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April 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 46, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Nautilus Liveaboards Gets Flack and Responds Well

from the April, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dive operators faced with huge cancellations of guests due to the coronavirus who have prepaid are faced with a complex ethical dilemma: on one hand, they must treat their customers honestly and ethically, while on the other hand, they have to consider how to treat their employees fairly. And, all the while, remain in business.

Mike Lever, who operates the extremely popular Nautilus liveaboards in Mexico, created an unusual policy he hoped was responsive to everyone concerned.

"In support and compliance with current COVID-19 health measures, we have ceased boat operations until further notice. We will start running trips again as soon as it's safe. For clients affected by the virus, we will be issuing two 50 percent credit vouchers for the amount paid per berth. For example, if you paid a deposit of $100 and the trip is canceled because of the virus, we will issue 2 x credits for $50 each. Both vouchers cannot be combined to one berth, but one of the two vouchers can be transferable. Only one voucher can be applied per person per trip. You can apply the vouchers to 2 different trips, different destinations, or bring a partner or dive buddy.

The credit will expire 24 months from the time it was offered. As the situation is constantly changing, this is what we are offering at this time, and it may change for other guests in months to come. Our policy towards medical health workers on the front line in this battle is unchanged. As we stated from the beginning, we are issuing 100 percent credits for affected health workers. This is very personal for us, as some of our own spouses are anesthesiologists and medical staff."

To many divers, and for many reasons, this did not go down well. When one potential passenger asked how people can prove they are affected health workers, her answer was: "To receive the credit, you must send us a copy of your hospital security badge with name, photo, position, and name of the facility or equivalent accreditation. If your permanent position is not typically in the ER, ICU, anesthetist team, please send us a letter from a supervisor stating that you have been allocated to directly treating patients exposed the COVID-19 virus."

While Lever tried to honor people on the front line of fighting the virus, other hospital workers, like Dr. Randy Kettering, a hospital psychologist in Evanston, Illinois, working with the families of virus patients and Shannon Bay, a primary care physician's assistant in the same hospital, were up in arms. Both were fully paid for an April Nautilus trip and didn't qualify. Says Kettering, "Can this be more irrational and idiosyncratic? I don't think so."

Mike Lever of Nautilus, who has always been a straight shooter with Undercurrent, reconsidered his policy, then acknowledged that he could have handled the cancellations better. So, to accommodate the hundreds of divers who were forced to delay Nautilus trips, he announced he was refitting an additional vessel to bring into service. He would offer full credit make-up trips to Socorro on the 116-foot Gallant Lady starting December 2020. He will add trips to Guadalupe Island for great white diving on other Nautilus vessels for full credit.

He added, "We are not laying off our staff or crew during this crisis. We are now financially strong and committed to ensuring that our people can feed their families, pay their rent and pay for medicine, which means that we are covering a huge payroll. Mortgages, insurance, moorage, maintenance, rent, shoreside admin all need to continue to be paid. We are anxious for everyone to stay safe and for this to be over and to get back in the water."

Dr. Kettering is satisfied, and pleased that his nine-diver group is now booked on Gallant Lady for April 2021.

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