5 Ways to Keep Busy During the Coronavirus Pandemic and Enhance Your Skills

I spent the last week binging on news – predominantly about the global coronavirus pandemic.  As a full-time merchant mariner, my last contract ended a mere two weeks before the outbreak took hold in the United States.  In the interim, my part-time position as a maritime instructor had me instructing a class on basic meteorology and preparing for future courses.  That has all come to a screeching halt and I need to do something to keep me away from the news websites and their doom and gloom forecasts.

As mariners, we are all too familiar with social distancing.  But what to keep us productively engaged while filling the time?  Here are 4 ideas :

  1. If you haven’t heard of Simon Sinek, you are missing out on one of our generations’ thought leaders.  His TED talk from 2009 is the 3rd most watched with 49,107,889 views as of today.  Take a look below :

Now, watching the TED talk is not the ultimate goal.  I had the opportunity shortly after getting off the ship to see Simon Sinek’s Mindset Tour in Washington, DC.  As he took the stage, Simon joked, “Welcome to the I-Survived-Coronavirus Tour.” Little did he know where things would go.  When it comes to the concept of leadership, though, Simon has been consulted by the highest level of U.S. military and business.  He is an excellent reference for a leadership and management course (hint, hint).

The author of 4 books, his first was “Start with Why : How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.”  Simon announced on LinkedIn that he was going to reread the book and then discuss it live on YouTube.  See the announcement below :


Sounds like a pretty awesome opportunity!  This one is on my personal list – the book is excellent and well worth a read (or re-read!) and the opportunity to ask the author questions and hear him discuss it – for free – priceless!


2. One of the root or contributing causes in many maritime incident reports is a lack or failure of situational awareness.  Now, simply reading one of the 175 incident reports on our website will fill your time and be beneficial, but that’s not the goal of this suggestion.  How about getting a better understanding of situational awareness itself?

I was able to attend a workshop at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) a couple of weeks ago where Dr. Richard Gasaway of Situational Awareness Matters discussed, “How Smart Responders Use Situational Awareness to Improve Safety.”  Now, you could rightfully ask how that applies to the maritime community.  Well, it might not be the particulars of the examples used in such a course, but the principles of situational awareness and its barriers are universal.

As a result of changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Gasaway is offering a free 1-hour remote training session for your organization.  this would be an excellent time to dip your toe into situational awareness training!

If you like what you see during this training or on the Situational Awareness Matters website, they also offer an online training academy.  This comprehensive course will likely take you several days to a week to complete and would give you an excellent overview of situational awareness and what can be done to maintain it – details HERE. It’s well worth the money!

If a book is more your speed, Dr. Gasaway’s latest is focused on industry as a whole rather than being more first responder-centric. “How smart workers use situational awareness to improve safety” is available for e-readers.


3. The Nautical Institute has a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program that can enhance your abilities and image as a maritime professional.  While many of us take the required regulatory or company training on a routine basis, have we really considered our goals beyond those?  Take a look at what Tom Field, a member of the Nautical Institute has to say :


Use the personal development plan to lay out your goals for the year.  Maybe you don’t have any specific goals such as license upgrade or additional certifications, so you might consider simply continuing to update your professional knowledge.  CPD sounds very formal, but as noted, it can include reading magazine articles, attending conferences or even mentoring/coaching.  The goal is to document what you have done.



At the end of the year, compiling your CPD reflective statement allows you to review what you have accomplished.  Perhaps you will have met your goals or there might be room for improvement.  Taking the opportunity to look at your development over the period of a year might assist you in setting goals for the upcoming year or even making a pivot to a different career opportunity.

If you are a member of The Nautical Institute, you can submit your CPD package at the end of the year.  It is then reviewed and a certificate of continuing professional development is issued.  Such objective evidence of continual improvement in your field might be the difference between getting a promotion or job and not.  Improving your professional knowledge helps your job performance and could set you ahead of your peers.

Aside from the CPD scheme, being a member of The Nautical Institute (NI)  provides you a number of benefits, including opportunities to network with like-minded professionals and access to NI publications.  One of these publications that is free and accessible to the general public is The Navigator magazine.  If you are interested in CPD – whether through the NI or otherwise – peruse the June 2015 issue (below) which is all about professional development.


4. SafeLearn recently announced a new course, “Mastering Daily Navigation.”  While I have not yet reviewed this course, it is on my personal to-do list.  It is described as, “Mastering Daily Navigation online course combines essential aspects that every officer of the watch should know, with practical onboard scenarios. Furthermore, it focuses on refreshing necessary knowledge to ensure safe navigation and give every officer the ability to identify and judge related situations accurately.

The description is accompanied by a video :

Again, I have not yet taken this course, but at ~$75 USD, it might be a good review, potentially highlight some navigation best practices and occupy my mind for awhile.

5. This next idea built out of the increased emphasis on environmental stewardship in the maritime industry and, not a little, due to the phased elimination of single use plastics (SUP) in India.  A while back, I had downloaded the CleanSwell app (pictured and linked).  With much time on my hands and a daughter (Marine Science major) home from university due to the coronavirus outbreak, we decided to spend an hour a day cleaning up the shoreline of our local waterway.

With the walk from our house to the waterfront, “picking” as we have come to call it, getting home and sorting the trash, we wind up spending about an hour and a half, but it’s good exercise and time well spent.  In 4 days of picking now (again a short period of time each day), we have removed about 30 kilograms/4 bags of trash. The CleanSwell app allows you to track what you have gathered, but we are also taking other photos.

The CleanSwell app is part of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program.  While it might not seem that you can make a difference on your own, every little bit helps!



So, there’s 5 ideas to keep you busy, your mind occupied and enhance your professional skills.  Here in the United States, we have another week of “social distancing,” but I suspect we will be limiting public venues and potential exposure to the coronavirus for some time to come.

Personal, family and professional stresses can sometimes add up and feel overwhelming.  If you feel that you, a colleague or family member are at risk of self-harm, please ask for help from those around you.  Remember we are all in this together.

Let’s be safe out there!









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