JACKSONVLLE, Fla. – After several south Florida counties shut down boat ramps because of a lack of social distancing among boaters could also lead to ramp closures in our area.
The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday that “Sandbars off Jupiter and Tequesta and the waters off Boca Raton had become gathering spots for boating parties, even when state and federal officials warn against gatherings of 10 people or more and urge social distancing of at least 6 feet.”
In Miami-Dade County and in Manatee County, boat ramps and water access on beaches have been shut down because boaters have not heeded the warnings of health and governmental officials.
In the Jacksonville area, the same issues haven’t cropped up, yet. But some local boaters are concerned that a few recreational boaters will not heed the warnings, shutting off water access for all.
“Everything we’re doing at Publix and the stores we go to, we have to do the same thing when we go fishing and to the boat ramps," said Don Dingman, a fishing charter boat captain and lifelong boater. "We have to practice social distancing. A lot of the things we love to do on the water, like go to the sand bars, raft up and visit with our friends and have cookouts, we can’t do anymore or they’re going to close the boat ramps like they did in South Florida and we certainly don’t want that.”
Dingman said that over the weekend, boat traffic was as heavy as it typically is in good weather, and that’s when the risk of people not keeping their distance increases. He also noted that when done correctly, boating is a perfect way to practice social distancing. He just hopes others will understand the benefit of keeping the ramps open provides and continue to be smart.
“With this virus, we ton’ know what we’re facing,” Dingman said. “I have an elderly mom. My family--we don’t want them to get this so we have to practice safe and practical measures when we’re out on the water. Just because it hasn’t affected you yet...it’s going to. Somebody you know is going to get this and we have to do something about this now.”
For now, only the beaches and parks have been closed, which has impacted a few spots where boaters can put into the St. Johns River, Intracoastal Waterway or the Atlantic Ocean. Dingman wants all boaters, fishermen and others who use the waterways for recreation to be aware of the impact that each can have on the perception by lawmakers and others.
“Be smart. Let’s keep the ramps open and let’s go fishing,” Dingman said.