Experts are predicting a lot of travel this Memorial Day weekend, and more than a few of those travelers will have water on their minds.
With regional choices for boat enthusiasts including Lake George, Saratoga Lake, Great Sacandaga Lake and the state canal system, plenty of boat trailers will fill the roads, and boats will be dotting the blue waters.
Memorial Day has long marked the unofficial beginning of the summer boating season. The boating industry is predicting this will be the best year since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008.
There are 450,000 motorized boats registered in the state, part of what state officials estimate is a $2 billion annual industry.
“Memorial Day is a big deal. It really blasts off then, and then the activity doesn’t really let up a lot,” said Roger Phinney, executive director of the Eastern New York Marine Trades Association. “Tourism up here is big at Lake George and all the Adirondack lakes.”
Commercial marinas around Lake George and elsewhere are already doing big business, getting stored boats ready and into the water before their owners arrive.
“It seems the measure of our success to our customers is, can we have their boats ready for the Memorial Day weekend,” said George Pensel, owner of Boats by George on the Lake in Cleverdale, on the eastern shore of Lake George.
Many people leave their boats at marinas year-round, expecting them to be stored and repaired in the winter and ready to go when they arrive for a big weekend like this.
“It’s always a challenging time of year, getting it all done and getting it done on time, and done right,” said Pensel, who has been in the Lake George boat business for 33 years.
The industry outlook is good for this summer. Phinney said the annual Great Upstate Boat Show in Queensbury in March, which he oversees, saw $5 million in sales in a single weekend, by far its best sales volume since the recession.
But even while looking to relax on mountain-lined waters, recreational boaters will need to be vigilant about real-world problems like invasive species and unsafe boaters.
Statewide, it’s official policy that boats should arrive at a water body “cleaned, drained and dry,” to reduce the risk of tiny non-native plants and organisms being transported into waters that don’t already have them.
For a second year, there will be mandatory inspections and decontamination of trailered boats at Lake George — to make sure they’re not harboring any invasive species — and a general inspection program will be spread across the entire Adirondack region in coming weeks, with inspection and decontamination stations on major highway corridors.
Participation in the program is voluntary, but highly recommended, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The first new DEC decontamination station opens this weekend in St. Lawrence County. Others are expected to open in June at Speculator, Northville, Chateaugay, Okara Lakes, Paul Smith’s, Cadyville, Ray Brook, Horicon, Piseco and South Colton. Many Adirondack state boat launches, starting this weekend, will have “stewards” educating the public.
Safety on the water is another big topic for those who oversee boating activity. After a long winter, the water is still cold, and that increases the risk of drowning if you fall in.
Last year, 27 people died in boating mishaps across New York state. The state ranked No. 3 nationally in the number of marine accidents and No. 4 in the number of fatalities, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The most common form of death was drowning; 84 percent of those who drowned last year nationwide weren’t wearing life vests, according to the National Safe Boating Council.
For the first time, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is offering its boating and personal watercraft safety certification course online, as an alternative to taking an eight-hour classroom course.
“Regardless of age or watercraft, it’s a good idea for every boater to learn the basics of boating safety,” said state Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. “Online boating education will make training available at a time and place best suited to the public and help spread the message to even more New Yorkers.”
By law, everybody born after May 1, 1996, who wants to operate a motorized marine vessel must obtain a boating safety certificate. Links to approved online courses can be found in the boating section of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website, www.nysparks.com.
If you’re in the High Peaks region next week, the DEC is offering the class May 30-31 at its Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook.
But let’s not let this story leave the impression that all the best boating action is in the Adirondacks or on local favorites like Saratoga Lake; you could go south and face a lot less traffic.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection opens four city reservoirs in the Catskills — the Schoharie, Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink reservoirs — to recreational boating starting the week before Memorial Day.
“I encourage all our neighbors in the watershed and in New York City to take advantage of this unique opportunity to connect with our water supply and experience the scenic beauty of the Catskill Mountains,” said Emily Lloyd, the city’s commissioner of environmental protection.