In the COVID-19 Era, Fleet Week Goes Virtual

A socially-distanced enlistment ceremony in Times Square was held as part of the virtual fleet week, May 22 (USN)

Published May 27, 2020 2:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard hosted the first ever Virtual Fleet Week New York ending May 26, keeping sailors safe and giving residents a new way to take part in the annual maritime celebration despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fleet Week New York, held nearly every year since 1984 to celebrate the sea services, typically involves public ship tours, band performances and school visits. This year’s virtual event was conducted entirely online through a series of live and pre-recorded videos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“You can’t help but be inspired when the ships sail in to New York Harbor every May. Fleet Week was different this year. We traded crews on shore leave for military personnel in scrubs, fighting alongside us against COVID-19. We won’t ever forget it," said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. 

Among other virtual "events," audiences experienced a special live enlistment of future Sailors from the Bronx, Brooklyn and New Jersey in Times Square, multiple virtual ship tours, and live question-and-answer sessions with service members.

“This was an innovative way for people to connect with our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, while also staying safe at home,” said Rear Adm. Charles Rock, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. “Our nation’s maritime services always adapt to any challenge we face and Virtual Fleet Week New York is a great example of how we are continuing our mission even in difficult times.”

Virtual Fleet Week New York gave viewers a unique opportunity to participate in photo contests, leave comments, and share content as part of this new interactive experience. Although ships were not open to the public this year, viewers could still take virtual tours aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon and the U.S. Coast Guard cutters Coho, Katherine Walker and Shrike. Additionally, viewers got a birds-eye view of the tall ship Barque Eagle with a drone - which would not be possible in a normal Fleet Week as drones are strictly prohibited within New York's city limits.

Viewers learned about the importance of physical training at home with Marines, heard shout-outs from New York natives aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, learned about New York’s naval history from Navy History and Heritage Command and received messages from Navy and Marine Corps leadership.

The USO Show Troupe, who perform each year during Fleet Week New York, provided an inspiring message of hope for the future by singing “America The Beautiful” to the service members they missed during this year’s event.

Additionally, Navy bands created two virtual concerts for the viewing audiences who generally see them perform live each year from Times Square, and Marine bands provided a tribute to the nation’s first-responders called “One Call Away.” And on Monday, as the nation paused to honor and remember the fallen on Memorial Day, Naval Station Norfolk started the day with a livestreamed morning colors ceremony.