Are “covid boaters” a thing?

When covid-19 first reared its ugly head in 2020, a lot of people sought refuge from restrictions and lockdowns by getting into boating. (I know: a sold a 1971 keelboat in two weeks.) The chatter soon began around the docks and online about “covid boaters”—people who had leapt into the pastime and seemed to have about as much practical and theoretical knowledge about being on the water as one might expect.

It’s hard to say (as we enter our third summer in which covid is still very much around) if the covid boater is actually a thing. The 2021 Muskoka and Georgian Bay Regions Lake Activity Survey, conducted by the group Safe Quiet Lakes in conjunction with Algonquin College, at least gives a snapshot of what people in a major part of Ontario’s cottage country perceive to be a problem.

The group surveyed 5,951 people from about 130 cottage lakes as well as the Georgian Bay region, which contributed 19 percent of respondents. This was very much a survey of waterfront property owners, as opposed to dedicated boaters, with 96 percent self-identifying as the owner of a cottage or residence on or near a lake. “Two-thirds or more perceive that there is more boat traffic, more boat noise, and a greater impact of boat wakes today than five years ago.” If that’s the case, then newbies to cottaging in most of the surveyed locales, rather than dedicated boaters, would be to blame. So maybe we should be talking about the perils of covid cottagers rather than covid boaters, at least where this survey is concerned.

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