By Lucy Chabot Reed
As government and port lockdowns stretch into their third month, many yachts and crew that have had to stay put can’t help but wonder about cruising again. So we asked yacht captains about their summer cruising plans, whether they were working on them or indeed whether they have written off this year’s summer and eye instead voyages in the fall and winter.
First, a little good news. All 113 captains who responded to our survey reported they and their crew are healthy. Nearly three-quarters reported being ready to get back to work and the remaining quarter, though healthy, reported being worried about getting sick when guests begin coming aboard again.
“I am more on the cautious side; the owners want to believe that this isn’t as serious as it is,” said the captain of a private yacht 80-100 feet who admitted to being worried. “I am concerned for their health because of their age. And I would prefer not to have 100 people walk through the boat during opening day at [the yacht club] … but it isn’t my boat.”
When we asked captains if they were making or had already made plans, the answers were mixed. More than 30% have already made plans and were just waiting for travel restrictions to ease.
“Waiting to depart for the Bahamas 1 June,” said the captain of a charter yacht less than 80 feet. “It all comes down to governments, the Bahamas in particular, as to how they are going to accept vessel arrivals and guest airport arrivals.”
Slightly less than 30% admitted they have an idea what to do this summer but haven’t made any arrangements.
“We’re getting ready but don’t know how it will go,” said the captain of a private yacht less than 80 feet. “I suspect a lot of delivery dinners with not many people onboard. We don’t do much but go to other marinas and go out to dinner. Yeah, I know, real easy duty, but at our age I’ll take just sitting at the dock all summer.”
About half the rest are in a complete pause.
“I don’t think we will be able to get underway this season, as the owners normally head back north for the summer,” said the captain of a private yacht 80-100 feet currently in Florida. “Pretty sure the Bahamas will remain closed before we get the chance to go there. We have made some day, night and weekend trips staying on anchor around the [Florida] Keys.”
“Summer Med cruising/charters cancelled; staying in Fort Lauderdale, maybe do a yard period,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet with a good mix of charter and private use whose planning is on pause. “Six of our eight crew to be laid off once flights open up to their home. In 24 years, I’ve never spent a summer in Florida. It’ll be weird not working [hard] on charters. Not looking forward to it.”
“Med summer totally cancelled; making plans to go off track around the world,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet with a good mix of charter and private use currently in the Western Med.
About 18.6% of captains said they are making plans now, though some things are still in the air.
“The safety of guests, crew and the vessel are a major responsibility of my job,” said the captain of a private yacht 120-140 feet. “We will proceed in a thoughtful and intelligent manner. The owners did not furlough or lay off any crew and, when appropriate, plan to use their yacht.”
Those captains thinking about their summers say voyages will likely be made, just not to the “normal” summer places they usually go.
“Looking to cruise to the Chesapeake Bay; not about to enter tri-state New York, New Jersey or Connecticut,” said the captain of a predominantly private yacht 80-100 feet. “The marinas say they are closed but the docks and cleats are still there. We don’t need the laundry or showers; we just need a place to tie up.”
Other destinations mentioned include the Bahamas, Bermuda, Newport, Boston, the whole of the U.S. East Coast to Maine, the Grenadines and Indonesia.
“We’re going to stay close this year so Bahamas is the plan, when we feel it’s correct, not just going to go once they say ‘we’re open’,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet currently on the U.S. East Coast. “We feel we are better equipped to make the call based on many factors, and the boss understands that.”
“Owner and family have been onboard for eight weeks, using the boat as a hide out,” said the captain of a private yacht 120-140 feet. “Planning on New England, but I’m not at all looking forward to it.”
“After shortening the last trip in Mexico because of COVID-19, the owners are hopeful that their summer plans will happen,” said the captain of a private yacht 80-100 feet. “This includes lots of rendezvous and small shows for the yacht clubs they are members of. The clubs have not cancelled any events, currently saying they will be rescheduled.”
“We are crewed up, ready to load on Dockwise mid-May for the Med,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet with a good mix of charter and private use currently in Florida. “Our charters have rescheduled for next year. I have tried to enlighten the owner to make a summer out of the Bahamas and the Dry Tortugas, but he can’t wrap his head around not going to the Med for the summer because that is what he has done for 25 years.”
We wondered if their summer plans were pushed or curtailed by the owner, so we asked What’s the owner’s take on summer cruising?
More than half said the owner is eager to get cruising again but understands it won’t be easy.
“Disappointed about having to cancel our Belize itinerary, but looks like the Bahamas will have to do,” said the captain of a private yacht 80-100 feet.
“Going from Miami to Maine this summer for four months,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet. “We are leaving in June. I think all the marinas will be open by then.”
“Eager to resume normal operations but relying on us (me) to look out for their safety,” said the captain of a private yacht 140-160 feet.
A bit more than a quarter of our respondents said the owner is “very cautious and concerned about using the boat.”
“Owner seems to get it, but still wants to use the boat for himself, friends or family,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht 140-160 feet currently in the Caribbean. “Says they are isolating, but absolutely no way to know how much, who, where and when they make contact with anybody else, wear a mask, etc. Conscious of the restrictions but really wants to use the boat.”
The remaining 13.5% said their owners are not very understanding of the difficulties the crew is having with this pandemic.
“He wants the boat to start making charter income,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht 100-120 feet. “Crew is laid off or on half-pay until charters are on the books.”
“The owner relies on me to worry about the challenges, so has no idea what I’m going through,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet that has a good mix of charter and private use.
At least one captain skipped this question as we neglected to offer a “none of the above” option.
“Boat is for sale; no more cruising,” said this captain of a predominantly private yacht of 140-160 feet.
One of the main concerns about starting the cruising season is operating in safety from the virus. It was too much to ask about both guests and crew in this survey, so we started with guests and asked Will you have any safety procedures in place to accept guests?
More than 41% have informal procedures within the crew, and will brief guests as to their responsibilities when they arrive.
More than 21% have procedures just for the crew. Almost 20% have a formal plan that they have sent to guests in advance. And nearly as many admit to not having thought that far ahead
We were curious to learn What sort of safety precautions are you considering for guests?
More than three-quarters said they would include hand sanitizer stations throughout the boat. And about 58% said they would keep their distance as best they could.
“Clorox wipes with bleach everywhere,” said the captain of a predominantly private yacht 80-100 feet. “White towels, white sheets, white shirts. Bleach and hot water laundry.”
Other popular measures were to have guests fly in on private or charter flights only (no commercial flights) (44.1%), wear face masks (42.3%), and take temperature checks each day (41.4%).
“Owners and guests will have confirmed being healthy,” said the captain of a private yacht 120-140 feet. “No masks will be worn, however they will be available for shore excursions.”
Less common were contact tracing (32.4%) and administering antibody tests (which are not yet available) (19.8%).
“We are not cruising until a valid COVID-19 test is available,” said the captain of a private yacht 140-160 feet in Florida. “My feeling is that we will be doing out island cruising with minimal shoreside interaction.”
“We will need a testing procedure in place to help protect our yacht owners, guests and crew,” said the captain of a private yacht 140-160 feet.
Naturally, these professionals offered a host of measures we didn’t think to ask about.
“We have several ozone generators, an electrostatic disinfectant spraying system like the professional cleaners use,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet that has a good mix of charter and private use. “We have Carbon8 medical-grade air filters on all 36 of our conditioning units. We have spray bottles with alcohol throughout the boat. We have a plan that a doctor come to the boat at time of arrival and performs a test right there with results within a couple of hours. Done by medical practitioners right at the marina, only non-positive people will be allowed on board. Pre-arrival testing proof and/or vaccination proof. Masks, gloves and glasses all the time for everyone. The charter stops for violations. Only when swimming or on their own. Example, the group is all on the sun deck, they don’t have to wear a mask. However, to come inside the boat, all PPE must be worn.”
“Nursing staff (2) onboard,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht less than 80 feet. “Med scripts and oxygen onboard. Daily health monitoring of guests and all onboard. Cruising away from cities/ports. Uninhabited islands only, except arrival and departure airports. Minimal contact using appropriate devices.”
“Distance is hard but will forgo the hugs and touching,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet with five crew. “Extra cleaning plan is in place, rubber gloves and, of course, any past or current symptoms, the trip is over before it begins. Monthly review for us for the remainder of the year in the Bahamas then we return for Christmas off, which is normal for us. We are also installing an inline A/C ultraviolet system for killing viruses and other contamination in the air. Life has changed overnight for the world. It will take years to change our minds to forget. Also, we have not gone through the next wave yet to determine how bad it will be. The economic and social challenges will be very bad; we’re looking at a long, long recovery.”
And there were several captains who did not have any safety measures onboard.
“None,” said the captain of a predominantly private yacht 120-140 feet making plans for the summer. “This overreaction is a farce.”
“Not taking any precautions as it [the virus] needs to run its course,” said the captain of a private yacht 100-120 feet.
Different people take the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic differently, so we wondered how that impacted what was happening onboard and asked Do you feel responsible to take measures to prevent your guests from contracting the virus?
Most do with 47.3% responding “Absolutely” and 48.2% responding “As best I can”.
“We have a young and healthy crew and my goal is to keep them safe and healthy but most of our owners and guests are in their 60s with some preexisting conditions so protecting them is a priority,” said the captain of a private yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Availability of fast testing will be important. We will need a testing procedure in place to help protect our yacht owners, guests and crew.”
Similarly, we asked Do you feel responsible to take measures to prevent your crew from contracting the virus?
Here, captains felt a stronger responsibility with 67.3% responding “Absolutely” and 31% responding “As best I can.”
“No one really knows how this will play out,” said a captain in yachting more than 30 years. “We can just do the best we can and adapt as needed. If we’re asked to do something we think will endanger our health, we just quit and go on. Being set financially gives us a lot of options. Glad I saved most of my paychecks for the last 20 years.”
So for captains, we wondered Which is the heavier burden, protecting guests or crew?
The majority (70%) said protecting crew.
We closed the survey by asking what concerns captains about beginning to cruise again. The answers did not surprise us.
“Currently, we do not have an accurate and fast test kit,” said the captain of a predominantly charter yacht larger than 200 feet in the Med. “Once we do, then we can be on top of the symptoms and until then we clean and distance ourselves.”
“The areas we go to, are they healthy?” asked the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet that has a mix of charter and private use. This captain said the yacht is taking the summer off and doing a refit, with plans for the winter.
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. If you haven’t been invited to take our Triton Surveys but would like to, email Lucy to get added to the list. Comments on this survey are welcome below.