• Aerial view of Quarantine Station - c.1930 / Image courtesy of The Office of Environment and Heritage (QS2007.3)
    Aerial view of Quarantine Station - c.1930 / Image courtesy of The Office of Environment and Heritage (QS2007.3)

I fully understand the urge to leave Melbourne right now. But I do condemn the stink boat owner who tried to get into Queensland and the solo sailor who had to be tasered by police in NSW.

These cases, however, highlight that there has to be a better way of dealing with this pandemic than locking people away in their homes indefinitely.

As usual, the solution can be found by studying history. Remember history? It’s that subject we used to teach in school, so every generation knew about the bad things that happened in the past, why they happened and how to stop them happening again.

In this case, one website gives the clue. It’s the Sydney Quarantine Station. Operating until very recently – 1984 to be exact – the station, which is tucked just inside Sydney’s North Head, was used to protect the city and surrounds against people carrying infectious diseases.

The Q flag was flown by ships entering harbour, originally to signify that there was disease on board but later to signify that there wasn’t. Flying the plain yellow flag effectively meant that the ship was disease-free and was requesting to be boarded by officials to grant it “free pratique”.

The website tells us:

The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from  plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before offloading on shore. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which means “forty days”.

See, history always provides the clues. The site continues:

From the 1830s until 1984, migrant ships arriving in Sydney with suspected contagious disease stopped inside North head and offloaded passengers and crew into quarantine to protect local residents.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we re-open all the old quarantine stations around Australia. But it would be very possible to set up a system which would allow recreational boaters to cross borders without posing any threat another state’s population.

Mooring System

New South Wales already has an excellent system of courtesy moorings. There are currently around 130 courtesy moorings at various locations around the state and they are available for any registered vessel to use for 24 hours. They could easily be re-purposed to allow boats to quarantine on them for 14 days.

Then we would need Queensland to lay moorings too. There are any number of safe mooring areas inside Moreton Bay, for example.

Currently most private moorings are yellow, commercial and club moorings are orange, courtesy moorings are pink and emergency moorings are blue. I’m suggesting that quarantine moorings should be yellow, like the flag, but with a big Q and an identification number printed on the float.

Once a vaccine has been found, or we realise that we have to learn to live with the virus, the Q moorings could revert to courtesy moorings, creating a chain of safe and eco-friendly alternatives to anchoring – all the way around Australia if we were smart.

Crossing the Border

All recreational vessels crossing a state border or arriving in Australia from overseas would need to advise authorities in advance and book and pay for a mooring. This could all be done online. In their declaration they would have to list all places they had visited in the previous 14 days and declare that no-one on board had any COVID symptoms. Any time at sea or on a quarantine mooring in another state could be credited towards the 14 days.

They would also need to fly the yellow Q flag at all times until their 14 days was up.

There would be no need to stay on one mooring for all 14 days. Provided no-one from the boat went ashore or on to another boat, they would be free to make their way up the coast, always alerting authorities to their movements via their mooring bookings.

We have web cams set up in all sorts of places already. It would be a simple matter to ensure the quarantine moorings were covered by a camera, so that any breach could be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

Long-distance cruisers, by their very nature, are good at provisioning for a long period at sea, so there should be no need to go ashore. However, if we really wanted to make this system user-friendly, we could arrange for groceries to be ordered online, delivered to a marina and either ferried to the Q boats by volunteers or picked up from a dock that was isolated for that purpose.

I’m not saying I have all the answers. But I’m floating the idea because there has to be a better way than just banning anyone from entering any state via water. Perhaps if our bureaucrats and politicians hadn’t been so busy patting themselves on the back after the first wave, they would already have had a system like this in place… and some unhappy Victorians could already be cruising in warmer climes, free from curfews and draconian lockdowns.

Feel free to post comments below.

- Roger McMillan, editor

Update: A spokesperson for the Boating Industry Association said, "The BIA would encourage mysailing.com.au to put its suggestion to regulators in Australia for consideration. All ideas should be encouraged to support the boating sector and the boating lifestyle.

Of course, courtesy moorings exist primarily to give people a chance for a convenient mooring for a few hours which also doubles up - in some locations - as care for the seabed where you may have reef or seagrass etc. Nevertheless, the idea of providing moorings, whether public or commercial, to enable people to stay over in a safe haven whilst they wait out their COVID-19 restrictions is worthy of consideration.

Central to the issue would be Responsible Boat Ownership whether that be power or sail. 

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