Day of the Seafarer – Seafarers’ wellbeing

25 June 2018

On 25 June, the world observes the Day of the Seafarer. It is a day to give thanks to seafarers for their contribution to the world economy and the civil society; and for the personal costs they bear being away from family and friends. The IMO’s theme for this year was Seafarers Matter, addressing seafarer's wellbeing, particularly their mental health.

With a challenging work environment and a chance to see the world, the job of a seafarer is like no other. Besides a highly demanding physical working atmosphere, a seafarer faces several perils of the sea including psychological distress emerging from an isolated life away from the land and the family. Ensuring good mental health is not merely a matter for the individual, but also a matter for the organisation as a whole.

Dante Elpedes, Head of Höegh Fleet Services Philippines says,

We believe it is important to provide adequate information and support to seafarers to ensure that they have the necessary tools and resilience to maintain their own positive mental health. That is why we seek to educate seafarers, often before they embark on an offshore career, about the challenges of a maritime lifestyle and how to efficiently cope with them. In addition, we have taken measures to ensure the wellbeing of our seafarers are met.

Connecting with loved ones

Many seafarers are away from home for long periods of time, unable to see family and friends. They are often with limited access to the internet to use communication platforms such as Skype, Wechat or WhatsApp to keep in contact with loved ones: times can be very tough on a vessel and feelings of loneliness and isolation can soon start to creep in. Ensuring means of communicating with them on a regular basis is a major step in dealing with the issue of loneliness.

Dante Elpedes says,

In Höegh Autoliners all our vessels are equipped with satellite broadband internet to enable the seafarers to keep in touch with friends and family while sailing abroad. 

Interaction on board

Working on board a ship is a routine; Seafarers, regardless of their ranking, live, interact and sometimes perform functions in the same place. Active engagement in activities has a real and positive impact on seafarer’s welfare. This can include such things like going to the gym, playing ping pong or singing Karaoke.

Höegh Autoliners encourages welfare and sporting activities on board as a tool for creating a positive environment on board. Victor Li, Head of Höegh Fleet Services China says,

Almost all our vessels have an exercise room on board, not only for physical exercise but also a place for the seafarers to interact. Furthermore, each vessel has a welfare fund provided by the company annually, where seafarers can choose how to spend the money, if it is for sporting equipment, videoke or new DVDs.

Rest and diet

Other ways to cope with stress at work on board include many alternatives such as meditation and mindfulness exercises, and proper rest during off hours, which are important to a healthy crew population aboard a ship.

Ensuring proper rest for crew members is essential for warding off fatigue. Dante says,

Working in shifts, it is imperative that seafarers ensure they make good use of their rest time. In Höegh Autoliners we follow the MLC requirements guaranteeing seafarers have a minimum of 10 hours rest time in any 24 hour period or 77 hours in any seven day period.

Dante continues, "Whilst working irregular hours, it is also essential that we provide foods that are right for the start, middle and end of each working period. Eating provides both essential nutrition and can also be an important social activity. These aspects contribute to wellbeing as well as to physical health.”

Good morale

A positive and professional work environment is guaranteed to result in high employee morale and performance. There are easy ways to promote morale among seafarers on board a vessel and it can be as simple as remembering and celebrating a shipmate’s birthday or big events, or having a good cook on board for the voyage.

Victor continues,

We understand the difficulty of being away from home for long periods of time, so to make life on board feel more like “home” we encourage seafarers to celebrate important occasions like Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Good mental health is of paramount importance and there are simple steps one can take to avoid many conditions, such as stress, fatigue and loneliness on board.