Destin boat captains not happy with President Biden, CDC's mask requirements for vessels

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Local captains are less than thrilled with the idea of having to wear masks on their fishing vessels. 

In one of the many executive orders signed by President Joe Biden in recent days is a requirement for people to wear masks on “public maritime vessels, including ferries,” to help curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order that requires all people traveling on commercial vessels to wear masks. 

The order requires “conveyance operators to use best efforts to ensure that any person on the conveyance wears a mask when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel,” according to a Marine Safety Information Bulletin from the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Destin’s charter fleet carries anywhere from six to 80 passengers depending on the size of the vessel and what they are designated for. Some carry single families, while others have several groups. This past season, larger boats limited the number of passengers to allow for social distancing because of COVID-19. 

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“Ninety percent of my business is repeat customers, that are single-party trips. They are not group trips,” said Capt. Allen Staples of the 100 Proof charter boat. 

Some of the passengers aboard the Hannah Marie Dolphin Cruise boat were wearing masks while others were not on Saturday.

"If they are staying in a hotel together or staying in a house together, what difference does it make if they are on a boat together without a mask on. They're not wearing a mask around the house or hotel room or the restaurant or anything else they are doing,” he added. “They drove down here in the same car … what difference does it make?” 

Staples said he also thought wearing masks on the boats in the heat of summer could be hazardous to the health of some people. 

There are signs like this at HarborWalk to remind people to social distance and stang 6-feet apart.

“It’s 110 degrees on my back deck in the summer ... now you’re going to put something over their mouth. I’m going to have old people falling out left and right,” Staples said. 

In spite of his objections to the mask mandate, Staples said he will have a box of masks on the boat for people. Plus, he said he would let his customers know when they book their trips of the mask requirements. 

Although not excited about the mask mandate, Capt. Trey Windes of the Outta Line said, “I will comply legally any way I can.” 

Capt. Chris Schofield of the No Alibi said he will “definitely have something” on the boat for customers. 

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Capt. Jim Green of the party boat New Florida Girl’s American Spirit, which can take 75-plus customers at a time fishing, said he is not happy with the mandate. 

“I think this is a prime example of why ‘one size fits all’ does not work,” Green said. “The guidance speaks of ferries and dinner cruises specifically, then lumps in all passenger vessels. Those are vessels that largely deal with the passengers in confined spaces. The Destin fleet of passenger vessels are arranged mainly as open-air decks. There will be issues that arise with the heat and medical conditions. 

Deckhand Matt Ricks on the 5th Day hangs up a catch Saturday afternoon. Not many people were wearing masks on the docks Saturday in the fresh air and sunshine.

“I believe a more common-sense approach would be to require masks inside confined spaces, not out in the fresh air and sunshine,” Green said. 

Green said he will be writing a policy and statement to post on his website and social media to alert his customers. He also has purchased masks to have on board if needed. 

Capt. Cliff Cox of the party boat Sweet Jody also is not thrilled with the requirement of mask wearing. 

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“I think it’s ridiculous ... especially on my boat. We don’t have air-conditioning — so fresh air is circulating … it makes no sense at all,” Cox said. 

“But it’s kind of a blanket situation and we’re under the blanket,” Cox added. 

Nevertheless, Cox said he will be complying with the mandate.  

Folks were already wearing masks as they showed up to buy tickets to board the Hannah Marie Dolphin Cruise on Saturday afternoon at Olin Marler's Charter Service.

“I’m going to have (masks) at my booth and some on the boat. If they don’t have one when they show up, we’ll give them one,” Cox said. 

He also mentioned that he might do temperature checks at the booth, plus they have hand sanitizer at the booth and on the boat. 

As for the dolphin cruise boats and Buccaneer pirate ship, managers said they’re not sure if they fall under the mask mandate. 

“Basically, we’re waiting to see,” said Wendy Wilson of the Buccaneer and Southern Star dolphin cruise. “If they don’t want to wear them, we can’t force them.”

Wilson said about 10% of the people who board their vessels wear masks. However, she said they have signs up about mask wearing and will provide them if needed. 

The Hannah Marie dolphin cruise boat of Olin Marler’s Dolphin Cruises and Fishing Charter Service was busy on Saturday with a boat full of customers. 

Some of the passengers on the Hannah Marie Dolphin Cruise were wearing a mask while others were not as they got off the boat Saturday afternoon in Destin.

Some customers were wearing a mask while others were not. 

Kristy Collinsworth, manager at Olin Marler Charter Service, said they are not currently requiring customers to wear masks but are waiting to see if they fall under the mandate. However, they do have masks available for those who would like one, Collinsworth said. 

The Coast Guard has been charged with enforcing the orders. 

However, they don’t have “any specifics just yet” on how they are going to enforce the mandate, according to Petty Officer John Macioci of Coast Guard Station Destin. 

“I would advise people that it’s a good idea to have them onboard to play it safe,” Macioci said.