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Boating allowed in Michigan, Whitmer's office clarifies

George Hunter Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Editor's note: Since the publication of this story, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office has clarified that jet skis, motorboats or other comparable watercraft are prohibited. Read the latest story here

Boating and kayaking are allowed under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, officials with the governor's office said Friday, overruling a state police lieutenant's earlier statement that launching watercraft was barred under the governor's edict.

People fish on the Detroit River near Grosse Ile on Friday, April 3.

Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw told The News Friday that the governor's March 24 "Stay Home. Stay Safe. Save Lives" order prohibited recreational use of the state's waterways. Hours later, John Pepin, a spokesman with the state's Department of Natural Resources, said boating was allowed under the governor's order.

UPDATE: Whitmer hits reverse; motorized boating no longer allowed in Michigan

In the wake of the confusion, the governor's office Friday updated the state website's "Frequently Asked Questions" associated with Whitmer's executive order.

"Boating falls within the outdoor activities permitted under the order," the website says. "Any outdoor activity, including boating, must be done in a manner consistent with social distancing, and individuals should use only their own equipment to prevent the transmission of the virus through the touching of shared surfaces. Additionally, in accordance with section 2 of the order, persons not part of a single household may not boat together.

"While boating is permitted under the order, the provision of boating services or supplies does not itself constitute critical infrastructure work," the state site says. "Accordingly, marinas, canoe liveries, and other similar businesses and operations may not designate workers to come to work for that purpose. As needed, however, these businesses and operations may designate workers to leave their home for work if their in-person presence is strictly necessary to conduct the minimum basic operations listed in section 4(b) of the order.

"Minimum basic operations do not include serving members of the public, but do permit work necessary to maintain the safety and sanitation of sites otherwise open to the public for outdoor recreation," the website says.

Prior to Friday's revisions, Whitmer's order specifically mentioned walking, hiking, running and biking as allowable activities, but not boating.

Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Friday announced it would close small boat reporting locations across the state to comply with President Donald Trump's orders limiting travel across borders to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Those locations include:

  • Mount Clemens — Metro Beach Public Marina
  • Detroit — Erma Henderson Park
  • Trenton — Elizabeth Park
  • Lexington — Lexington Harbor
  • Port Huron — River St. Marina
  • Algonac — Algonac Harbor Club
  • Sault Ste. Marie — Kemp Marina
  • Drummond Island — Yacht Haven Marina
  • Rogers City — Municipal Marina
  • Mackinac Island

The federal agency also reminded boaters that "routine small vessel travel for pleasure is non-essential."

State parks and boat launches remain open, although Pepin said state harbors are closed. "The amenities at the boat launches are closed, but you can still launch your boat," he said.

Not all states are allowing people on the waterways during the coronavirus epidemic. Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies arrested a paddleboarder Thursday near the Malibu Pier for violating California's stay-at-home order.

Shaw said he still recommends people stay at home until the virus is contained.

"Don't look at the order and say, 'how can I find a way around this?' Look at it and say, 'I don't want to get the virus and kill my wife or husband,'" he said.

"You may think you're not doing any harm by going kayaking or boating, but you're still touching doorknobs, making contact with people," Shaw said. "What happens if you're kayaking and the Coast Guard has to come out and try to rescue you, and they expose themselves? Just stay home."

People fish on the Detroit River near Grosse Ile on Friday, April 3.