Boating During COVID-19: How to Stay Safe
This point's likely been hammered into our brains by now, but what does social distancing mean in practice when boating? When are you most likely to exchange airborne coronavirus germs or surface coronavirus germs on the docks or onboard?
Tossing a line to a dockhand from onboard, how far away are you? Once you're tied up and discussing your stay or tipping your dockhand, make sure to maintain that 6' distance. Don't worry about being rude – people will understand.
When buying provisions, don't wait until you see a sign to give your fellow shoppers a wide berth. If the ship's store is small and already has a crowd, take a walk and enjoy the scenery to let it clear out. Don't become critically ill over a pack of gum.
Keeping Your Boat Coronavirus-free
Boats obviously have an advantage in the airborne category of germ exchange in that they tend to be more open and airy than most offices, homes, or stores. Throw your hatches open when you're not underway, or when travelling slowly.
Giving your boat a post-voyage spray down is good practice, especially for saltwater boaters, and the pressure and water alone could help deter any germs on your deck. Lifelines, stations, hatch latches, door handles, and all surfaces you touch often, you should use disinfectant if you have it to give those a wipe-down. A lot of the materials we've read say "often" just as they say with regard to hand-washing, so to clarify: anytime someone has come onto your boat and left, wipe it down. Anytime you leave the boat, sanitize your hands before coming aboard, or get on without touching anything and wash them immediately. And still, wipe down the brightwork.
Annoying? Yes. Is dying more annoying? Also yes. But I digress: If you pick up provisions, wipe the packaging down before getting on board, or leave them on the stern for 3 hours for the germs to die. Go ahead and get really "Monk" about your boat.
Don't touch your face
Or, more specifically, don't touch your face even if it's doused with salt water or the wind is blowing your hair all over it. Pick up a pair of sailing gloves if you're not a usual wearer, if for no other reason than to be a reminder to keep your hands away. I expect bandanas should still be relatively easy to find – tie one around your neck to wipe saltwater off your mug. As for hair, hats, headbands, hair-ties, shave it all off for the full post-apocalyptic Waterworld effect, and use the elbow of your sleeve instead of your hands just like when you cough.
Choose Your Crew Wisely
People have reacted differently in the face of a crisis, and some sailors saw the writing on the wall and still hopped flights and hit up regatta/tournament parties. In the past you've likely quizzed someone to get a sense of his/her boating experience, now you'll just need to ask some additional questions: have they travelled recently? Been to any large gatherings? Needed to quarantine? Do they live with someone who has a confirmed case of coronavirus? Don't worry about being intrusive – your health is more important than your new crew's experience or paycheck.
Update Your Logbook
If you log engine hours, distance travelled, and other watch notes in a logbook, it's time to add a new line item: Temperature. Not of your engine – of yourself. Taking your temperature often can help you to spot a fever with enough time to address it means taking regular temperature checks. Having a line item in your logbook not only reminds you to do so, but it's also a handy tracker to see if you're a person who simply runs cold or hot.
Avoid Becoming a Boater in Distress
This goes without saying at all times, but with potentially fewer staff at each marina and fewer coasties and good samaritans available to assist if you run into trouble out on the water alone, it's even more crucial that you stay out of trouble. Avoid single-handing, inclement weather, and don't go out if your spidey sense is tingling that something's at all amiss with the boat. Bring a buddy, stay on the dock, do an extra systems check. Play it safe so you keep yourself and the people rescuing you out of harm's way.
With Covid-19 putting us in lockdowns and quarantines and, in reality, taking some members of our community from us, you can expect that some marinas' resources and responsiveness will shift somewhat. Build out proper floatplanes, have your final destination and interim course points plotted, check which marinas and fuel docks in your path are open for tying up, fueling up, and provisioning, and contact them in advance to inquire or book a reservation.
When you reserve in advance, make note of any closure or reduced staffing updates, which will likely include a reference to precautions the marina has put in place to keep its employees and boater guests safe from the spread of the virus. Alternatively, as you're approaching the dock, you may radio ahead to let them know of your arrival and in the same exchange inquire as to any procedures you need to adhere to with regard to Covid-19 safety – if the marina has precautions (gloves, masks, hand sanitizer) in place for their dock hands and office stay on the front lines, they can provide that assurance at that point.