Can Canalside boat tours accommodate social distancing?

Boat tours have fewer passengers and must follow mask policy

Mike Baggerman
July 10, 2020 - 3:00 am
A maritime pilot on the Big Kahuna drives the boat along the Buffalo River. July 9, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

A maritime pilot on the Big Kahuna drives the boat along the Buffalo River. July 9, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Usually, a consistent stretch of high heat would mean more people who want to participate in waterfront activities at Canalside. This would include hundreds of people packing into boats that are docked along Buffalo’s Waterfront.

The COVID factor, though, has forced tour operators to modify that experience. However, they don’t believe it will change the adventure for customers, though fewer of them can now get in boats.

“We are operating at such a deficit in passenger count that I don’t see us having an okay year,” Rich Hilliman, Captain of Buffalo River History Tours, Spirit of Buffalo, and the newly unveiled Big Kahuna, said.  “We’re working on it though.”

New York State has ordered 50 percent occupancy for companies like Hilliman’s. Buffalo River History Tours normally allows 150 people to tour the waterfront. They’re only allowing 50. Big Kahuna can comfortably have 50 passengers, though it now maxes out at 20 to 24 passengers, depending on group sizes.

READ MORE: Big Kahuna launches at Canalside

There are similar challenges just up the road. Peter Cromwell, the Captain of Moondance Cat, said they’re staying busy but have cut their capacity in half from 90.

Boat tours find themselves in a unique position where they have to follow social distancing guidelines mandated by the state. The experience for passengers is akin to a restaurant. You can sit in a specific spot and not need a mask. However, if you plan to walk around the boat, you must wear a mask.

“This boat is so wide. It’s 55 feet long,” Cromwell said. “We don’t have a problem with social distancing on the boat. People automatically spread out. You have to have a mask as you come on a boat or as you’re waiting to come on the boat. If you’re walking within six feet of anyone or going to the bar or the bathrooms, you have to have a mask on then.”

Hilliman said people shouldn’t be concerned about going on boats because they will enforce the mask policy. They’ve also marked six feet of distance with green tape on various parts of the boat to help people better gauge proper distancing.

“When you get to your seat we’re going to ask you to stay in your seat,” Hilliman said. “Whatever green mark you’re at, you can see the next green mark…If you’re within that, we’re going to enforce that they wear the mask.”

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