COVID-19 Requires Sanitation Caution


Although many of our usual measures we take to keep our crew healthy are sufficient to prevent the COVID-19 from spreading, extra caution is required in some aspects of boating.

Water. The Center for Disease Control has confirmed that standard chlorination and filtration practices are sufficient to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. Treat with either 3 ppm bleach (about 1 milliliters per 3 gallons of 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite bleach or 1 teaspoon per 10 gallons). You can also use water treatment tablets (17 mg sodium dichloisocyanurate per gallon). For example, Clean Tabs Aqua Clean Tabs treat 6 gallons and Clean Tabs Aqua Mega Tabs treat 50 gallons). Allow 30 minute contact time. If giardia and cryptosporidium are concerns, double the chlorine dosage and time. If rinsed and refilled each time, the residual chlorine in ordinary tap water should offer protection for a few days.

Sanitary Waste. The RNA of COVID-19 has been detected in feces and the similar SARS virus is known to survive the digestive tract. However, there have been no documented cases of COVID-19 transmission by sewage or feces. The CDC has recommended that sewage treatment workers maintain their standard hygiene and use standard personal protection equipment. When working with sanitary waste, assume it is always infected with something. The rule is always no-contact and wash right away after handling equipment. If you have a cut on your hand wear double gloves.

Pump-Outs. The rules for no-discharge zones and discharging through type 1 MSDS are always controversial. It is not known whether COVID-19 remains viable in seawater or for how long. Most pathogens are quickly deactivated in seawater. Cholera, a member of the vibro virus family, is famous for its ability to persist in seawater and even accumulate in shellfish. Corona viruses, on the other hand, are much less durable and probably cannot. However, the virus is likely to persist in fresh water, and if the harbor is creek fed, it may not be as salty as you think.

Sewer Overflows. Combined sewers, common in older cities, overflow any time it rains hard. But even the best designed and maintained separate sewer system can overflow if a pump is blocked or fails.  Thus, swimming in fresh or saltwater in populated areas where the virus is active is not a good idea until more is known. If you suspect people in your marina discharge willy-nilly or there are sewers in the area, wearing gloves when handling wet lines might be prudent.

Club houses are going to be empty for a while. Socializing on the dock can be done at a distance. Even spring boatyard work will slow down, as workers are kept home and more and more yards are closed. We’re not doing this just for ourselves, but out of obligation to family, neighbors, and community.

Sailing remains safe, as long as you can avoid any human contact on the way to the boat. The ocean remains our last COVID-free zone. For a few hours, at least, you can think only about the wind.

Drew Frye, Practical Sailor’s technical editor, has used his background in chemistry and engineering to help guide Practical Sailor toward some of the most important topics covered during the past 10 years. His in-depth reporting on everything from anchors to safety tethers to fuel additives have netted multiple awards from Boating Writers International. With more than three decades of experience as a refinery engineer and a sailor, he has a knack for discovering money-saving “home-brew” products or “hacks” that make boating affordable for almost anyone. He has conducted dozens of tests for Practical Sailor and published over 200 articles on sailing equipment. His rigorous testing has prompted the improvement and introduction of several marine products that might not exist without his input. His book “Rigging Modern Anchors” has won wide praise for introducing the use of modern materials and novel techniques to solve an array of anchoring challenges. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here