Pandemic sees boat sales skyrocket, but coastguard issues stern warning to new captains


With so many Australians spending their money on boats during the COVID-19 pandemic, coastguards are increasingly worried about amateur boats with all the equipment and no clue.

As the barramundi season draws to a close in North Queensland, boaters and anglers abandon their river fishing grounds and enthusiastically throw themselves onto the reefs, but they are clogging the waters along the coast and are causing an increasing number of emergency evacuations.

Fisherman Gavin Love said the pandemic has caused an explosion in the number of boats.

“When COVID-19 went into effect, we couldn’t travel anywhere other than Queensland,” he said.

Mr Love said a group of new members joined the Fisherman’s Landing Social Club in Balgal Beach, north of Townsville, in a trend that has spread throughout the region.

In Townsville, where one in four people have a marine license and one in 11 own a registered vessel, growth has been steady since June 2019.

The Fisherman’s Landing Social Club is just a growing group.(Fisherman’s Landing Social Club)

“Two cartons of beer”

According to Maritime Safety Queensland, more than 1,000 additional boats were recorded during the pandemic, from humble tinnies and cruise cabins to bow riders and center consoles.

But Deputy Coast Guard Commander David Finely said many new arrivals had not registered with the Coast Guard.

“Of the 14-15,000 registered pleasure craft in the Townsville area, only 2,000 of them are on our books,” he said.

A Coast Guard registration costs around $ 100 a year, but it could mean the difference between life and death.

“That’s the cost of about two cartons of beer,” Deputy Commander Finely said.

“If they exceed their time on the water and we look for them, the first thing we do is go to the parking lot they left from to see if their car is there – because when they register with us, they can give us the description of their towing vehicle and their trailer. “

A man with gray hair and glasses faces the camera reading a report at a desk.
Townsville Coast Guard Deputy Commander David Finely reads a weather report on the radio.(ABC North Qld: Chloé Chomicki)

Are you listening?

The number of medical evacuations on the water in north Queensland is increasing rapidly and the volunteer maritime services are preparing even more when border restrictions ease in mid-December.

In the Whitsundays, Volunteer Marine Rescue carried out its 100th medical evacuation in November, three times more than during the same period last year.

Deputy Commander Finely said it was crucial for boats to turn on their radios, especially when there were more boats on the water.

“I know a man who only turns on his radio when we broadcast the weather,” he said.

“What it lacks are warnings given by maritime authorities, ships in distress that might call for help.

A man operates a small boat through an inland canal during the day.
A fisherman from North Queensland sets out for a day on the water.(Provided: Fisherman’s Landing Social Club)

What should be common sense is the most critical advice the Coast Guard gives to anyone using a boat this summer.

“Whenever they go fishing, contact us and let us know where they go, when they come back,” said Deputy Commander Finely.