The current development of the Covid 19-pandemic is stirring up people´s minds, disarranging lives and will have a great impact on our society as well as on our economy. Not to mention the thousand human tragedies unfolding right now. It leaves us all puzzled and speechless and my thoughts go to all people seriously affected. As with all businesses, the boating industry is no exception to the turmoil. I do not want to hijack this topic for clickbaiting but being a part of this mumble I thought about possible impacts of Covid 19 on yachting and skippering in general. So I´ve read a bit into this subject and found it highly interesting.

H.M.S. HAZARD flies the Yellow Jack
(c) National Maritime Museum Greenwich, UK

Pandemics or epidemics are not unknown to seafarers. Since the great discoveries and the connected colonial rush, increase of marine traffic and trade people brought diseases via ships. Be it the great extinction of American natives by European diseases or the spread of Yellow Feaver. Did you know that the word “quarantine” derives from the Italian term “quaranta giorni”? Meaning that a ship in the 13th Century entering Venice harbor had to be at isolated anchor for 40 days (“quaranta” means 40) before allowed to enter harbor. Within 40 days, people possibly infected with the Plague would have surely died. Ships back then had to fly the yellow flag, also called “Yellow Jack” to mark their ship as hazardous and quarantined.

Yellow Jack aboard your boat

Nowadays that has changed. Yes, there are as well harsh quarantine-laws in many countries, like anchoring off at a 3 mile distance for example and as well as to fly a quarantine flag. Over the Centuries, the Yellow Jack has changed: Now, having an infectious, contagious, serious disease aboard requires the black-yellow checkered flag “L”. “Lima” means “stay away, something serious is happening here”. This flag – sadly – can be seen on a number of cruise ships right now in different places of the world with Corona-infected passengers aboard.

Learn the signals

The meaning of the plain yellow flag has changed dramatically though. In contrast to its original denotation this signal now means “all is well – the boat is ready for official inspection”. And here is where you as a skipper of an ordinary sailing yacht come into play. Entering a new port it is considered good governance to fly the “Quebec” yellow flag. A captain states that his boat is new to that port or country and he is awaiting the visit of the Coast Guard or other officials. I do have “Quebec” with me aboard when I am out sailing – and I hope that I´ll never have to hoist its checkered brother “Lima”.

All the best to you, dear readers, stay strong!


You may also be interested to read:

What makes a good skipper? Parts 1 and 2

Best (fictional) Pirate TV-Show ever – “Black Sails”

Offshore skipper course, a logbook of pain