,000 other types of craft.
Recreational boating pumps $4.75 billion (yup, that’s billion with a B) into Wisconsin’s economy every year. The recreational boating industry adds over 37,000 Wisconsin jobs like boat building, motor and engine manufacturing, accessories and supplies, services, and dealers and wholesalers. These jobs are generated by nearly 800 recreational boating businesses.
So there’s a lot at stake this summer as the boating industry poises for business as usual. Only it’s not as usual since COVID-19 has necessitated adjustments to how Wisconsin citizens live, conduct business and stay safe.
Gwendolyn Whitney of Sail Door County and Parasail Door County says this year is her businesses’ twenty-first year. She offers vacationers a traditionally rigged tall-ship experience, a sail aboard a racing sloop, and an exhilarating flight along the Niagara Escarpment. Most seasons, she gets plenty of pre-bookings.
“But with COVID-19,” she said, “funds are tight.”
Whitney is preparing for the season now by following a strict cleaning schedule, limiting social interactions outside of the work team, and keeping staff members in quarantine as they come for the season. All staff members will wear masks, and hand sanitizers will be readily available for staff and customers.
“We are even logging staff temperatures in our ship’s log,” Whitney said. “We have small-capacity boats and can offer a private sailing option for those who don’t feel comfortable in a mixed-group setting.”
The Wisconsin Marine Trades Association (WMTA) recently conducted a casual poll of its members to discover how marinas are coping.
Some, like the St. Croix Marina in Hudson, have essentially closed down to anyone who isn’t a marina employee. Looking ahead, the St. Croix Marina may keep its offices, store and bathrooms off-limits. Washburn Marina in Washburn has also closed its store, restrooms, shower rooms and other buildings to the public, although curbside pickups are available.
Some marinas are fully open already. These include Saxon Harbor in Saxon and Abbey Marina in Fontana. Both marinas recommend social distancing and discourage travellers from out of the area.
A representative of Pikes Bay Marina in Bayfield told WMTA the marina “is proceeding with things as normally as we can while following government orders and recommendations. We are trying to remain positive especially for our members’ sake (sic).” Staff workers there have encouraged folks wanting to work on their boats to let the marina do the work at a discounted rate.
“The safety and wellbeing of our staff is a major concern,” the marina representative said.