If there was ever a need for face-to-face meetings, now is the time. Unfortunately, it is still too early given the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the potential health risks associated with it.

During the Covid-19 pandemic I have missed attending maritime industry events with friends in the industry. The knowledge, the lessons learned and the camaraderie that at these meetings is always uplifting. We all have lost business this past year, but can we put a price on what we have lost in terms of the meaningful things that we learn from our peers?

Events that provided guidance, information, and contacts such as the International WorkBoat Show, the Great Lakes Waterways Conference and others were all shelved in 2020. The loss is huge. Virtual events and conferences are a temporary alternative to in-person events until we can safely get back together again.

For nearly a year now, my daughter Terry and I have been hosting a regular virtual happy hour conference call that include many of our friends in the passenger vessel industry. At times, we have had up to 25 individuals on our calls. We have discussed Covid and how we are all coping. We have talked about business — mostly the lack of business — analyzed financial strategies to survive and have discussed the need for emergency funding from the government. Some of us even discussed shutting down completely, given that most of our businesses were off by as much as 90%. Some took this action, while others decided to continue operating with skeleton crews and schedules.

The Passenger Vessel Association (PVA) also participated in our calls to provide updates on its ongoing work in Washington, D.C., to garner relief for the industry. These virtual calls have been a godsend but have not replaced face-to-face meetings.

PVA has decided to hold a virtual convention this year to ensure that its members have an opportunity to gather, if only remotely. The 2021 PVA Virtual Convention is scheduled for Feb. 16-18. This three-day event is designed to help PVA members address issues and ideas related to the coronavirus pandemic. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Shultz will deliver a keynote address and others will discuss the agency’s plans for future vessel inspections. There will be virtual sessions highlighting advances in hybrid vessels, along with roundtable discussions on operational lessons learned during the pandemic. A host of marketing sessions will examine expected changes in the way customers will behave and travel post-Covid. PVA staff will report on emerging programs and activities in Washington, D.C., that will affect the passenger vessel industry.

Virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face meetings, but they are a good way for us to carry on, stay in touch and continue to learn from each other. I look forward to the day when things return to normal and we can again safely shake hands and gather together.

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].