By Jennifer Farnsworth
Area marina owners are fondly calling this the “summer of boating” as the 2020 season comes to an end. Many are saying they never could have anticipated the high demand for marina use the past few months have brought during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From experienced boaters to rookies, those in the business said the season brought an unprecedented amount of people to water in search of a summer escape.
In Bolton Landing, Norowal Marina manager Sean Loonan said business has been non-stop since early spring. He believes the demand will continue well into the fall.
“The best way to sum it up is that what used to look like weekdays now look like our weekends and what used to look like our weekends now looks like our holidays,” said Loonan.
At Boats By George in Lake George, general manager Adam Pensel said business has been “incredible.”
Pensel said the season started early, forcing them to hit the ground running in the midst of a health crisis. They were allowed to be open in the early stages of the state shutdown of many businesses, something the company is thankful for, but Pensel said at the same time it was unnerving in the beginning stages.
“We found out we could be open and we saw early signs of what the season could look like so we had to very quickly figure out how to run our sales, service and marina safely. We needed to protect not only our customers, but our employees. We needed masks and we needed sanitizer, which our local distilleries really helped us out with. We needed to adapt and adapt quickly, and we did,” he said.
Pensel said Boats By George numbers are slated to be up anywhere from 20 to 30 percent by the time the season wraps up, echoing other marina owners’ anticipation that the season will linger for as long as the weather permits. He said so many people had to change their summer vacations, so boating on the lake became one of the most feasible options.
“People are taking to boating and they are going to do it for as long as they can. We are already busy with pre-season orders for next year, “ said Pensel.
At another popular Lake George marina, Freedom Boat Club, owner Matt O’Hara said they are seeing the same trends.
“We have noticed a substantial increase in boating interest and usage. Our boats have completed 30 percent more trips per boat so far this year. Our first four years, about 60 percent of our fleet would be utilized on weekdays, this year, since the start of June, we are at almost 100 percent of the fleet seven days a week, it feels like a Saturday every day. Our public fuel sales surpassed all of 2019 by July 25 and our service business is up as well. New boat club leads are up and membership is almost sold out for 2021.”
His company partnered with Live Life Travel, a local travel agency, to offer memberships to clients who had to cancel vacation trips.
“We also have noticed that the interest this year wasn’t just from new people. We had many new members who first inquired about the club over a year ago who finally decided that this was the summer to join so that they could have safe, socially distanced fun with their families,” said O’Hara.
He said they instituted a range of new procedures to ensure service safely, including mandatory masks on the docks at all times. All marina docks and boats are disinfected and have an antimicrobial treatment applied, boats are disinfected up to three times a day, depending on use.
“We also have additional building and restroom sanitization processes, as well as a building log to track everyone who enters. We have moved as much of our transactions and checkout procedures to be touchless by direct billing members for gas instead of swiping credit cards each trip. And employees complete a health screen and have their temperatures checked before each shift,” said O’Hara.
Marina owners acknowledge they are lucky to be in the small sector of businesses that have flourished during what has been a difficult time for many business owners. O’Hara, like Pensel and Loonan, said in light of challenges felt by most everyone, being able to provide a service that allows people to experience joy has been a silver lining.
“Although the circumstances surrounding the increased interest in boating are unfortunate, we are happy that we were able to provide a welcome and enjoyable distraction for people during these hard times. It has been especially encouraging to see the smiles on the faces of boaters as they depart for a day on the water where they can make memories with their loved ones and leave their stress behind. We’re hopeful that the experience we have provided this summer fosters a deep love of boating that keeps all the new boaters involved in the boating lifestyle for years to come,” said O’Hara.
By Jennifer Farnsworth