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With social distancing lasting into the summer, expect a new normal on the water. While the boating industry, like so many other business sectors, faces new challenges, many charter boat captains have made changes in order to open for small group trips this summer. 

Since late April, individual boat owners have been permitted to operate boats per a memorandum from Governor Charlie Baker’s office stating that “only persons from the same household should be together on a boat at one time.” For-hire charter boats were originally deemed nonessential under the same memo before charter fishing was allowed to resume operations May 25—provided that operators meet the required safety standards.

Thomas E. Lannon, Gloucester
Heath Ellis, president of the schooner Thomas E. Lannon, acknowledges that this start to the season is a far cry from when he would typically start sailing around Mother’s Day weekend. The Lannon is an impressive 65-foot schooner, built in 1997 in Essex and designed by Captain Harold A. Burnham, whose family has been in the boat building business in the town where it was built since 1650. The schooner is named for Ellis’s grandfather, who was a Gloucester fisherman from 1901 to 1943. Ellis is sailing with limited capacity for the safety of all guests and its crew. “Safety is and always will be the most important thing to us. We plan on exceeding the recommended guidelines, and will have more information on our website about the precautions we are implementing,” he explains. 

Schooner Ardelle, Gloucester
Also out of Gloucester, the Schooner Ardelle is a 58-foot, 45-ton, 490-passenger beauty. Built by Harold Burnham, who also built the aforementioned Schooner Lannon, the Schooner Ardelle was a labor of love for Burnham Boat Building. The Ardelle is mainly constructed of timber from local discarded trees and its spars, rigging, and systems were appropriated from another schooner. Typically, the Ardelle carries out daily public and private sails and Captain Burnham will be resuming sails as soon as it is safe to do so.

Boat Safety
For-hire charter fishing was allowed to resume after May 25 provided that operators meet the required safety standards: No more than 10 people, including any captain and crew, are aboard a single vessel at any one time. Other protocols include six feet of social distance, face coverings, and regular sanitation procedures among other requirements.

Two Captains Charters, Newburyport
Two Captains Charters offers deep sea as well as inshore fishing and tuna fishing in addition to day cruises. As the name implies, the boat is run by Ed and Jeff Fontes, both USCG Licensed Captains who belong to the Northeast Charterboat Captains Association. The Reel Easy is a custom, 35-foot Eastern Down East boat with a large fishing platform as well as ample cabin and deck space. It also has a restroom, indoor seating, heat and air conditioning as well as a small refrigerator for refreshments. “This is a fluid situation,” explains Jeff. “What is for sure is that reduced passenger capacity, masks, and social distancing  are a priority. We are doing what we are supposed to do—we are a group of responsible people who already operate within the scope of the law in a heavily regulated industry,” he explains. 

When and If, Salem
General George S. Patton’s 1939 schooner the When and If designed by John Alden—famed for his elite racing schooners—is quite literally a piece of floating history. From its sweeping wood deck to its giant sails, stepping foot on the When and If is like stepping back in time. The schooner underwent an extensive two-year renovation that preserved all of the boat’s charm and history, while updating it to be a vessel fit for modern day passengers. Owner and captain Seth Salzmann says the When and If  is back in Salem this summer, and he and his crew are doing everything they can to ensure the health and safety of clients and crew. Salzmann plans to roll out more affordable private charters for smaller groups this summer “in a way that practices social distancing and is acceptable for all involved,” he explains.

Manolin Charters, Newburyport
On the Manolin, a 24-foot semi-custom boat with an open deck and top speeds of 42 miles per hour, the story is no different. Chris Valaskatgis, president of the Northeast Charterboat Captain’s Association, says that every measure of safety is being taken seriously. Thanks to a generous sponsor (Minn Kota/Humminbird), clients will be provided with free “buffs” (a cloth mask originally designed to combat sun and heat on the water) that has been approved by the CDC as an appropriate style of mask to wear. Valaskatgis will be “maxing out the number of people on trips to maintain proper social distancing. We will be wiping down the boat and equipment every hour, probably more, to ensure cleanliness. We will have hand sanitizer readily available and clients will be responsible for their own food and drink to be kept in a personal cooler,” he says.

Dark Horse, Newburyport 
George and Will French are brothers and co-owners of the Dark Horse who are also making safety their highest priority. Launched in 2018, the Dark Horse was constructed in Maine over two years. Built entirely of composite materials, resulting in a sturdy but lightweight and fuel-efficient vessel. Frequent and favorite destinations include trips to the Merrimac River, local marshes, Plum Island, and Castle Hill. Expect all of the required sanitation procedures as well as masks, gloves, and avoiding mixing groups of people who are not already in close contact with one another.

Donny Pattullo and his family. 

Private Boat Owners 
If you’re a private boat owner, you might be wondering what your options for getting out on the water are. Donny Pattullo is a Newburyport resident and avid boater who predicts a slow recovery. “Unfortunately, I think full boats of 50-plus strangers heading out for a day of fishing or an evening party cruise in July are as unlikely as an airplane full of travelers at the same time.” But boat owners can still enjoy the water. “The North Shore is rife with places for overnights. If you typically go dock-to-dock but want to keep social distance and anchoring overnight makes you nervous, look for places to get a mooring,” he recommends.

“Many towns now use Dockwa to rent their moorings and also have local reviews like where to walk the dog or find the best lobster roll. ActiveCaptain is another resource for local reviews,” he says. “A three-night mooring trip could start in Gloucester to see the commercial activity, through the Annisquam River and over to Ipswich Harbor for some fun at the beach, and then up to Newburyport for some exploring downtown,” says Pattullo. Another idea is to be “your own whale watch. Head out a few miles, slow down, and look around. If the whale watch boats are running, check out their location but be respectful of them and the whales and keep your distance,” says Pattullo. 


Dark Horse |

Manolin Charters |

Two Captains Charters |

Schooner Ardelle |

Thomas E. Lannon |

When and If |