Coronavirus: Keeping Boating Safe in Singapore

YP Loke, Chairman of the Singapore Boating Industry Association, says that boat owners must continue to be responsible, even as restrictions are slowly lifted.

author icon By Anna Cummins | 5 August 2020

After a sustained period of low community infection levels, Singapore continues to tentatively reopen. Since June 18, the city state has officially been in the second phase of reopening, following the enforced “circuit breaker”, with facilities such as cinemas, public libraries, museums, places of worship and tourism business now resuming operations. Boating activities can resume as part of this phase.

In Singapore, the measures that boaters must follow can be distilled into four key areas:

1. Contact Tracing: each boat must maintain a register to enable contact tracing if the need arises (for businesses, this can be a SafeEntry QR Code).

2. Safe Distancing: Not more than five persons can be on board at one time. However, this excludes any employees (captain and crew) hired to operate the boat. Where possible, practice safe distancing by following the one-metre apart rule. These rules apply to private boats and charters.

3. Personal Hygiene: Keep hands and surfaces sanitised. When practicable, mask up if there are guests (not from the same household) on board.

4. Boat Alone: Do not socialise on the marina pontoon, or raft up with other boats at sea.

An infographic has been developed to help promote this message, the full text of which is contained in the links provided by the QR Codes in the poster

Many clubs are reminding members that BCPs (Business Continuity Plans) that are in place mean that employees may be divided into teams, and are therefore working at half the normal staff strength. This, in addition to health screening measures, puts a strain on operations. At the same time, members must be patient and allow more time transiting from their club to their boat. Many marinas also require that boats leaving and returning to the marina call ahead, so that an orderly queue can be maintained and relieve congestion which could lead to the breakdown of safe distancing.

Boating the other side of Covid

Despite many boat shows being cancelled or postponed in the first half of 2020, dealers in many countries including Singapore are reporting an uptick in sales and inquiries. The Singapore Yacht Show was – among other shows globally – forced by the pandemic to be postponed. (The new dates are 15-18 October, 2020)

Boat shows are an important outreach by the industry to prospective buyers and the public. They generate interest and excitement, keeping boating top-of-mind. They are the industry’s shop window where consumers can feel and touch the product. Unlike the automobile industry where you can go into a showroom at any time, boats are on display only a few times a year in this part of the world. Dealers depend on shows to build and update their database of prospects, which they then develop throughout the year to convert to sales. Having said that, the nature of shows may well change after Covid-19. The need for safe distancing and the limitation on the size of gatherings may lead to smaller “distributed” shows. Virtual boat showrooms have also sprung up in the online sphere, accessible globally and often on-demand.

The profile of boaters has also changed with the average age of the boater rising worldwide, as fewer young people take to boating. One key insight is that millennials are more likely to purchase experiences rather than product. However, boat shows are slow to seriously embrace the selling of boating experiences rather than boats. With or without shows, the overall industry needs to strategise on how best to win over new converts and reverse this trend. Covid-19 may well be a catalyst that accelerates this change.

With countries in lockdown, crew transfers have become a problem. Over 300,000 seafarers are stuck on ships unable to sign on or off. It is today not only an operational problem but also a humanitarian concern. Although in boating, the scale is nowhere near what it is in the commercial and cruise sectors, it poses similar problems. For example, some crew on yachts are similarly confined, unable to land or sign off; and there are also instances where owners are unable to sign on new crew because of travel restrictions.

In Asia, owners are less hands-on and more reliant on crew than our western counterparts. The Covid-19 control measures exacerbate the difficulty in securing crew, a situation which already existed before the circuit breaker due to the application of a quota on foreigners working as boat crew. Will Covid-19 force a change to this Asian cultural norm with owners becoming more self-reliant and hands-on in their approach to boating? Time will tell as habits are hard to change. To keep customers, industry must play a role in helping boat owners transition to this new mindset.

The Coronavirus has undeniably affected every strata of society. It has placed great emphasis on personal health, resilience and well-being. The impetus for change, be it a return or a conversion to boating, might perhaps be more intrinsic as may be suggested by research, both previous and emerging, on the health benefits of being out with nature. Many such studies have shown that people who reside near water fare better than those who stay inland. Author Wallace J. Nichols expounds in his book “Blue Mind” – “Simply the mere sight and sound of water promotes wellness by lowering cortisol, increasing serotonin and inducing relaxation”.

Around the world, boating associations and communities are today initiating campaigns promoting the return to the activity, governed by measures to safeguard the interest of boaters, service providers and the general public. Every individual has a role to play in keeping boating safe and accessible for everyone.

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