In over 40 years as a mariner, I never expected that I would work in a virtual world. In fact, I am willing to bet that most of you never expected to enter this virtual world so quickly and so completely either.

During my career on the river, my experience with technology focused primarily on radar, engines, AIS and maybe my smartphone. But the coronavirus pandemic has put pressure on all of us to work differently.

Up to this point, I have been a reluctant user of virtual technology. But I participated in the PVA Virtual Convention in February and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was expecting the worst and woke up in the middle of the night a couple of times worrying that it could turn into a virtual flop. It didn’t. Attendance was strong, attendees were engaged, and there was a virtual exhibit hall featuring the products and services of PVA associate members.

The convention’s goal was to cover issues that passenger vessel operators might be thinking about during the pandemic as they hopefully begin to emerge and start operating again. Open roundtable discussions were encouraged. Topics such as mask wearing, Covid liability, managing social distancing, the changing insurance market, marketing and using social media in a Covid environment were all discussed.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz kicked off the convention with a virtual keynote address from Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. He discussed the recent mask mandate issued by the Biden administration and followed up with a safety bulletin from the Coast Guard. While my company, BB Riverboats, has a policy on mask wearing, I was relieved to hear Adm. Schultz say that he expects operators to make best efforts to comply.

The convention also featured legal sessions on Covid liability and the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act and what steps operators can take to protect themselves in the event of an accident. There was also a helpful session on how to effectively conduct refresher training for employees who have not worked during the pandemic.

I am now a convert and willing participant in the virtual world. While I look forward to the return of face-to-face meetings, elements of the virtual world will become permanent fixtures in our business lives for years to come.

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].