The issue of recreation onboard was, along with connectivity, at the center of concerns for seafarers during the latest SAFETY4SEA Crew Wellness Survey. Across a sample of 9,768 seafarers from every part of the world, there were many respondents who touched upon the issue, proposing additional entertainment opportunities for better socializing and relaxing or a bigger focus by the shipowner on team activities.
As in any other workplace, life onboard has its own prons and cons, but increased workload and isolation are certainly some of its unique characteristics. Undoubtedly, at the end of a long day full of work, there is little energy left for social interactions.
What makes social life onboard harder?
A 2019 SAFETY4SEA poll identified the following five obstacles to social life onboard:
- Increased workload/ Fatigue – 38%
- Technology and Internet onboard – 19%
- New legislation and subsequent bureaucracy – 17%
- Lack of team bonding and team activities – 16%
- Remoteness from home and close friends – 10%
Meanwhile, isolation from family, low wages, lack of interaction with co-workers, limited connectivity, length of contract and lack of shore leave, even quality and quantity of food onboard, all have a major impact on seafarer’s mood and subsequently their social life.
Why social interaction matters?
Many maritime health-related researches have highlighted lack of social interaction as a key factor of seafarers’ mental health issues, while active engagement in social life onboard is considered to have a real and positive impact on their welfare.
Good mental health at work and good management go hand in hand. Happy employees are generally considered to be more motivated and consequently more productive. ISWAN has indicated that addressing wellbeing in the workplace ashore can increase productivity by as much as 12%, which is likely to be also the case for seafarers and their work onboard.
A healthy work environment also facilitates crew cohesion, ensuring minorities onboard do not feel isolated. Evidence that a company works to ensure the best possible onboard culture will help them to attract highly skilled seafarers and to retain them.
What can shipowners do?
Prioritising health and wellbeing from the top demonstrates its importance as a workplace issue and ensures that it is a shared priority across the business. Some examples include:
-Encourage parties or get-together events: Be it Christmas, New Year, birthdays or anniversaries, parties onboard are the perfect opportunity for seafarers to interact free of everyday stress and “let their hair down” for a while. Apart from the officer of the watch, the Captain and Chief Engineer, who have to keep away for sake of ship safety, parties are an ideal ‘get-together’ opportunity for everyone onboard. Considering that shifts require always someone at the helm, these events should take place regularly for everyone to participate equally.
-Encourage or even arrange team-bonding activities: A sports Sunday is an ideal incentive for crew members to split into teams and boost their team spirit by exercising and spending some quality time, at the same time. Ping-Pong matches; basketball games; even karaoke, and in general, anything that makes people move, have a laugh with each other, it will make them feel better.
-Restrict rather than banning alcohol: A glass of wine or a beer facilitates communication by making us all a lot easier to talk to. Applying restrictions on the amount and time of alcohol consumed on ships is typically expected due to the nature of work, but a complete alcohol ban can be considered paternalistic considering that seafarers are responsible working individuals.
What can seafarers do?
-Spend free time together: Take advantage of the recreational room! It is often seen that post working hours, crew members spend time in their own rooms instead of getting together in the lounge and technology has a lot to do with that. Meanwhile, on most ships, the Recreational Room offers a gathering point for seafarers of different ranks, age, religion, nationality and cultural background to spend a few hours of relaxing and entertaining activities together. This is where they have the opportunity to play cards, watch films and sport games, play chess, listen to music and even drink alcohol if the company policy allows.
-Take advantage of tool box meetings: The morning meeting, where crew members are assigned with their daily duties is a good opportunity for any crew member to meet any other crew member. Training sessions onboard are also useful for interpersonal relationships onboard.
-Take care of their mental health: The path to a healthy society are healthy individuals. In the same way, a proper working environment onboard requires crew to be in good mental health. While stress and anxiety affect a lot of people, their impacts could be more severe to seafarers due to the nature of their work. A 2019 report identified that seafarers are amongst occupational groups with the highest risk of stress. No one can focus on interpersonal relationships if they feel devastated.
What can the industry do?
It is important for associations and welfare charities to keep spreading the word on the importance of socialization as a key component to seafarers’ wellbeing and subsequent overall efficiency. For example, the Social Interaction (SIM) project, launched by ISWAN, aims to help shipping and ship management companies improve seafarers’ social interaction onboard, and to positively impact the wellbeing of their seafarers through using programmes with proven success.
The above mentioned points are important. Besides the above, avoid harrassing of juniors in the guise of training and development.
Governments and port authorities must open up and allow Seafarers shore leave and sign off on completion of contract. Internet which is so important is expensive and limited for personal use even if it’s being paid by an individual.