Engineer’s Angle: Antiviral action starts at home – especially when home is a yacht

Mar 31, 2020 by JD Anson

Engineer’s Angle: by JD Anson

The world has awakened to a new day, a new normal. Worldwide pandemic is now a real thing, and it calls for real measures. Governments are struggling to cope and come up with plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Action starts at home, and this is especially true for the yachting industry.

Yes, some boats have run off to the islands and are planning on anchoring out for the time being. Eventually, they will need to replenish food and fuel, and come in contact with civilization once again. Who’s to say one of them is not carrying the virus already? And when they finally tire of the isolation, the virus will still be here to greet them.

A common sense approach is key to protecting yourself, crew and guests. Sanitary practices we have all been expected to follow are now as important as they will ever be. The galley and interior staff should be all over the cleanliness of the food and interior. But there is much that engineers can do as well to help keep everyone safe.

Wash your hands. This is the No. 1  way to help prevent spread of infectious disease. Using hot water and soap for a minimum of 30 seconds, all throughout your day. This will protect not only yourself, but all those you come in contact with.

Maintain safe distance. This will be the hardest to do, as our crew areas are small. Shared cabins are common, meal areas are tight and work spaces are confined. As we have all been living on top of each other for years, we already understand how to avoid spreading illness, be it common cold or something stronger. Keep cabins and common areas clean. Be respectful.

Air conditioning filters need close attention. Any airborne virus can be pulled into the air handler. A good, clean air filter can help trap these and prevent spread throughout the interior. Makeup air units should be running properly to help keep the interior pressurized. The entire system needs to be running properly to keep humidity low and hopefully slow the spread of the virus.

Keep water systems clean and hot water boilers working properly. Lots of hot water will be used by interior staff to keep the boat healthy. If black and grey water systems are due for service, do it now while the boat is still healthy. We don’t want to have to break into those systems after someone on board becomes ill.

Keep an eye on your fellow crewmates. Watch for those who may be trying to hide symptoms. Anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, especially fever, should be isolated from the rest of the crew, and the remainder of the crew should self-isolate from guests and shore personnel. Unfortunately, this can mean cancellation of charters. Yacht crew are generally young and fit, and could be carriers without symptoms; guests are older and may have compromised immune systems or other underlying health issues we don’t know about. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Stay on board. This is not a holiday time. Even though we may not exhibit any signs of the virus, we could still be carrying it along on our shore excursions and possibly pass it to those we meet. Have supplies delivered rather than chasing around town. Avoid direct contact with delivery persons. Alleviate  cabin fever by tender rides in the fresh air while maintaining distance from each other and especially outsiders. 

Watch yourself closely. Educate yourself on the difference between cold, flu and coronavirus symptoms. Machismo has no place in this battle. If one contracts this virus, it is best to isolate as well as we are able to avoid spread.

Be realistic. COVID-19 is not a death sentence. If we find ourselves becoming anxious, avoid the news for a while. The 24-hour news cycle needs to fill all that time, and they will put themselves on repeat until there is something new to say. The World Health Organization has estimated that 20-65% of people worldwide will contract COVID-19. Odds are, you or someone you know will become infected. Be respectful of their situation; it is not their fault. Since it is a novel virus, data and information changes daily. Guidelines may change as new facts emerge.

Now, go wash your hands.

JD Anson has more than 20 years of experience as a chief engineer on megayachts. He is currently project manager at Fine Line Marine Electric ( in Fort Lauderdale. Comments are welcome below.