How to Communicate Better When Working in Seafarer Jobs

Aug 06, 2020 · 11 mins read ·

Life at Sea
speech bubble made up from notepaper

Being able to communicate well is a vital part of being successful in most walks of life - and that is especially true for those who are working in seafarer jobs.

The thing is, unlike many workplaces, you will often need to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures and who have different mother tongues.

Language and communication barriers can be a problem for anyone working away from home and working in jobs at sea. And while English is the official common language spoken between employees in the maritime industry it is not always easy to either get your point across or to understand what someone else is trying to tell you.

And when the barriers of communication come down, the end result is usually misunderstandings and a lack of clarity - which can in turn lead to conflicts arising or mistakes being made.

Two things which are crucial to avoid when working in cargo ship jobs.

In order to limit the amount of communication issues you run into when working in seafarer jobs, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most common communication barriers and explore how to tackle them to keep your vessel - and your career in cargo ship jobs - sailing smoothly.

How to communicate better when working in seafarer jobs

As someone working in jobs at sea you probably know very well that communication can be a cause for issues right from the get go.

If English isn’t your native language you might struggle to write a clear and concise seafarer resume in English, and once you’ve scored an interview with an employer or manning agent, you might find that some of the seaman interview questions and answers are a little tricky to answer.

Read more: How to Write a Seafarer Resume & Cover Letter for the Maritime Industry

The good news is, your resume for a seafarer was impressive and you aced the interview by performing well and not making any glaring mistakes. Now you’re going to be potentially working on a vessel with seafarers of different nationalities.

And not only might they speak a different language to you, but they might even communicate using different non-verbal gestures.

Misinterpret these and you could be in a whole world of trouble!

What do we mean by non-verbal gestures? Take for example the ‘thumbs up’ sign. In many parts of the world this is used to indicate that something is good - the UK, Russia, the USA, Australia for example.

Give a thumbs up to someone from various countries in the Middle East or in Latin America however and you could be on the receiving end of a punch on the nose - in these countries thumbs up literally means ‘up yours’!

And if that doesn’t make it necessary to straighten out communication issues, we don’t know what does!

The four different types of communication

Cargo ship jobs are unique in that you’re likely to be working with a constantly changing crew of people. You have a job to do and you want to succeed and get through your contract with as little trouble and as few issues - both professionally and personally - as possible.

Looking for seafarer jobs? Click here to view our current vacancies.

The first thing to understand is that communication isn’t just talking: it can be verbal (speech), non-verbal (as we’ve seen above; hand gestures etc), visual (posters and warning signs etc), and written (instructions etc.)

And if you’re in a position of authority on your vessel and are responsible for relaying instructions and information you need to make sure you’re doing so in a clear and concise fashion.

Think about the language you use to communicate

You might be a master or working in a chief marine engineer job, or you could be a cadet working in entry level cargo ship jobs, but the message is the same: think about how you talk to your fellow crewmates - especially if they are from a different country to you.

That means using clear language, not using slang that only you and your fellow countrymen (and women) will understand and getting the point across in the simplest way possible.

There are so many issues that can lead to misunderstandings from the tone of your voice to the hand gestures you use that keeping things simple is crucial.

Consider that you might even speak the same language as the person you’re talking to but if your backgrounds or accents are different, they still might not understand the meaning of what you’re trying to say.

Read more: Communication Strategies When You Work in a Job at Sea

Just look at the difference in British English, American English and Australian English.

In British English a common way to greet someone and say hello is to say “Alright?” or “You alright?” Meanwhile someone in the States would be much more likely to say “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” while an Aussie would probably greet you with “G’day.”

And that’s not even taking into account all the other countries where English is the main language: Barbados, New Zealand, Jamaica and Canada to name just a few.  

The minute someone says something another person doesn’t understand, the communication barrier comes crashing down.

Of course, you can’t change your accent just to suit someone else, but think about the words you use to get your message across and, again, keep your language simple and free of slang words.

You might want to consider brushing up on your Seaspeak, or Maritime English as it’s now more commonly known too.

And just as importantly, if someone is telling you something and you don’t understand what they’re trying to say, you need to tell them.

If you don’t, the problem magnifies as they’ve told you something and think that you’ve understood them.

And when working in seafarer jobs this is a real no go - there’s no margin for error and you must understand what is being communicated to you.

Use open ended questions

Have you ever asked someone a question and got an answer that was nothing to do with what you just asked them? You ask a crewmate “What did the cook prepare for lunch today?” and they reply “2pm”. They clearly didn’t listen to what you said and instead answered the question that they thought you were going to ask.

The point is, people often hear what they expect to hear rather than what is actually said. And that means they jump to incorrect conclusions.

Of course, knowing what’s for lunch isn’t a life or death situation but change the circumstances and question and you could be pathing the way for complications.

Therefore, if you’re asking a question about something that really matters, make it an open ended question by asking something that cannot be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No".

Open ended questions take a little more thought and that will make sure the person you're talking to has to actually consider what you’re saying.

Be open to a different point of view

Another communication barrier can be caused by refusing to take someone else’s point of view into consideration. This can be caused by a lack of tolerance for another person’s background: either full blown prejudice or just lazy stereotyping.

Of course, working in jobs at sea, you will often be working alongside crew members who come from a very different background, possibly a different religious background, to yourself.

It’s important to keep an open mind, not judge others for their personal practices, beliefs or politics and listen to what they have to say.  

This will not only make you a better communicator but also a better crew mate and all round person - and this is something that will go a long way to ensuring that you consistently line up new cargo ship jobs!

Where to find your next seafarer job

Are you looking for jobs at sea? Take a look at Martide’s current vacancies here.

It’s easy to apply for our seafarer jobs: simply create an account, upload your work experience and seafarer documents into your seafarer profile and, just like that, you’ve created your online seaman resume.

Now employers and manning agents will be able to view your profile and will get in touch if you’re suitable for one of their vacant cargo ship jobs and you can start applying for any vacancies you like the look of.

You can do all of this on our website or by downloading the Martide app. Get it for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store right now!

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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