Beginning June 1, 2020, the Florida Keys will be reopening to tourism. The State will suspend its checkpoints on Highway 1. Marinas, parks, beaches, and recreation areas will reopen. And, gradually, campgrounds, resorts, restaurants, and bars will follow.
If you’re getting antsy to venture back out into the world after mandated COVID-19 isolation, that’s welcome news. Boating is one of the best ways for you and your family to get back out into the world while still maintaining a sensible level of social caution.
Officially closed to visitors since March 22, businesses in the Keys are also celebrating the news. They rely on tourism for their financial security and contribute over $4.4 Billion to Florida’s tourism economy in “normal” times.
So head down to the marina, wipe down the boat, fuel up, fill the cooler, load up the kids, and head out for the day – the weekend – or even longer.
Here’s what you need to consider before you throw off the lines and head off into the sunset.
1. Plan a flexible itinerary.
Approach your post-COVID cruise to the Keys with flexibility in mind. That great little restaurant, beach bar, or marina you might have visited last year might not have survived the enforced closures. That popular sandbar that usually draws dozens of boats for close-up-and-personal partying might not be the sanest way to socialize just yet.
Instead, do something you wouldn’t normally do. Choose a new experience rather than insisting on reliving an old favorite. It might make sense, for example, to find a more secluded anchorage or mooring to enjoy solitude, explore the mangroves, watch the birds, snorkel the shoreline, dive the wreck, or fish the shallows.
After all, being out on the boat is still one of the best ways to maintain social distance while getting outside, enjoying the fresh air, and experiencing the feeling of freedom that being on the water offers.
The following resources will help you consider alternatives.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary website features a map showing all of its mooring buoys throughout the sanctuary. Depending on your interests, and those of your family, guests, or crew, you can find a mooring on an artificial reef, a shipwreck trail site, or a wildlife management area that will allow you to take full advantage of everything the sanctuary offers.
The Cruisers Net is a website for boaters, written by boaters. It not only provides updates from the USCG about navigating the Keys, it is also a good source of local knowledge about anchorages, restaurants, businesses, and useful information for recreational boaters.
2. Get current, up-to-date information from official, reliable sources.
Monroe County, which includes all of the Florida Keys, offers some useful links on their website for boaters.
Monroe County lists the current status of all beaches and parks on its website. As of June 1, all beaches and county parks are open, with emphasis on social distancing enforced by regular patrols by local law enforcement. There may be restrictions on group size, permissible activities like volleyball, basketball, or kids’ playgrounds.
If you plan to tow your boat and launch it for day trips in the Keys, visit Monroe County’s Boating, Fishing, and Boat Ramps page. The site indicates that most boat ramps within the county remain open, and commercial fishing and fishing tours are still permitted. You’ll also find updates on parking, capacity, and any restrictions or limitations on specific ramps.
And Key West keeps up-to-date information on its website, as well as a staffed hotline at 305-809-1101 (8:00 AM – 8:00 PM) and a livestream featured on its Facebook page or Comcast Channel 77 and AT&T Channel 99.
A bit of research before you throw off the lines will help you and your family prepare for your cruise to the Keys.
3. Respect the community and follow the rules.
According to the Florida Keys and Key West website, “New disinfecting and social distancing guidelines for leisure visitors, as well as mandatory wearing of face coverings for both visitors and tourism industry staff members, are to be initiated with input from the Florida Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.” And Monroe County is fully prepared to enforce those guidelines.
If a local business is enforcing a mask rule, put on a mask. If a bar or restaurant has reduced capacity (most will for the foreseeable future), don’t insist they accommodate your large party. If a local grocery store has “traffic” lanes or occupancy restrictions to enforce social distancing, be respectful. Just because the businesses are now opening up again doesn’t mean things are “back to normal” just yet.
Be a good guest and follow requirements for social distancing so Monroe County and the Keys won’t have to limit access to its treasured parks, beaches, and fishing grounds.
4. Let Intermarine Boats help you.
These decidedly strange times have affected all of us. Thankfully, we don’t have to go through them alone.
At Intermarine Boats, we’re committed to helping valued clients like you get the most from your boating adventures – no matter how strange the times.
If there’s anything we can do to help you plan your itinerary, outfit your boat, or celebrate Florida’s reopening by getting you into that newer, bigger, boat you’ve been dreaming of, don’t hesitate to call us, drop us an email, or visit any of our South Florida locations.
Welcome back to the water…and happy boating!