Quarantine: Lima Flags To Fly Over Alaska

When Lorrie and I visited Craig in 2019, one highlight was a visit to the venerable Craig Inn. One of two historic bars in Craig, it has a reputation for condoning wild behavior. As if on cue, an already drunk fisherman entered the bar at 3 o’clock or so — and with a “fuck this” and a “fuck that” started ringing the ship’s bell, strategically located at the front of the bar. After updating his running tab, the bartender honored his request. That meant free shots of cheap vodka all around. This year, that practice will be under quarantine.

The Craig Inn (copyright Leland E. Hale)

The 2020 fishing season in Alaska will indeed be unlike any other. The watchword for commercial boats during the 2020 season will be social distancing. And that’s just for starters.

Arriving crewmembers must proceed directly to the vessel or their designated self-quarantine location, must practice social distancing and avoid interaction with the community, and may not stop at any location between arrival at the local airport and transport to the vessel or self-quarantine location.

Delta Marine Purse Seiner, Craig, AK, 2019 (copyright Leland E. Hale)

According to Alaska’s COVID mandates, all vessels arriving in Alaska, whether resident, worker, or visitor, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the State and to monitor for illness. That last requirement means crewmembers’ temperatures must be taken twice daily during the self-quarantine period — and recorded in the ship’s log.

To mark the seriousness of this mandate, vessels are required to fly a “Lima” flag or similar yellow and black pennant if they have any crew on board still under self-quarantine.


Folks who live locally don’t get off easy either. They must practice social-distancing for the entire course of the season. And practice the same On Board Protective Measures as required for Outside boats. The term “ship shape” has never been more meaningful (or mandatory).

Nor can crews relax these rules when they come to shore in Alaskan communities. All face-to-face interaction between crew and shore-based workers must be kept to an absolute minimum, including receiving supplies, off-loading catch, fish tickets, and refueling. Those interactions that cannot be conducted remotely must also follow social distancing guidelines.

Like I said, no more free shots.


The quarantine flag, also called the “Yellow Jack”, is an international signal flag. The name derives from the Marine signal Letter “L” (Lima) and means, “You should stop your vessel immediately.” The flag is flown from a ship that is either arriving in port with known serious health problems or that has been placed under quarantine by local port authorities. 

The concept of quarantine is ancient and is mentioned in the Old Testament. Numbers 5 prescribes a duty to expel from camp everyone with a dreaded skin disease or bodily discharge [1, Num. 5.2]. The term itself derives from the city-state of Venice during the Middle Ages which, during the Black Plague, required ships arriving from locations known to be experiencing pandemics to anchor or moor off the port for 40 days (quaranta giorni) so that any disease on board might run its course. 

In the current situation, we have data showing that a 14-day quarantine should be sufficient. That’s a good thing for the Alaska fishery. I fucking love science.

[UPDATE: According to the Anchorage Daily News, “No one has been cited or arrested for breaking Alaska’s 14-day quarantine mandate.”

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