6 Questions to Ask Your Seafarers to Increase Retention

May 04, 2023 · 12 mins read ·

Crew Management
question mark shaped topiary on islad

If you work in maritime recruitment and you have the feeling that you need to do something to increase your crew retention rates and stop seafarers from leaving your company after one or two contracts, it’s time to take action.

Crew turnover is costly and time consuming and it can have a negative knock-on effect on your shipping company’s reputation.

It goes without saying that there might be any number of reasons why your seafarers aren’t coming back to you for subsequent contracts: They may have personal reasons - or it could be because of your company, senior ranking crew members onboard the vessel they just worked on, or even your recruitment process, if it’s complex and takes too long.

But the interesting thing is that studies have shown that more than 50% of employees who leave an employer claim that there would have been something that either the company or their direct superior could have done to stop them leaving.

Now admittedly this research was conducted amongst shore-based employees in a more ‘traditional’ 9 to 5 scenario, but it’s still well worth looking at some ways you can proactively stop your seamen and women from quitting on you and going to work for a different shipowner.

But how? How can you identify someone who could be thinking about disappearing on you after this contract, and what can you do to retain them?

As the saying goes: “If you don’t ask, you won’t know!”

Asking your seafarers for feedback is crucial if you want to find out why certain crew members stay with you  and why others don’t. This then allows you to keep on doing what you’re doing to make seafarers happy - and improve in the areas that are flagged as being not so good.  

Why you need your seafarer survey to be meaningful

First of all, let’s start by saying that there’s little to no point in asking questions just for the sake of it.

You need feedback to be meaningful - and you also need to listen carefully and act upon it when viable. Listening is vital for increasing crew retention. It won’t take long for your seafarers to realize if you’re asking for their opinions and then doing nothing with the information received.

And that’s not going to help your crew retention rates. Quite the opposite, in fact.

To make sure you’re asking the right questions of the right people and that you’re able to collate and act upon the feedback, you need a structured survey program so that you can gain insight into all areas that affect your crew members.

Of course, distance is also an issue. In an office environment, it’s easy to arrange a meeting, a stay interview, or to even have a quick chat with employees. Communicating with your seafarers? Not so easy.

Traditional employee surveys work just as well for your seafarers, although in an office you might want to send these out once a year, every six months, or even quarterly. But to get to the root of how your crew are feeling, you should send the survey at the end, or towards the end, of their contract.

6 questions to ask your seafarers to increase retention

But what are the questions to ask that will help you understand how your seafarers are really feeling and even how they feel about you?

Here are 6 questions you might want to include in your shipping company’s or manning agency’s seafarer survey.

  1. How likely are you to recommend working for us to a friend?

Questions like this work best if you ask the respondent to grade their reply on a scale of one to ten and then allow them to explain why they chose that score.

Generally speaking, if someone gives you a score below six they are, quite obviously, less than  happy. Chances are they won’t come back to you and will look for another contract with a different employer after their period of shore leave.

Not only that, but they could be complaining about working for you to their friends, family, acquaintances and other seafarers, damaging your company’s reputation in the process.

Seafarers who score you a seven or eight are ‘fine’. They’ll probably return to you for future contracts but they could be easily persuaded to work for a different shipping company with the promise of a higher salary or better working conditions.

Ideally, everyone will rate you nine or ten - but if they’re not you need to look at the reasons why crew are scoring you the way they are - and figure out what you can do to improve.

2. Do you see yourself progressing in your career with us?

There probably aren’t that many seafarers who are happy to remain in an entry level cargo ship job for the entirety of their career but even so, this is still a pertinent question to ask as it will give you insight into someone’s mindset.

The majority of seamen and women want to progress through the ranks but if they feel like your company isn’t providing them with the means or opportunities to do that, the likelihood is that you’ll lose them after a few contracts as soon as they find a job in a company that does.

If you’re getting a number of negative responses here, you need to start looking at ways you can provide more training and proactively help and encourage your seafarers to advance their career.

Not only will this mean that you have more capable and motivated seafarers onboard, but you’ll also boost crew retention rates by increasing their loyalty to your company.

3. Do you think you are being paid a fair salary?

It’s not rocket science to figure out that if your crew feel like they’re not being paid a fair wage at the current market rate, they’re going to look elsewhere for employment.

It also means they’re less likely to care about doing a good job onboard, which can then open up a whole can of worms relating to poor performance and safety issues.

Ask your seafarers if they feel their salary is competitive within the maritime industry and in relation to those in the same rank, be it officer or rating, who they know to be working for other shipping companies.

Not all seafarers are motivated purely by pay, but if you’re consistently hearing that your competitors are offering better pay scales, it’s time to sit down with the business owners or directors and see if there’s anything that can be done to bring your pay more inline with similar companies.

4. What do you think of the conditions onboard?

Seafarers spend months at a time onboard your vessels. Don’t you owe it to them to ensure that their working and living conditions are as good as they possibly can be?

You need your seamen and women to be in the best shape possible, both physically and mentally. This will enable them to concentrate, perform to the best of their abilities and not be the catalyst for accidents or injury caused by a lack of focus, tiredness, or sickness.

Ask virtually any seafarer what would improve life onboard and you’re probably going to get the same answer across the board: Better, faster and/or cheaper internet access.

Not being able to access wifi onboard can be a deal breaker for some seafarers who depend on the internet for their wellbeing, relying on it to keep in touch with their families and to stave off feelings of loneliness or boredom.

And just as you should be taking steps to look after your seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing, ensuring they are physically well is vital too. This means providing a gym space, access to proper health care, and good, nutritious food.

If your seafarers are telling you that any of the above are not as they should be onboard any of your vessels, it’s time to rectify the issue(s) if you want to maintain your crew retention levels.

5. What’s the best thing about working for our company?

A simple question, but a good one if you want to gain insight into which factors determine your seamen and womens’ decision to stay with your company.

Maybe they like the fact that you encourage diversity and tolerance, the food onboard your vessels is exceptional, you are known for actively supporting female seafarers, or that you offer decent pay rates.  

When you know what you’re doing right and what is appreciated by your crew, it will help you develop in the right direction.

6. What’s the worst thing about working for our company?

This isn’t the nicest question to have to ask - but it is an important one.

Ask for constructive feedback from your seafarers and use their answers, where valid and feasible, to improve on areas of concern.

An easier way to ask seafarers for their feedback

If you’re starting to think that this all sounds like a lot of effort, it doesn’t have to be. Nor does it have to cost you a small fortune by spending money on employee survey software.

That’s because Martide’s crewing software solution has a feature called Forms. Forms are most often used by our maritime recruitment officer clients and manning agents to build their custom interviews.

But they are just as effective when used as a way to ask seafarers who are either onboard, or who have just disembarked, for their thoughts.

Best of all, the questions in Forms can be formulated in a number of different ways: As a text response, number scales, multiple choice questions or checkboxes.

Using Forms will give you almost instant feedback and the ability to take meaningful action as soon as you can.

Want to find out more about how Martide’s maritime recruitment and crewing system software can help your small to medium-sized shipping company or manning agency? Get in touch with us or book your free demo today.

Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer, publishing regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea. Eve has been writing professionally for more than two decades, crafting everything from SEO-focused blog posts and website landing pages to magazine articles and corporate whitepapers.

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