Life On Board Without Passengers

Hello insatiable reader!

I talked to you a little bit about the role of Officers and Crew on board during the COVID-19 crisis when I mentioned the crew repatriation. A few of you asked me about life at sea now. How does it look like for the past year?

I mentioned several times in my previous posts about the CDC. This US agency in charge of disease and public health. During the crisis, the CDC gave some recommendations and instructions on how to treat the crew on board.

So let me tell you my impressions, my experience on board, and the experiences I observed from my friends working for other cruise lines.

I know I am a little bit late in sharing those, as the cruise industry slowly restart operations… But better late than never, right?

No passenger

I know you know that, and it’s in the title, but let’s talk about it.

The ships don’t have any passenger on board. It’s very unusual of course when you know that a ship is like a plane and never stop being in service. A cruise ship continously welcomes passengers. The only exception is dry dock (I will talk about that in a different post). Every 2 to 4 years, the ship goes into dry dock and realizes maintenance projects. It doesn’t move and doesn’t go to any tourist port. And it’s way too dangerous on board. So no passenger is allowed during this time.

From March 2020 (damn! It’s been more than a year now…), all ships around the world debarked all passengers. They were sailing without any guest, only crew.

Then, imagine a ship, usually crowded, and, all of a sudden, no one on board. All passengers debarked and we repatriated our crew. Cruise ships can welcome thousands of passengers and hundreds (even thousands) of crew members. Now… The cruise industry keeps their ships to a minimum manning. It means that only essential crew members stay on board. Depending on the size of each ship, usually, not more than 300 crew members are on board each ship. It’s usually way less. 

it’s kind of a shock. We are used to so many people going around the ship. And now, we can walk, in the middle of the day, and not seeing anyone for a few minutes. Very weird feeling..!

Single Cabin

A huge benefit for the crew! Most crew members must share a cabin with another roommate, or even 2, 3, 4, 5 (or more) other crew members, depending on the cruise line or the ship.

The CDC asked all cruise lines to accommodate the crew with their own cabin to respect social distancing at all time. Some cruise lines even gave passenger staterooms to the crew. You can imagine a crew member is very happy when she/he does a contract with a large stateroom, and sometimes a balcony! They even have a porthole or a window!! It’s definitely a huge upgrade.

Mandatory Masks

Like on land, masks are mandatory on board. Almost all the time. The CDC said you can remove your mask when you drink and eat, and when you are in your cabin, alone.

Even if we never get off the ship and we are always the same group of people, we keep wearing our mask, on the nose and the mouth 😉

Social Distancing

Same rule that you know on land too. 12 people can’t eat at the same table haha! And we need to keep a few meters apart from each other at all time. Even during the mandatory drill 😉

Closed venues

The crew on board did not have access to all places on the ship, like the restaurants, the gyms, the pools, etc.

First, because we didn’t need to. We were not a lot of crew members on board and we had our duties to perform every day. We don’t need 6 restaurants for only 200 or 300 crew.

Second, it would be a huge waste of our resources if we could go anywhere on the ship at any time. If we could use every venues, the housekeeping team would have to clean all venues all the time. 

Light Duties

Yes, of course, it depends on the department and on the position!

Guys on the bridge and in the engine rooms perform the same duties. Safety is the priority! The machines are still on and they need to make sure the ship is a safe place to be.

Housekeeping is very busy as the ship needs to be covid-free. 

For the F&B team, it’s a little bit different. They still need to make and serve food, but only to the crew. And the mess is not open 24/7. We have specific times to go to the mess and the entire ship cannot go for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time as we need to control the crowd and to avoid having too many people at the same place at the same time (#socialdistancing).

For Guest Services, well…. It’s an easy life. Not much to do. I mean: there is no guest on board! So, they usually help the other departments.

For HR, light duties as well. We don’t have much crew to take care of. We are pretty busy when we have flights for the crew members and we help the crew office.

Finally, the crew office team. These ones don’t have light duties. Never will I guess. There are always crew who join or leave the ship. 

Dry Dock

Many cruise lines decided to take this opportunity to change the ships’ schedules and to send them to dry dock as they couldn’t sail with passengers anyway. So many ships caught up on their maintenance plans so they could be pretty and ready for the return of operations.

We can see in the media that some cruise ships restarted their operations. And it’s doing well so far. Let’s keep hope and wait for a normal return to operations very soon !


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The author is a cruise ship officer and loves travelling around the world. He started the expatriation adventure in 2016. He is passionate about learning new cultures, about local food & beer. *Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my current employer or my previous employers*

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