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COVID-19 - Thoughts from a Chief Stew on rotation

Caroline Blatter

Topic of the last 15 months… COVID! I think I speak for everyone on the planet when I say we’ve all had enough of covid now. But how has it affected yachting and those working onboard yachts?

I’m speaking from personal experience here and from what I’ve heard from friends.
I’ve been very fortunate to work on a great boat, that has looked after the current crew in the last 15 months since the pandemic began.

Initially myself and many others were on leave when the first lockdowns happened, so a lot of us couldn’t get back to work for weeks or months, and those who were onboard, weren’t able to go on their leave either, as countries were locking down and restricting travel (who would have ever though that would happen???).

Each boat seems to have dealt with the COVID Pandemic challenges differently.
Some yachts let go of lots of crew, and some let go of anyone who was on leave. It was luck of the draw and it was just unfortunate if you were one of those people at home. Others kept the crew on, some with pay cuts, while some had no change to salaries. It has been different for everyone by the sounds of it and there is no one way boats have dealt with it.

Quarantine and lockdowns

One of the toughest things for most people I’ve spoken to has been the lockdown restrictions onboard. Some crew haven’t been allowed off their boat during their entire rotation onboard, they could go months without stepping foot on land, waiting until they fly home. Others have been allowed off for exercise only, while some boats allow the crew to carry on as normal, but test them every week.

One crew member I know needed an emergency medical appointment while onboard, then had to do 10 days quarantine before they were allowed back onboard, which meant that department were missing a team member for 10 days. (We all know how much of an impact it can make being one person down!) and the other side of this is that a lot of boats can’t just bring a temp on anymore, as they’d need to test, potentially quarantine, undergo other procedures before they’re allowed onboard, which a lot of the time would take longer than those 10 days anyway so isn’t worth the trouble.

Restrictions also can also vary depending if you have guests on or not; some boats have had owners live onboard since the beginning of the pandemic, which has been a major change for the crew. I’ve seen many crewspeak out about mental health with the new live-aboard owners, where procedures haven’t been put in place to ensure crew get sufficient rest. Some boats have done a great job with procedures for live-aboard owners and are ensuring the crew get enough rest and aren’t being run into the ground for months and months at a time. (Just a side note - if you are on one of these boats where you’re struggling, there are lots of people in the yachting community who are also in your position, so please reach out as they will be able to offer advice/ solutions which will hopefully help you out!)

Quarantine for travelling

Quarantining when you go to and from the yacht is one of the huge changes. Some crew quarantine ashore in an apartment before they are allowed onboard and some have to quarantine in their cabin onboard for 10-14 days when they return from leave. It isn’t ideal for anyone, but it is what it is and it seems that people are much more accepting of it now and they seem to be just getting on with it, as part of the new way of travelling.

The quarantining has really affected a lot of rotations and leave dates, especially for those who live in countries like Australia and New Zealand, where they have to do 2 weeks in a government hotel every time they fly home, then quarantine upon their return to work as well. It isn’t as bad for those flying home to countries where you can just self-isolate at home or maybe even where seafarers are exempt completely. Who knows if or when this will change, but for now, that seems to be the way things are working.

The actual travelling itself

Speaking of travelling, I don’t think anyone ENJOYS a full day or more of travelling and flying, but even less so now with the added stress of COVID. 
Firstly, there is so much paperwork you need now to fly anywhere and depending on where you go, you may need further documents, up to date tests, the right type of masks for certain airlines - then if you’re missing a particular document, it has the potential to be nightmare, especially if you meet an airport staff member who doesn’t know the updated travel rules. (I’ve had this situation myself and I’m sure many others have as well!)

Most airports I’ve been to, the social distancing measures are great, but when you get onto the plane, it’s a different story a lot of the time– they are completely full and you’re sat rubbing elbows with your neighbour, which is an extra concern for everyone. Especially those with really long travel times, who haven’t had a vaccine. They could be travelling for 2 or 3 days to get to and from the boat, which means mingling with passengers on several planes, everyone taking their masks off to eat at the same time, a worry for many people, especially those in the higher risk age groups.

I personally had a bit of a situation myself travelling. I flew back home to the UK from South Africa and caught COVID on my flight back. I am 99% sure it was on a flight from Amsterdam to Heathrow, as the plane was full and most passengers were eating/ masks off. (It was also the only time I’ve travelled with just a mask and no face shield!). 
I did a compulsory 10 days quarantine in a government hotel in Heathrow, testing negative on day 2, then testing positive on day 8, so I had to do ANOTHER 10 days in the hotel room.
This was all at my own cost, as it was my holiday time/ off rotation. 

I came home for a few days after my isolation period and was then meant to be flying back to work the following week, but I needed a negative PCR to fly. COVID can stay in your system for days, weeks, even months after you’ve recovered and are no longer infectious and unfortunately, I was still testing positive on a PCR.
So as per the UK Government rules, my entire household had to do another 10 days isolation at home, even though I’d already done 20 days isolation. Now every time I do a PCR to try and get back to work, if it comes back positive, my household will have to isolate for 10 days, (even though I’m recovered and haven’t been infectious for weeks).

I just wanted to mention, no matter what your views on COVID are, whether it worries you or if you think it's ‘fake news’, as a seafarer please don’t dismiss COVID as it can cause havoc on you being able to get back to work, as well as the health side of things. It’s been over 40 days since I initially caught it, I’m young, well and very fit, but my breathing is definitely not what it was before I caught it, so just go careful regardless of your views.

Stay well all.

Written by Georgia Rex

Georgia is a Chief Stewardess, and has been working in the Superyacht Industry since 2014. She has worked on some of the biggest, most prestigious superyachts in the world, from 34m sailing yachts to a 134m motor yacht. She is a qualified yoga teacher, a wellness & confidence coach for women, specifically current/ ex crew, and loves all things related to health & wellness. She is an avid reader too!  

Georgia now works on rotation, and in her time off, she has created an online junior interior course with a very informative website - Superyacht Stewardessing.




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