Quarantine suck. Have a virus party instead

Bottom Line Up Front: When a coronavirus outbreak happens on your (non-passenger) ship don’t isolate and avoid it. Have a virus party instead!

Recent policy at MSC instructs mariners suspected of having COVID-19 to be isolated in their rooms with little to no contact with shipmates. They should not go to work, public areas, the gym or leave their room. Food is to be brought to the isolated mariner on disposable plates.

These measures are bound to fail. As we have seen with the Diamond Princess the virus will spread in a shipboard environment under semi-isolation.

Per WHO the COVID-19 virus has a transmission rate (R0) of about 2.2 which means each infected person will typically spread the virus to 2.2 others. The time from infection to infectious is about five to ten days (with shorter and longer times possible). That means the virus can expect to infect a population as follows given R0=2.2 and infectious period of 10 days:

Day 0: 1 infectious, 0 recovered, 1 total
Day 10: 2.2 infectious, 1 recovered, 3.2 total
Day 20: 4.8 infectious, 3.2 recovered, 8 total
Day 30: 10.6 infectious, 8 recovered, 18.6 total
Day 40: 23.4 infectious, 18.6 recovered, 42 total
Day 50: 51.5 infectious, 42 recovered, 93.5 total
Day 60: 113.4 infectious, 93.5 recovered, 206.9

Ships with an active case of COVID-19 can be expected to be under quarantine for about fourteen days after the last symptomatic person recovers. During that time no one can leave the ship for liberty or reliefs. The ship might be denied entry to a port.

Given that quarantine would be lifted after the last symptomatic person recovers and a typical commercial deep sea ship has between twenty to thirty crew the expected quarantine period would be 54 days. (40+14)

On more populated ships, like MSC, the quarantine would be even longer. An oiler (T-AO) should expect 64 days, dry cargo ships (T-AKE) should expect 74 days and the fast cargo ships (T-AOE) about 84 days of quarantine. Drill ships, oil rigs and such would face equally daunting quarantine periods.

Per WHO the fatality rate for the mariner demographic is promising. Below the age of 60 the fatality rate is almost the same as the seasonal flu. Preexisting conditions that increase fatality are also somewhat rare amount mariners. The typical mariner has a lower chance of death or complication from COVID-19.

Therefore given that shipboard transmission is all but unavoidable, that death or serous complication is unlikely and that long-term quarantine absolutely sucks, mariners who find themselves on a ship with an infected individual should try to become infected as soon as possible. If infected a mariner should try to infect as many shipmates as fast as possible.

Personal protective measures such as washing hands and touching your nose, eyes or mouth should be avoided. Coughing with an uncovered mouth should be practiced in the company of others. Ships should have virus parties. Isolation and containment should not be policy.

That way the infection can be done with and everyone can either get back to work (and overtime) or go home on leave or relief.

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Seems like using the head in a bucket in your room would discourage eating. How else do they avoid public areas?

Remember chickenpox parties?

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From the Center for Disease Control (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019 Guidance for Ships.


Also, From the World Health Organization (WHO): Operational considerations for managing COVID-19 cases/outbreak on board ships


And mumps parties for little boys, to make sure you got it as a child and not as an adult.

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And prepubescent girls being invited to measles parties.

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Probably true. And if all the crew are <60, with no underlying conditions, all would likely come down with no more than the sniffles and a cough.

However, if a captain allowed such a party, and an individual came down with complications, or God forbid died, the captain would be held responsible, even though the victim would have most likely suffered the same fate if the crew had been isolated. Termination and lawsuits would follow.

I like your realistic thinking though.


As captain I’d follow the guide lines. And not just because of the “what if something happened” scenario. It’s a question of probabilities. Who is more likely to have expertise in infections disease spread, the CDC or some random ship captain?

First question when up against a new problem; is this inside or outside my area of expertise? This is outside. Anyone with no background, credentials or training in this might be having a Dunning-Kruger seizure.

The ships I manage sail from Washington state. It promises to be a challenging spring. I’m doing screening (taking temperatures of crew members, asking questions re: exposure, etc. before the crew sails).

Any minute now I’m waiting for the first email from a captain dealing with the hazards of icing, seventy knot winds, and forty-foot seas, asking, “John Doe sneezed-My God, what do I do?”


The company always had a contract with a hospital such that we could call / email a doctor 24/7. Before we called we would find the right section in the med procedures, get the vitals etc so to be ready to answer the questions the doctor was most likely to ask. We all have med training of course but we 100% went by the book.

In this case if there were questions as to the CDC guidelines applying in my case I’d call the doctor and ask before I’d go on my own.

The majority of my crew members are young, fit, and strong. I don’t foresee any actual medical problems from a coronavirus outbreak on our vessels. What I fear is the ship being taken out of circulation because of an “outbreak”.

I’m always amused by the mindset of a few posters on Gcaptain (usually young), whose attitude is that a ship exists to pay crew members, and that sailing is an unfortunate interruption to the real business of spending money. The financial reality of a ship making a profit is sometimes lost on these few.

Sideline a ship for 14 days and the crew will still get paid. But the company might have taken a huge financial loss–with knock-on financial consequences for the crew.


If company X asked me to infect myself with a disease that kills about 1% of those afflicted to save them money, my answer would not be polite to say the least.

Aren’t you misconstruing one of the posts above?

Termination and lawsuits will follow anyhow you look at it. Say a mariner gets sick and is isolated. If a second mariner then gets sick and dies I’d be shocked if the family doesn’t file a wrongful death lawsuit against the master, company and everyone else.

It won’t be hard to show the master failed to implement isolation properly (someone else got sick after all). The company would certainly blame the master and terminate.

Nor would it be hard to show a company policy of keeping a contagious mariner onboard resulted in the death of the second mariner (the second mariner died as a result of exposure onboard). The master would blame the company for issuing an ineffective directive.

I’m sure there’s a good defense somewhere (act of God, public health officials refusing to disembark the sick or healthy, perils of the sea…). But put that in front of a jury and see what happens.

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This seems like something that would be outside the boundaries of company policy. In a case of an infectious disease on board it’s time to get outside expertise. Similar to hiring a harbor pilot or technician, in both cases using the crew’s expertise exposes the company to too much risk.

This is what sailing master is all about. It’s avoiding incidents, minimizing damage, or risk of damage, loss etc. Good judgement is required when dealing with situations outside the normal area of expertise.


In light of what we’ve all learned these past weeks, namely that middle aged folks can get quite sick but recover well if appropriate treatment is given, it may be better to get sick before going on a ship.

My chief mate or MSO wouldn’t be people I’d like to intubate me. I’m not sure how many ventilators, if any, a commercial ship has. I know MSC ships have some but I don’t think they would have enough given the crew size and ages.

I’m seriously considering driving up to New York City and riding the subways a few hours and hope I get infected. Maybe I’ll go to a testing site and explain to folks in line how my job at sea puts me in a particularly dangerous situation then ask folks to cough on me so I can get sick ashore and not underway a few weeks away from the nearest doctor.

Consider that when our first responders get sick they at least have a chance of getting intubated and ventilated. We would just die at sea.

That’s an interesting question. Something like a 99% chance of getting ill if you purposely infect yourself, with a 2% chance of dying. Versus, what? A 2% chance of getting ill at sea? With, what, a 60% chance of dying? (It depends how quickly you can get medevaced, etc.)

Something for statisticians or Vegas oddsmakers to figure out.

I was following you until you mentioned intentionally riding the NY Subway for a few hours straight. I rather catch coronavirus at sea in a lifeboat from a sunken ship with no medical supplies at all compared to riding the MTA subway for a few hours.