Questions and answers regarding going to sea aboard Scripps-operated ships in the time of COVID-19

Updated 15 June 2020

Question: What are the protocols for returning to sea, and how will they be implemented?

Answer: Each planned research mission will undergo a risk assessment process, and be subject to new procedures to enable a return to shipboard research while taking steps to protect the health and safety of all embarked personnel and shoreside support staff. Two documents describe our approach:

COVID-19 Risk Assessment for Underway Operations aboard Scripps Institution of Oceanography Vessels

COVID-19 Preparedness Plan for Research Vessels - Scripps Institution of Oceanography

These documents

  • Define practices to minimize the possibility of COVID-19 being spread aboard a ship
  • Describe how to respond to a suspected case of COVID-19 on board.

Our approach includes requirements for embarking personnel, and many other considerations for shipboard operations.  These plans are linked online here:


Question: Does the Red/Orange/Yellow system on the UC San Diego campus apply to the ships?

Answer: Ship operations are included in the Field Research Guidance that is part of the phased approach toward ramping up to research on campus.


Question: Is there a path to return to “normal” shipboard life if certain conditions are met?

Answer: With so much uncertainty about the nature of COVID-19, we don't yet know what the metrics will be for returning to "normal" shipboard life -- or even what the new "normal" will be.


Pre-Embarkation Preparation and COVID-19 Testing

Question: What does it mean to shelter in place?

Answer: Our definition is based on the State of California’s: Stay home or at your place of residence, leaving only for permitted work, local shopping related to open sectors, healthcare, food, personal exercise and local outdoor recreation. Avoid people outside your household. Maintain safe personal and environmental hygiene (frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces). Whenever outside of the house, always wear a face covering, and maintain a physical distance of 6 feet from others.  You can interact with other household members if they also follow these rules.


Question: What if a person's situation at home makes it impossible to safely shelter-in-place?

Answer: Notify your supervisor as soon as you are aware of this.  Your supervisor can work with SIO to find alternative appropriate lodging.


Question: The pre-embarkation process involves a period of self-isolation.  Who will arrange this? What will isolation lodging be like?

Answer: SIO Ship Operations is arranging for appropriate lodging for the self-isolation period. The lodging we are arranging will be a hotel room or apartment with in-room amenities consistent with the standards of UCSD business travel, so people can work via internet, enjoy streaming services and TV/movies, etc.  Each unit will have its own bathroom, and only one person will be lodged in a unit.


Question: What about meals while in self-isolation?

Answer: We are arranging for meal service to be provided to people in self-isolation, consistent with the level of service we provide on board our ships.


Question: What is the rationale for SIO’s pre-embarkation testing and isolation protocols?

Answer: Our objective is to use UCSD's medical expertise and resources to minimize the self-isolation period while maintaining our ability to block the spread of coronavirus.  Industry best practices currently include a 14-day quarantine period.  Our approach enables embarking scientists to spend the first eight days of the 14-day period at home, by taking a COVID-19 RT-PCR test and diligently following shelter-in-place practices.  This is followed by the 6-day self-isolation period and two more COVID-19 RT-PCR tests.


Question: What kind of testing for COVID-19 does the protocol require?

Answer: We require RT-PCR testing administered by UCSD Health or by a testing laboratory approved by UCSD Health.


Question: Will we have the option/ability to get antibody tests?

Answer: No. Our objective is to keep coronavirus off our ships by identifying embarking personnel who are infected and contagious, and keeping them off the ship.  This is accomplished with a viral test, not an antibody test.


Question: Will there be behavioral health support for people during self-isolation?

Answer: Yes.  UC San Diego has new and existing resources available to help maintain mental and emotional wellness, online here:

UCSD employees can also make an individual, confidential appointment with a member of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. FSAP is open for business with counselors working remotely during the Campus response to COVID-19, see


Question: Can people self-isolate at home instead of SIO’s isolation lodging?

Answer: No. Self-isolating at home is not consistent with the protocol we've developed with our medical advisors.  We have a responsibility to everyone on board -- scientists, crew, and technicians -- to minimize the risk of introducing coronavirus into the shipboard population prior to a multi-day mission at sea. For everyone's sake, our protocol and plans should be applied similarly to all.


Question: How will COVID-19 tests be administered during self-isolation?

Answer: Our plan for COVID-19 testing during the self-isolation phase is to have a mobile test team come to the place of lodging, but if that isn't possible we will arrange for folks to be transported to the test site and back.


Question: How will I get to the self-isolation lodging?  Can I drive and park my car there?

Answer: You should arrange to be dropped off.  Please don't bring your car -- you won't be needing it, and we are not making arrangements for parking to be available.


Question: What should I bring to self-isolation?

Answer: Consider enter self-isolation the same way you would consider boarding the vessel to go to sea.  You should bring all the clothing and sundries you desire to have on board the ship. Keep in mind that you should have enough clothing to last the duration of the self-isolation period (you may not have access to laundry machines during that period), and whatever entertainment devices you care to have.  You will not have the opportunity to return home or to go shopping for items between the time you enter self-isolation and board the ship.  If you forget something, you may arrange to have other people bring items to you or to the ship.


Question: What are the limits of self-isolation? Can people go outside at all?

Answer: Remember that the objective of isolation is to isolate yourself from any other people (and their viruses), to keep coronavirus off our ships.  We are trying to identify lodging for the self-isolation period that offers as many amenities as possible, including access to fresh air, while adhering to the constraints of self-isolation.


Question: Are you putting backup personnel in isolation too, in case someone tests positive during isolation?

Answer: This is something we’ll consider on a cruise-by-cruise basis.  When needed and possible, we will do this. 


Question: Will there be laundry facilities in the self-isolation lodging?

Answer: We don’t yet know, we’re still working on the amenities offered by the lodging venue. You should plan to have enough clothing to last six days in a hotel room or apartment.


Question: If someone tests positive after isolating with others, is the cruise scrapped because everyone was in contact with them?

Answer: When folks are in self-isolation, they should not be in contact with any other person.  So if one person tests positive during isolation, others will not be affected.  If someone tests positive, they will not be eligible to sail on this mission, and their absence may impact our ability to support a mission.


Question: I’m concerned about equity regarding self-isolation in a hotel before participating in a research cruise. What if some researchers with families or other responsibilities are unable to do this? Adding six days of self-isolation away from home may be a privilege that not everyone can afford.

Answer: This is definitely a consideration that embarking scientists should consider, and, depending on their own circumstances make a decision that is right for them.  Sadly, the self-isolation requirement is not a "privilege" but a necessary requirement to ensure consistency of practices among all embarking personnel, as a means of keeping coronavirus off our ships.


Question: I am a scientist concerned about having my science crew assigned to a period of self-isolation. Can a chief scientist reschedule a cruise?

Answer: Yes. The chief scientist's role is described in the COVID-19 Risk Assessment for Underway Operations aboard Scripps Institution of Oceanography Vessels linked online here:…. As is always the case, rescheduling should be undertaken in coordination with SIO's Ship Scheduler (Hannah Delapp) and your project sponsor at the agency funding your project.


Question: Following the pre-embarkation self-isolation period, how will people get from their lodging to the ship?

Answer: SIO is arranging to have University buses carry people from the lodging to the ship.  The buses and drivers will follow UC San Diego hygiene and social distancing practices consistent with any other campus workplace.


At Sea

Question: Does it really make sense that masks are worn at sea considering the isolation and testing prior to departure?

Answer: Yes. Our USCD Health Science medical advisors stipulate consistent wearing of face masks, hand washing, hygiene practices, and physical distancing (to the extent possible on a ship) -- all of which are described in our Preparedness Plan.  These are all part of our multi-layered approach to minimizing the possibility of spreading coronavirus at sea. The Preparedness Plan needs to be followed by all, for the good of all. 


Question: What type of mask will be worn at sea?

Answer: We are following campus guidance that face coverings be properly fitted, and made of cloth that can be washed and reused. We will provide washable cloth masks to all who come on board.  Our captains test-drove a few different kinds of masks before deciding which was best suited for us to provide for daily use at sea.


Question: Can I bring my own masks instead of wearing the ones SIO provides for us on board?

 Answer: Yes, as long as they meet our standards. Masks should

  • Be made of cloth
  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured at all times, using ties or ear loops or wrapping around the neck (neck gaitor),
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
  • Be laundered after each day’s use

If you wish to bring a supply of surgical-style or KN-95 masks, that is acceptable, but you must use a new fresh mask each day.


Question: Can people wear face shields instead of masks?

Answer:  No. Campus guidance is that face shields may be used in addition to masks (to provide another layer of protection when it is called for), but not in place of masks. 


Question: What will be done with shared PPE on board (work vests, hard hats, safety glasses, climbing harnesses, etc.) in order to minimize risk? Will any additional measures be taken for the science party and/or crew regarding PPE sharing?

Answer: Our intent is to identify risks and take steps to guard against the possibility of virus transmission, and this includes adding new measures with regard to PPE. 

For example, when we resume fire drills on Sally Ride we plan on each member of the fire team wearing only their SCBA mask, and they will be responsible for cleaning it after each use (obviously in a real emergency this would not apply).  There will be no cross training using the masks.  After each use we plan on taking measures that will deactivate any virus -- which can be as straightforward as leaving the emergency gear in the sun for a period of time.

We have face shields on board that will be issued on a case by case basis as needed.  They will be cleaned as used.  Other PPE gear will be cleaned after each use as well. Wipes are placed in the machine shop and boatswain's locker where PPE is located.

We are actively considering how to handle work vests and hard hats.  STS ResTechs are getting their own, to minimize the number of folks who need to use the ship’s supply. We will likely issue a work vest and hard hat to each scientist as they come on board.  At the end of each cruise, we can wash and sanitize them before issuing to oncoming scientists. Ship’s officers are also exploring ideas for ways to effectively and routinely sanitize the PPE lockers.


Question: Will any additional measures be taken with emergency/drill gear (life vests and survival suits), which are reused by different people for each cruise, and which have a mandatory monthly try-on?

Answer: Ship’s officers aboard Sally Ride are actively considering how to handle survival suits and lifejackets.  Fortunately they don't get used on a regular basis so any virus that may get on them should be deactivated before someone else uses them.  If we judge it prudent, we will sanitize them between cruises.


Question: Will there be additional measures (e.g., disinfection after each use, assignment to specific users) for shared ship ops/STS radios, which easily collect aerosols?

Answer: One approach would be to do what our MarFac guards have been doing since the start of the pandemic: minimize the number of shared-use objects, and sanitize objects after each use (or shift).  STS will keep disinfecting wipes in the radio station on Sally Ride, with instructions to wipe down radios before and after each use.


Question: Is it safe for folks to share a stateroom?

Answer: Yes, providing that cabin mates consistently observe certain precautions.  Occupants should keep their rooms meticulously clean, and sanitize them regularly.  Cabin mates should always maximize social distancing and attempt to remain farther than six feet apart. Whenever possible, they should avoid being in their room at the same time. If they must be in the room at the same time, they should each wear masks. If cabin mates have similar watch schedules and sleep at the same time, they should keep their masks on until their bunk curtains are fully closed. Cabin mates should not share bed linens, towels or clothing.


Question: On Robert Gordon Sproul, single berthing is not possible. What measures can be taken to achieve acceptable sleeping accommodations?

Answer: Same as above.  If people must sleep at the same time, they should be arranged to have bunks as far apart as possible, and orient their heads as far apart as possible from others.


Question: Will the lounge be open?

Answer: No.


Question: What about drink dispensers? Will the soft drink dispensers be usable? What about the no-touch water dispenser in the mess?

Answer: Throughout the vessel, we are minimizing exposure to surfaces that are frequently touched.  Soft drink dispensers can be used without touching any surfaces, as can no-touch water dispensers.  The coffee pot, however, poses a challenge that requires creative thinking. This is true for objects and surfaces throughout the ship, and we’ll work with mariners, techs and scientists to come up with clever ways to minimize risk while enabling critical activities -- like drinking coffee.


Question: What about food for the night shift?

Answer: Night meals will be provided as needed.


Question: What happens if someone gets sick at sea?

Answer: The COVID-19 Preparedness Plan describes the process we'll go through if there is illness at sea, taking into account patient care and isolation, medical response, infection prevention for shipboard caregivers, infection control to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others, case reporting, medical surveillance, contact investigation and patient movement.


Question: If someone on board develops COVID-19, will the ship be quarantined offshore? Will people be able to depart the vessel?  Will people be able to self-isolate at home?

Answer: We are required by law to report COVID-19 symptoms to a variety of medical and regulatory bodies, including the United States Coast Guard Captain of the Port. We will act on their instructions regarding patient care and vessel disposition.  The USCG will direct any emergency response, and we have no control over the outcome. For that reason, we can't make any commitments regarding when personnel can leave the ship, and what the circumstances of any post-cruise quarantine or self-isolation might be.


Question: Will a registered nurse sail on board either Roger Revelle or Sally Ride?

Answer: No.  Our telemedicine provider will work with the vessel Master to deliver the highest level of care possible on board.


Question: In the past, when all three ships are at MarFac, Robert Gordon Sproul has rafted up outboard one of the larger vessels. Is there a docking plan in place to prevent this, and the cross-deck contamination risk this represents?

Answer: This is a great idea that will be adopted.  There will be other good ideas about how we can modify the old way of doing things to our new COVID reality -- please continue making suggestions like this so we can reduce the possibility of introducing coronavirus onto the ships.


Question: When working outside on the deck of a research vessel, work leaders often need to issue verbal commands to others working on deck. This is a safety concern, because deck operations have risks associated with lifting and moving heavy objects using winches, cranes and wires.  Decks can be windy and noisy, so we often need to raise our voice.  Our protocol is for all folks to wear cloth masks at all times on the vessel. There is a concern that masks will muffle our voices, so we won’t be heard when we yell.  In these situations, may we remove our mask to speak?

Answer: Yes. In instances outside on deck when you must be heard, and wearing a mask inhibits this, you may remove your mask for the duration you need to speak.  Others should remain at least six feet distant during these times, to the extent possible.  Immediate risks to life, limb and safety take priority.


Question: There are occasions when working outside on the deck of a vessel when folks need to work closer than 6 feet from each other.  What guidance can you give regarding deck operations when folks must be closer than 6 feet on deck?

Answer: Minimize the frequency and duration of these occasions to the extent possible. Wear your face mask at all times.  When possible, do not share tools and refrain from touching the same object, or wear gloves.  Refrain from touching your face, and wash your hands thoroughly after working.