More boat activity than usual; pandemic means uncharted waters for marinas | Local News


LACONIA – Ice Out on Lake Winnipesaukee was declared just 11 days ago. The water temperature is freezing 41 degrees. Even so, activity on the state’s largest lake is picking up more than usual.

And it’s busier than usual at the start of the sailing season, said Captain Tim Dunleavy, Head of State of the Marine Patrol.

“We are seeing lights on on the islands and in seasonal homes along the shore… and the docks in Gilford Town are busy,” Dunleavy said. “It’s very unusual at this time of year.

A southern couple who loaded items onto their boat at Gilford Docks on Thursday said they had been in quarantine at their home on Lockes Island for more than a week.

“With the virus it’s a safer place to be here,” one said as he boarded their boat.

They requested that their names not appear in the newspaper for personal reasons.

A big question as the 2020 boating season kicks off is what effect the coronavirus pandemic will have on an aspect of summer recreation that is an important segment of the region’s economy.

Don Thurston, who along with his three brothers owns Thurston Marina at Weirs Beach, is cautiously optimistic.

Boating is a form of outdoor recreation that people can enjoy while practicing social distancing, he says. At the same time, he’s wondering what the economic ramifications of the pandemic will mean in terms of people’s ability or willingness to spend this summer on the lake.

On the positive side, he said, “Sales are good.” In addition, all of Thurston’s slides in Weirs Channel are rented for the season.

Other marinas report the same experience.

“People are looking to get out,” said Julie Marsh, executive director of Winnisquam Marine, with locations in Belmont on Lake Winnisquam and on Lake Winnipesaukee at Weirs Beach.

However, restrictions imposed by Governor Chris Sununu’s order to shut down non-essential businesses and federal guidelines designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus have forced Winnisquam and other marine dealers to operate their businesses differently.

Most interactions with customers now take place by phone or email.

Instead of coming to the showroom, people who are considering buying a boat can watch videos featuring different makes and models, either on the marina’s website or on the website of the individual manufacturers.

Because service technicians work some distance from each other, social distancing in service departments is not an issue, according to Thurston and Marsh.

But Bruce Wright, president of Irwin Marine, said the government guidelines have resulted in some loss of efficiency. For example, if two employees are required to return a boat from an offsite storage facility to the marina, those workers now travel in their own individually assigned vehicles.

Additionally, as some boat builders have closed factories or drastically downsized in recent weeks, some customers may have to wait longer for the boat they ordered to be delivered, Wright explained.

Thurston said that because his marina ordered most of its boats during the winter, most customers were unlikely to experience delivery delays.

Both Thurston and Wright have said boatmakers are expected to be back up and running at full capacity soon.

“People get it,” Wright said of the downsides.

For Marsh, hope is the key.

“You have to stay positive,” she said.

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