Shipyards across the U.S. remain open for business in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. While these companies respect the virus’s propensity to create havoc and death and spread like a prairie fire, boats are still being built and delivered. The key is working smart.

“We are open for business but being very diligent as we look out for the safety of our employees,” said Chris Vaccari, executive vice president, Gulf Island Shipyards, Houma, La. “To date we have no reported cases of Covid-19. We are following the CDC guidelines and then some”.

At Moose Boats, general manager Steve Dirkes said the Vallejo, Calif-based shipyard is fortunate to be considered an essential business due to the fact that it builds and services boats for first responders. “All of our employees maintain a six-foot separation, wash their hands a lot, and have to eat lunch in their respective cars instead of sharing the break room, but we are trying to make do as best we can.”

In Salisbury, Md., Chesapeake Shipbuilding Corp. is running at full capacity, said company head Charles Robertson, who is also CEO of American Cruise Lines (ACL). They do a daily screening of workers when they report, and they’ve staggered shifts. “We’re doing everything we can to keep it open and keep the people safe,” he said.

Back in the Gulf of Mexico, Steiner Shipyard, Bayou La Batre, Ala., management is limiting access of all visitors, vendors and salespeople to its facilities. “We are educating our employees and confirming that they know the facts about the coronavirus,” said yard owner and president Tara Marshal. “We are emphasizing to prepare and not panic. We are sanitizing and cleaning like crazy and fortunately for us we have a lot of boats, so we are able to space employees apart and on various phases of boats throughout the yard.”

Just a few miles from Bayou La Batre, in Mobile, Ala., Austal USA is a prime Navy contractor with upwards of 4,000 employees. “Austal USA’s primary concern is the health and well-being of our workforce. We’re closely monitoring and following guidance from the CDC, World Health Organization, the U.S. Navy and state and local officials to ensure necessary steps are taken to safeguard our workforce and sustain support to national defense requirements,” said Craig Savage, director of communications and external affairs. “Austal remains open and operating under close care. The company’s precautions include travel restrictions for non-essential employees, review of recently traveled employees, comprehensive facility sanitization, social distancing, and moving to virtual meetings whenever practical. We’re continuing to monitor developments and updating our response accordingly.”

At VT Halter Marine, Pascagoula, Miss., everyone coming into the yard must have his or her temperature taken. “If you are 100.4 or above, you have your temperature taken a second time by a different devise. If you are still 100.4 or above, you’re sent home until your temperature goes down,” said Liz Johnson, VT Halter’s marketing and communications manager. “Workers, both in the office and in the yard, are reminded every day to wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay at least six feet away from other people.”

Johnson said both office and yard employees are working staggered schedules. “We have day and night shifts, where certain groups work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, another group Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, still others with schedules that include Sundays,” she said. “Our yard supervisors watch out for group gatherings.”

MetalCraft Marine, with shipbuilding facilities in Cape Vincent, N.Y., and Kingston, Ontario, Canada, has been ramping up its adjustment of production processes over the last two weeks. "We have adjusted all jobs to ensure that each employee has a minimum eight feet from the next person, which means reducing numbers on larger boats,” said Bob Clark, the company’s contracts manager. “All design, project management, procurement and accounting is done from home. All meetings are done online. We have reduced shipping between here and New York to a minimal level and cut out cross border training temporarily.

“Our facilities maintenance person is now a sanitizer regularly sanitizing every common area several times a day. There are sanitizers, hand and material, all over the place. All employees have good working gloves and face masks if needed," added Clark. “We have lost a few people who had to look after family and children, a couple from panic, but still moving along well. Most deals that were closing are on some sort of hold as they deal with more pressing issues, understandably.”

Metal Shark's shipyards remain open for business under direction from the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. For the time being, work continues at all four of Metal Shark's facilities, albeit with many extra steps in place (employee screening, staggered shifts, rearrangement of work areas to create extra separation, employees working remotely, etc.).

Not all shipyards are in operation, however. All American Marine, Bellingham, Wash., for example, was ordered to halt production work on March 26, to comply with new directives from Gov. Jay Inslee. Core managerial staff are working on essential business functions, the vessel programs, and resolving any outstanding regulatory and construction issues. "We are continually assessing both state and federal government guidelines as to our operation as they are released and will resume production work as soon as possible," Ron Wille, business development manager, said in an email.

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.