Boating activity has increased this summer as residents take to the water during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there have been too many instances of crowding, tying up boats together, and excessive partying, according to state officials.

The Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs last week updated its guidance for recreational boating during Phase III of Governor Charlie Baker's coronavirus reopening plan. Now all recreational watercraft must remain "a safe distance apart," and the "rafting up" of vessels is prohibited.

In addition, a prohibition on hanging out and socializing at boat ramps continues. "Loitering on ramps or in parking areas" is prohibited. People may not park at a ramp if they are not launching a boat, and may not use the ramp area for anything other than boating.

This year, the capacity of any state boat ramp is limited to the size of the parking lot. When the lot is full, the ramp is closed. Those parking illegally will be ticketed and perhaps towed, the rules say.

Several agencies have enforcement power over recreational boating laws in the state. Massachusetts Environmental Police officers, harbormasters, state and local police, and fish and game wardens can all enforce boating laws. Enforcement officers may board any recreational boat at any time to check for compliance. What's more, Massachusetts has one of the toughest boating under the influence (BUI) laws in the nation, and a person found boating under the influence can actually lose their driver's license.

The Department of Fish and Game says it is working with state and local law enforcement officials – both on the water and at boat ramps – to promote education and compliance during this time.

Earlier this month, Governor Charlie Baker said that large social gatherings where people are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing are a "recipe for disaster" when it comes to spreading COVID-19. He took aim at a large lifeguard party in Falmouth, a high school graduation party in Chelmsford, and a party on a boat in Boston Harbor.

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