4 Crew Retention Strategies to Stop Seafarers Jumping Ship

4 Crew Retention Strategies to Stop Seafarers Jumping Ship

Eve Jones

The discussion about the global shortage of top notch personnel within the maritime industry continues, which means it could be time to talk about your crew retention strategies.

Qualified, experienced and diligent crew are increasingly hard to come by and crew retention is becoming a thorn in many small to mid-sized shipping companies' sides.

Indeed many seamen and women are choosing to transition to maritime jobs ashore earlier than ever before, cutting short their time spent at sea. So what can you as a ship owner, ship manager or crew operator do to stop your crew from jumping ship?

broken heart and the words 'game over' on a chalkboard.

In this blog post we're going to take a look at 4 crew retention tactics which you can use to help retain the seafarers that you like having work for you.

4 Crew retention strategies to stop seafarers jumping ship

This premature move to shore based jobs in the maritime industry spans all ranks, from officers to ratings, meaning that extending the number of years that seafarers actually spend at sea is now just as important as attracting new recruits to the shipping industry.

So how does your shipping company increase crew retention and ensure the seafarers you've invested time and money in are more inclined to return to you when they're looking to line up their next contract?

blue and white faded painted wooden sign saying stop

Developing crew and employee engagement

A good deal of research has been done over the last twenty years into the correlation between employee engagement and employee retention.

And it has shown compellingly conclusive evidence that if an employee (or contractor) has a good working relationship with their employer, they feel listened to and they actively enjoy and are engaged with their work, their performance is far more satisfactory.

“That’s not rocket science...” we hear you say: after all it stands to reason that an engaged and happy employee is a productive employee.

smiling seafarer swinging from the anchor chain.

In addition, employee engagement results in a whole bunch of other positive outcomes: for example, an engaged worker is less likely to leave their employer in the lurch and is more likely to go the extra mile to produce top results.

That’s great in a sales office or retail environment but exchange those workplaces for a container vessel or a bulk carrier and we’re talking about results that can also be measured by higher morale, greater attention to detail, and less lapses in safety and judgement.

But the big question is how do you develop crew retention strategies to engage more effectively with the seafarers onboard your vessels?

Crew Engagement Tip 1: Technology

Love it or loathe it, the fact is, technology might just be your secret weapon, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining younger seafarers.

man smiling at something on his tablet computer.

Millennials and Generations Y and Z in particular expect employers to not only recruit candidates through technology, but also engage with them on an ongoing basis as well as empower them in the workplace with access to digital solutions.

For example, look at these statistics from AIHR Digital:

  1. Over 90% of job seekers use their mobile devices to look for a job.
  2. 45% do so on a daily basis.
  3. 89% of those who are job-hunting believe that mobile devices are a crucial part of the job seeking process.

That’s why at Martide we’ve made sure that our website and our maritime jobs board are optimized and mobile responsive.

smartphone showing Martide's maritime recruitment seafarer job app

We’ve also created the Martide app which helps anyone looking for jobs at sea apply for vacancies when they’re on the go through their smartphone or other handheld mobile device.

(You can ask your seafarers to download the app for Android devices through Google Play here, or for iPhones from the Apple Store here.)

By demonstrating that your shipping company understands how to harness the power of technology and uses it to make crew members' lives more efficient and more secure you are telling your contractors that you care about their day to day experience onboard and their well being.

gold neon sign saying 'it's all good'.

Crew Engagement Tip 2: Transparency

It’s vital that shipping companies, HR departments, manning agents and maritime recruitment agencies are totally transparent during the recruitment process about the duties that jobs at sea entail - and about the potential risks involved in a career at sea.

There’s no escaping the fact that there can be some negativity surrounding the perception of a seafarer’s life onboard and as an industry we need to do all we can to dispel the myths - while being honest.

Obviously, an offshore job in shipping is not a desk bound 9 to 5 position - and that is exactly what the majority of applicants find so appealing.

view of mountains and ocean through ship's port hole

But we owe it to cadets and new recruits who are fresh out of maritime academy to arm them with the information they need to adequately prepare themselves for a life at sea.

Sugarcoating the lifestyle may improve the number of new hires in the short term but it will not improve crew retention rates.

There's no denying that seafaring as a career is hard work but you can inspire confidence in your company's new hires by ensuring that they know that your onboard working conditions comply with international standards in accordance with the requirements recommended by IMO and ILO.

aerial view of a bulk carrier.

Not only that, but the job itself will provide a unique window on the world and will result in a personally (and often financially) rewarding career choice.

Crew Engagement Tip 3: Tolerance

Multiculturalism and acceptance are a huge part of life onboard. Seafarers travel the world and crews are made up of any number of nationalities.

As a shipowner or manager you need to inspire an onboard (and company-wide) culture of awareness, tolerance and understanding.

Not convinced this is a factor in your retention strategies?

lollipops in different colors with sprinkles and glitter on top

Maybe a survey that showed that “almost a quarter of younger officers who have given up a sea career have taken this decision after a bad experience as part of a multicultural crew” will convince you it’s a pretty big deal.

This is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed given that the world merchant fleet is manned by seafarers of different cultures, backgrounds, races, religions and mother tongues.

Shipping companies need to foster and embrace this diversity and ensure it filters down to crew members.

female and male seafarer of different ethnicities smiling for a selfie.

Ship Masters and Officers and other leaders onboard should also take pains to ensure their style of communication allows crew members of different nationalities and levels of experience to clearly understand instructions, while improving onboard relations and therefore increasing efficiency and contractor retention.  

Crew Engagement Tip 4: Thanks

Employee recognition plays a huge part in any retention strategy. It's only natural that people like to be appreciated for the hard work they do and while we're not suggesting that you hand out bonuses every time someone simply does their job, it's amazing how far a nice shout out in a team meeting or a gift card to the local coffee shop can go when someone's gone above and beyond the call of duty. It really makes employees feel 'seen'.

But obviously team meeting shout outs and gift cards aren't really going to work when it comes to showing your seafarers some recognition. Engaging with remote employees is hard. Engaging with your seafarers while they're at sea is really hard!

cargo ship at sunset in the middle of the ocean.

One way that you can show your crew a little love though is by remembering their birthday. The good news for you is that, as a retention tactic, this is free, quick and simple to execute.

And, to a seafarer who is thousands of miles away from home and his or her loved ones and who is working their socks off, for you as an employer to wish them a happy birthday will be a welcome gesture.

And if you're now imagining the nightmarish task of going through your seafarer database, finding everyone's date of birth, compiling a spreadsheet, and setting up hundreds of calendar reminders, the good news is, Martide have made this a piece of cake for you!

a piece of cake on a plate.

When you log in to your Martide account, the first thing you'll see is your employer dashboard. And along with the number of vessels you have, the number of crew onboard, the number of different nationalities and your upcoming crew changes, you'll also see who has a birthday coming up in the next 30 days.

What this means for you is that you can then send those seafarers a quick message (using Martide's inbuilt messaging system, of course!) wishing them many happy returns of the day.

And if you want to make this even easier, you can always create a generic 'happy birthday' message and send it out to more than one seafarer at a time by using our handy Broadcasts feature, which you'll also find in your inbox.

cupcakes with signs stuck in them saying 'happy birthday'.

Other ways Martide helps your crew retention strategies

At Martide our crewing software enables you to filter candidates for suitability according to the criteria you set when you build a Recruitment Pipeline and create your maritime job vacancies.

This means that you and your team don’t have to spend hours sorting through hundreds of unsuitable candidates.

It allows you to instead focus your recruitment efforts purely on seafarers who are qualified and hold the correct documentation.

woman holding her fist up with focus printed on the back of her hand

And that means that your maritime recruitment process is sped right up, which increases candidate engagement and makes applying for your jobs quicker and easier for applicants.

And that means that seafarers are more likely to return to you when they're looking for a new contract.

If your crew retention strategies need a helping hand, talk to Martide today about implementing our maritime recruitment and crew planning platform and start impressing candidates from the moment they apply for your jobs through to all of their subsequent contracts.

This blog post was originally published on August 12th 2019 and updated on September 7th 2021.