I just bought a Zodiac RIB for my two teenage kids to use this summer, a 13-footer with a Suzuki outboard that should do a fine job of transporting them to the Norwalk Islands, easy-to-access destinations located just a mile off the coast of our home in Rowayton, Connecticut. I got lucky while shopping for the Zodiac. I was able to scoop up the last one of this particular model at Rex Marine Center in Norwalk. Boats and motors, as you probably know, are in short supply this season.
It’s no secret that boat sales have skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic as more people turn to cruising as a way to enjoy the outdoors. Sales of boats, marine gear and services across the country jumped to a 13-year high in 2020, increasing 9 percent from the prior year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. And the trend shows few signs of slowing in 2021, as dealerships struggle to maintain inventory and manufacturers expand production capacity to meet demand. In addition, first-time buyers are entering the sport in larger numbers, a sign that the growth has staying power.
While the increased interest in boating is great news for the industry and for any person who wants to make new friends in anchorages this summer, it also means heavier traffic on the waterways, and possibly a little chaos in areas that tend to draw a lot of boats in a regular season. I talked to a captain in the Norwalk marine patrol unit recently, who told me he’s meeting people who are new to boating every day, and unfortunately, some of them don’t always know what they’re doing. On more than one occasion, he’s had to stop, reverse and hit his horn, with boats coming right at him.
That was a reminder for me to get my kids enrolled in a local boating education class so they can get a refresh on the basics before firing up that outboard. And they’ll accompany me to the dealership on the day we take delivery of the RIB, so they can talk to the dealer as he walks them through the basics of how everything works. We’ll also select safety gear together and take the time to run down the list of required items to ensure we have everything we need, right down to life jackets that fit. That’s another thing the marine patrol captain mentioned. He noted an increase in citations for basic boating violations. It’s not that people don’t have enough life jackets on board; they just don’t have them, period.
I’ll also encourage the kids to seek out the counsel of experienced boaters whenever possible. This won’t be their first season on the water, but they still have a lot to learn. And fortunately, there are a number of great skippers out there who are generous with their time and knowledge. It’s those people, really, who make boating the special pastime that it is.