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Sundeck BBQs, trivia nights, and strict hygiene rules: An inside look at the life of crews locked down on luxury superyachts

Shorts and sunglasses in the hot tub in Monaco.
  • Many superyacht crew members have been stuck on their vessels after lockdowns and travel bans were instated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • We spoke to crew members who felt 'lucky' to be quarantined in such luxury digs — and grateful to still have jobs and secure wages.
  • There is still plenty of work to be done, but workers also described trivia games, sundeck BBQs, and hot tub nights they're using to pass the time and bond with colleagues.
  • Strict new hygiene and sanitation rules have also been put into place.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
In late March, billionaire businessman David Geffen posted a shot on Instagram taken from his 452-foot superyacht Rising Sun. It was hastily deleted — but not before it had raised more than a few eyebrows and stirred discourse around the 1% and their self-isolation privilege.
But it's not just the rare billionaire who is bunkering down on their yacht during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is another group of people for whom this is a new reality: the yacht's crews.
Before this crisis, there were around 80,000 people employed on pleasure craft around the globe, according to Laurence Lewis, CEO of YPI Crew, a yacht recruitment agency. As countries rushed to close their borders, ports were closed — and overnight, many found themselves unable to travel to get to or leave their yachts.

For many, a superyacht sounds like the dream scenario to see out lockdown. But is it? 

Social Distancing in the Virgin Islands
"There are worse places to be stuck," said Kat, a chef on a 150-foot yacht currently moored in the South of France.
"We must surely be among the luckier ones. Being isolated on a luxury yacht and not having to worry about shopping for food is hardly a hardship," said Kat's friend Jerry, an engineer on an 262-foot vessel in Tarragona, Spain.
But it would be very wrong to assume that this confinement period is an excuse to raid the owner's vintage Champagne collection. Usually early- to mid-spring is prime recruitment season in the Mediterranean as yachts prepare for big-ticket events such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix (the former currently postponed; the latter canceled). Instead of hiring, however, many are letting crew members go.

Those who still have jobs and secure wages are especially grateful

Bianca and Joe in Monaco
Bianca and Joe, a stewardess and engineer couple now in their third year of employment on a 180-foot-yacht under lockdown in Monaco, said their employer has promised to keep them at full salary. "It's been made it clear that our safety and health is the top priority."
In response to the pandemic, extra hygiene measures have been put in place on superyachts. "We have a tight quarantine," said Kat. "The hand sanitizers at the entrance doors must be used. All deliveries are sanitized on the dock before they come on board, and gloves and masks are readily available."
Similar comments were echoed by every crew member Business Insider spoke to for this story.
In Tarragona, Jerry's yacht, like Spain itself, has been very strict in its approach to tackling the spread of the virus. "No one comes on and no one goes off," he said. At the time of writing, he hadn't stepped foot on solid land in 45 days.
For Jerry, who has spent 16 years on the same vessel (and 27 in the industry), the only excuse to step onshore is illness. "We have an apartment nearby to quarantine returning crew or anyone showing symptoms," he said. Bianca and Joe say that should one of their crew need to be isolated, the aft (rear) of the boat, including a guest cabin, would be cordoned off for them.
There are five crew members currently in port in Monaco; typically, there would be 12. Normally cramped crew quarters are suddenly spacious, and any tensions that come with living in close range are being preempted. "We are having meetings every morning about how we are feeling today," said Joe.
There are other obstacles to account for, too: Kat's crew has already been fined $146 by French police for not providing the right documentation while sitting dockside.

Even if there are no owner or charter trips on the horizon, there is still work to be done

"It's business as usual on the surface," Jerry said. "For us in the engine room, we've been able to tackle all those little jobs that have been on the back burner for years in favor of the more urgent tasks." As the chef, Kat said that work-wise, little has changed. "We still need to eat," she laughs. Evenings and weekends have become the realm of trivia, movie nights, jigsaw puzzles, Zoom calls with family and friends, "and the occasional sing-song," said Jerry. Like many of its size, his yacht comes with a gym that he is using daily.
Puzzle time
There's an 8 p.m. salute when vessels around the Mediterranean sound their horns as people clap from balconies. This movement of gratitude towards the frontline health workers has become the soundtrack of spring evenings in cities and towns across the continent.

Across the pond in the US, many yachts have had their winter season cut short

In West Palm Beach, Florida, Captain Wean has a full crew of 14 onboard his 180-foot vessel.
"It's OK for now because we were just on a four-week guest trip in the Virgin Islands and were too busy to be paying much attention to the lockdown. Now, it's getting tough because we are still stuck onboard and didn't get to go blow off steam and decompress as usual," he said. He's also trying to balance the need for necessary end-of-season work without bringing unnecessary contractors on board.
He has told his crew that they can go running and cycling, but he has said no to the gym and socializing. Some enjoyment of the facilities is allowed. "We fill the hot tub on the weekends and have sundeck BBQs."
The Crew in Spain
"Tiresome but necessary" is how Wean, who has been in the industry for 16 years, described the current measures. Jerry is similarly pragmatic. "It hasn't been mentally easy, and it will be great when it's over. But it's nothing we can't handle for the sake of saving lives." Kat is "appreciative of the company as opposed to being alone at home," she said.
Bianca and Joe feel that, although the situation is stressful, they are well placed to handle confinement because of the nature of the job. "In the season, I don't often get off the yacht anyway," said Bianca.
With dates now starting to be set for the gradual easing of lockdown measures across Europe, they all agree that, if and when it does start, this Mediterranean yachting season will be unlike any other. "It's still too early, but I wouldn't anticipate anything happening until July or August," said Kat. "And that's a big if," said Bianca.
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