Crew Consequences of COVID-19

19 March 2020 By Lauren Beck

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been widespread, with businesses and schools closing and countries locking down their borders in an attempt to curtail the virus’s spread. Yachting is certainly not immune — right now, the Dockwalk and Boat International staff are all currently working from home. (For more on some of the changes and closures, check out: COVID-19 Effects: Events, Travel, and Operations.)

To see how crew have been affected, we reached out to captains and crew to share their current situations from across the world.

Capt. Tristan Mortlock on 37-meter M/Y AWOL

Capt. Tristan Mortlock is well known for his Super Yacht Captain vlog on YouTube, where he shares his insight on yachting and aims to educate crew on what to expect in the industry. One of his latest vlogs, “Alone Onboard a Super Yacht” dated March 16, 2020, tackles the coronavirus and its effects on the crew of M/Y AWOL.

In the video, Mortlock shares that at the time the vlog was posted, he was the only crewmember on board the boat, which was in a shipyard in Italy. The rest of the crew were in France. He says that a number of important works have been postponed on board due to the virus and its quarantines, so delays are to be expected. As he says in his vlog, the yachting industry has been hit really hard, noting that at this time in 2019, their charter schedule was pretty much fully booked. This year, however, he says they have just a few charters booked with the possibility of cancelation. “What’s going to happen to the charter season we just don’t know,” he says. “Our hands are tied at the moment. We have to follow the advice and minimize contact with the outside world.”

He notes in the video that they’re employing safety measures when dealing with contractors — latex gloves and masks are worn when needed. He does not yet know if he would be made to leave the boat, but is following all guidelines. “Just be sensible, really,” he says.

Captain on 30-plus-meter motor yacht

One captain aboard a 30-plus-meter yacht, who asks to remain anonymous, says that several of his family and friends have contracted the virus, although he notes that none were seriously sick. But the effects extend further as three of the boat’s owner’s trips have been cancelled and one was cut short.

“At this time, we are lucky to be in an area [Antigua] where few, if any, cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed,” he says. “Regardless, I have chosen to stay at anchor, so the crew can be quarantined in a nice place, able to go outside and swim, for example, rather than at the dock unable to step ashore due to worry of contamination.” He notes that after their final guests left the vessel, they thoroughly disinfected the interior. “We are also thoroughly cleaning all provisions before they enter the vessel,” he says.

“Be overcautious with cleanliness, especially when just one unwell crewmember can affect the safety of all the others,” he says. “They have also advised on which countries we are and are not allowed to enter at this time. Each day more borders close. We are planning to head for the U.S. once all our crew no longer fall within the ‘fourteen-day high risk period,’” he says. He also notes that they’re lucky to have their chef “creating quarantine smoothies and healthy snacks to keep us fighting fit!”

Deckhand Patrick Levitzke of 60-meter M/Y Jamaica Bay
Rybovich, West Palm Beach, Florida

While Deckhand Patrick Levitzke says that the personal effect of the virus has been minimal so far — he’s not been able to get off the boat for his usual sports pursuits — some of his fellow crew have been more greatly affected. “Our bosun and chief stew were scheduled to get married in April in South Africa and have since had to cancel, and our rotational crew are soon looking to be unable to go home to their families when their rotation is due,” he says.

He notes that the mid-March boss’s trip has been cancelled. “Although we are a fully private yacht, many other crew have had their charters for the next two months also cancelled,” he says.

“Our captain so far is encouraging common sense and not enforcing strict rules; however, depending on how the situation changes, there’s a possibility for curfews,” Levitzke says. “This would likely come from the townships and marinas before then, though, as many cities in the U.S. are now closing bars, restaurants, and gyms.” He notes that he’s heard of one other boat nearby that is enforcing quarantine and the crew are not able to go ashore.  

As Levitzke says, this is the time of the year that many boats prep to head to the Med, but many have “postponed indefinitely.” This also means cancelled charters. “The Palm Beach International Boat Show and many others have been cancelled and the industry seems to be arriving at a bit of a standstill,” he says. “Shipyard work is still being carried out as usual; however, depending on how much the situation worsens, contractors and freelance crew could be out of a significant amount of work for the next few weeks.”

Bosun Nick Sleeman on a 68-meter Feadship
Carrara, Italy

Italy has been hard hit and the country has closed its borders. “We are currently told we can’t leave the shipyard, so after work and weekends off we are restricted to the shipyard itself,” says Bosun Nick Sleeman. “[We] can’t get out the gate to go for a walk. Only to food shop!”

Sleeman notes that two of the boat’s boss trips have been cancelled. “We can’t get any contractors to us, so a lot of work has been stopped,” he says. “At the moment, things change every other day — one minute we are leaving, the next we are staying, for now we are stuck here.”

The boat has implemented some changes — every time someone returns to the vessel, they must sanitize their hands.  

Capt. Baldo Gjurasic on an 80-meter new build

“We are all well, thank God,” Capt. Baldo Gjurasic says. He is currently the captain and project manager on a new 80-meter vessel that was just launched last month. “Unfortunately, for my part, I only have bad news coming not every day, but every hour,” he says. “The yacht should be delivered in early summer, money is scarce, plans are nonstop changing, subcontractors cannot come to the yacht, [and] parts cannot be delivered, all in one gray picture!”

Until Monday (March 16), he says the boat was fully crewed with 22 crew on board, but he’s now alone with the chief engineer on board with no idea of the time frame. “The old [saying] goes — after the rain always comes the sun!” he says. “Be and stay positive; we will overcome this!”

Crewmember on a 42-meter motor yacht

We received an email from a crewmember who preferred to remain anonymous. She shared a little of her current COVID-19 experience, explaining that she works with her partner on a 42-meter vessel in the Med. “This year, we are supposed to go back, and our contract is starting on the 1st of April,” she says. She is currently in Italy, and her partner is outside Europe. “We currently do not know when we’ll be able to join the yacht and when we will start to get paid. I am sure there are a lot of people in a similar situation at the moment,” she says.

Chef on 140-foot motor yacht

One chef, who asked to remain anonymous, responded that so far, the only direct effect he’s noted is that he’s not working. “The boat has been in Saint Martin with a busy charter schedule,” he says. “From what I’ve heard, the French side of the island has been shut down. As of now, all charters have been postponed until further notice. And, of course, toilet paper and hand sanitizer have vanished!”

The chef shares that he is not on the vessel in the Caribbean with its nine other crew, but is currently home in Toronto, Canada. He noted that the vessel’s charter at the end of March has been postponed. But in the case it hadn’t been, the vessel’s owner had offered to fly him “from Ft. Lauderdale to Saint Thomas on his private jet with all the provisions,” he says.

“The only instruction the crew has been given is to stay healthy and wash your hands,” he says.

Second Stewardess on a 62-meter motor yacht

A South African second stewardess shares the current status of the vessel she’s working on. The boat is currently in Antibes, and the crew are on board (she asked to remain anonymous). The crew are not allowed to leave the boat or to have personal contact with anyone off the boat. She notes that while the crew has always been very particular about hygiene and cleanliness, they are now offering disinfectant wipes at the passerelle and at the entrance, which the crew use whenever they come back on board or enter the vessel.

“Our daily routine has not changed much; however, we have our temperature taken every morning and evening,” she says. “Our schedule has not been affected much as we continue to work the same way we would. However, there is an uncertainty about how the season will be.” The second stewardess in concerned for the repercussions the virus will have around the world. “I have a natural concern for the population and the effect this is having and will have,” she says. “[As] a South African, I am very worried about the virus getting into the townships and the impact that will have on our country and the people.”

Stewardess Marie Evers of 45-meter M/Y Dorothea III
Bahia Mar, Fort Lauderdale

Stewardess Marie Evers is currently based in Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale. Most of the crew are not living on board as the boat is for sale, but they’re there daily for work. “Fortunately, our cruising schedule just came to an end so that wasn’t affected. The unfortunate part about it was that as an expedition program, we've been socially distant for two years, so we were all ready to be back in civilization...only for civilization to shut down!” she says.

Evers shares how they’re changing their behavior in light of the pandemic, buying only the bare minimums. “We may not have a lot of extras on board that we’re used to, but we’ve shifted to buying only what we need when we need it so there’s more to go around,” she says.

Evers notes that they’re taking protection seriously as the vessel owner is older, even if he’s not currently on board. “We are instructed to only go to/from the boat to our crew house with the exception of the grocery store and if you find yourself in any other public space or gathering, you are not advised to return to work for the time being,” she explains. They have also shut the boat down to any external workers, contractors, brokers, etc. and have limited access to full-time crew. “As most boats, we’re always at a high level of clean, but now everyone is being more cautious of washing their hands regularly, etc.,” she says.

“At first, I was more thinking about myself and how do I be safe enough to move about in the world but as it’s progressed over the course of the week, I’ve shifted into a collective mindset — we’re all in this together and how do I be part of the solution, not the problem.” She’s trying to maintain a balance of taking the pandemic seriously but not letting it overwhelm her. “Even the simple shift of seeing empty beaches and instead of saying to yourself ‘This feels like the apocalypse,’ but instead saying to yourself ‘This is good, we are all cooperating’ is helpful,” she says.

“I would just say that we feel very fortunate to still have jobs and have a management team that looks after us,” Evers says. “Not everyone can say the same and given that we’re in that position, we are trying to be much more conscious of our consumption. Boats tend to be wasteful and excessive in their supplies — we have more than we could ever need so let’s not buy for the sake of having extras on board and give where we can.”

Erica Lay, director EL CREW CO

Erica Lay runs her own crew agency in Palma, where business has basically come to a halt for the time being. Several of her crew have shared updates with her, including a 50-meter vessel in France whose charter season has been seriously affected. “Until there’s any change in travel restrictions and lock down, [the crew] all agreed to a 25 percent pay cut so that no crewmembers lose their jobs,” she says.

She shared that when everything started, she got a call from a captain aboard a 30-meter sailing yacht. “The captain had been told to immediately lay the boat up and let all the crew go, with the yacht to be sold asap,” she says. Another 40-meter sailing yacht traveling to the Med from the Caribbean “was told to drop to skeleton crew too upon arrival as it was already for sale, but due to the virus there would definitely be no owner use this summer.”

“All my jobs are currently on hold until further notice and my business is effectively closed for now; we can’t place crew in these circumstances,” she says. “Not only due to travel restrictions but personally I feel I have a moral obligation to people to keep them safe. I will not encourage anyone to travel to a yacht and risk getting stranded or sick. Lives over money right now — the industry will bounce back if we all do what we’re told and social distance, the curve will flatten, and in time, the cases will drop enough for people to resume their normal day to day lives… and that means people will be desperate to use their yachts or to charter one for holidays. I hope sooner rather than later.”

Chief Stewardess Samantha Klepper of 55-meter M/Y Elixir
Rybovich, West Palm Beach, Florida

“It was with a very heavy heart that I had to cancel my first vacation in FOUR YEARS!” Chief Stewardess Samantha Klepper says. Her former crewmates were planning to marry in South Africa next week but travel into the country has now been suspended. “The celebration of my friends’ beautiful love has now been postponed indefinitely and so has my long-awaited holiday.”

M/Y Elixir just returned to the U.S. from the Caribbean less than a week ago and are docked at Rybovich for the next two weeks or more. “The impacts of the boat’s schedule change have been felt around the world, literally,” Klepper says. “Beginning locally, we initially thought the boat would cross back to the Med immediately. Now we are delayed slightly as things continue to change and we receive updates in real time from across the pond. We are all just anxiously awaiting news on what the plan will be moving forward.”

Until then, the boat and crew sit and wait, while taking as many protections as possible. “All traffic to the boat has been reduced to essential visitors and current crew,” Klepper says. The vessel’s deck and interior crew are sanitizing all handrails, doorknobs, and high-traffic points multiple times a day. Klepper also says that the boat has now initiated a “pre-boarding screening questionnaire” specific to COVID-19 that visitors have to answer.

All visitors are required to use the sanitizer at the end of the passerelle, and crew have been advised to avoid unnecessary outings and to take precautions when out. Klepper notes that most shops and restaurants in West Palm Beach have closed or have reduced hours. “As a result, everyone is sticking a lot closer to home, so to speak,” she says. “This is on track with the advice given by local and national officials.” Klepper sent us an update that Rybovich is now checking “thermal temperature with an infrared gun and sanitizing the hands of all who enter with something ‘ten times stronger than Purell,’ according to them.”

She credits the captain with keeping the crew calm and “dispelling any watercooler talk” in the midst of the inundation of info on the coronavirus out there. “At the end of each day, he meets with the crew to update us on the boat’s current plans and answer any questions we have to the best of his knowledge,” she says.

“It just feels so surreal,” Klepper says. “Never in our lifetime have we seen a global crisis this immediate and far-reaching. Now, more than ever, we need to consciously come together to help re-establish some semblance of normalcy. Let us not forget the lessons, albeit hard ones, learned along the way.”

Send us your experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic — email  

For more related content:

COVID-19 Precautions
COVID-19 Effects: Events, Travel, and Operations