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With Surge In New Boaters, Some Worry About Safety On The Seas05:01
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Marshfield Harbormaster Michael DiMeo and his assistant John Doyle patrol the area outside Green Harbor in Marshfield. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Marshfield Harbormaster Michael DiMeo and his assistant John Doyle patrol the area outside Green Harbor in Marshfield. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In a normal year, drivers passing 3A Marine in Hingham would see a parking lot filled with boats: brand new fishing boats, center consoles and cabin cruisers.

But this past year has been anything but normal. All 3A Marine has left is one solitary used boat.

Call it another side effect of the pandemic. More people than ever want the fun⁠ — and social distancing ⁠— of boating. The National Marine Manufacturers Association reported a 13-year high in boat sales last year, and 2021 is on pace to surpass that.

But while demand has swelled, supply has dried up because of factory closures and problems shipping parts.

Inventory has been so tight that even 3A Marine's owner has been left high and dry. Ed Lofgren, 84, usually gets a new boat every year from a manufacturer. But not this year.

"The boat seller has no boat," he said.

The crush of sales has also meant a surge of first-time boat owners. And that worries Lofgren.

"People can take a new boat and go out on the water and get in trouble because they don't know how to operate it," he said.

"There are more people on the water who don't have as much experience, and it has caused problems."

Captain Ethan Maass, Sea Tow South Shore

More people on the water has led to more accidents. The Coast Guard reports a 25% jump from 2019 to 2020 nationwide. In Massachusetts, Coast Guard data show the number of incidents has remained steady. But both injuries and deaths are up.

In July, a Somerville woman was killed when the boat she was in crashed into a navigational marker in Boston Harbor.

Boaters who do get in trouble have to call for help. And if they’re on the South Shore, they might reach Ethan Maass at Sea Tow, which is like AAA but for boats.

"There are more people on the water who don't have as much experience, and it has caused problems," he said.

New boaters are twice as likely to run out of fuel or run aground, according to Sea Tow. Both are mistakes that Maas said are easily avoided.

"If more people were trained in being safe boaters, it would reduce not only the accidents and fatalities, but also the more routine breakdowns," he said.

Marshfield Harbormaster Mike DiMeo spends a lot of his time on the water trying to ward off those kinds of issues.

DiMeo’s job as harbormaster includes a bunch of duties, from overseeing the harbor dredging project to responding to rescue calls.

He’s also a police officer, who keeps an eye on boaters like his fellow officers watch drivers on the road. And just like officers patrolling the highways, DiMeo can cite boat operators for reckless behavior at the helm. But he said he prefers warnings.

"It’s not like writing tickets … sometimes you have to. But if you can educate somebody and they’re going to do the right thing, to me that’s even better," he said.

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Marshfield Harbormaster Michael DiMeo pulls out a life vest before heading out on patrol. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Marshfield Harbormaster Michael DiMeo pulls out a life vest before heading out on patrol. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Still, he sees a lot of nonsense. People anchoring in channels⁠ — sort of like parking in the middle of a busy road. Or forgetting to wear lifejackets ⁠— which aren’t actually required of adults in Massachusetts, but highly recommended.

And he can spot a rookie captain or a group that might run into trouble right away.

"Six people are drinking a beer and one person is driving the boat and everyone else is clueless as to what’s going on,” he said. "Little clues like that."

It’s one reason why DiMeo supports a bill to require boat operators to take a class to get a boater safety certificate. As it stands now, Massachusetts is one of the few states where boaters don’t need any training or a license to operate a boat.

"I’m a strong advocate of having a boating license [or] some kind of boating class to make you a more prudent mariner," he said. "Even if you learn one thing in a boating class, if that one thing saves your life, it's a good thing."

Back at 3A Marine, that one boat for sale didn't last long. It sold within two days.

This segment aired on September 8, 2021.

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Ally Jarmanning Twitter Senior Reporter
Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.

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