7 Tips for Getting Over Jet Lag When You Work on a Ship

Jul 23, 2020 · 18 mins read ·

Life at Sea
man asleep in airport

If you have a career in seafarer jobs one of the more unpleasant aspects of your work on a ship might only be a temporary one - but it’s one that you may run into time and time again.

It’s not directly related to cargo ship jobs and it’s not connected to your seafarer skills: it happens at the start of your contract and relates to how you actually get to work.

Yes, we’re talking about our old enemy, jet lag.

If you’re flying across several time zones to get to your vessel, chances are you’re going to be jet lagged when you arrive. It’s to be expected, it’s not nice, but more than that - you’ve arrived somewhere to start work in a high pressure environment where safety is paramount.

Put simply, you need to be on top of your game - and that can be very difficult when you don’t know what time of the day or night it is and you quite literally feel like an extra from The Walking Dead!

a plastic zombie toy

Add to the general feeling of confusion and overwhelming tiredness the fact that you will likely be working watches or shifts, and your poor mind and body really won’t know what’s hit them.

Read more: 3 Wellness Tips for Officers of the Watch

So instead of banging on about the evils of jet lag and the effect it can have on anyone working in jobs at sea, let’s instead take a look at what jet lag actually is and how to deal with it while you settle in to your first few days onboard your vessel.

What is jet lag and how can you beat it when you work on a ship?

Jet lag affects every part of your being while you’re in its grip. It can affect your seafarer skills in that it slows down how you think, how you answer questions, and how you react to orders and instructions, or cope in an emergency.

So, first of all let’s take a look at what jet lag actually is.

What is jet lag?

When we travel quickly, as in an airplane, to a destination that is in a different time zone it confuses our body clock, otherwise known as our circadian rhythm. This rhythm, or clock, is confused because the normal times that we wake up, go to work, eat our meals, and go to sleep are now out of sync.

If you travel somewhere where the time difference is only an hour or two different to your starting point, you probably won’t feel the effects, but as the time difference increases, so too will your jet lag.

In fact, our body temperature and hormone regulation can even be affected by jet lag too.

And this feeling will last until gradually our body’s internal clock falls in step with the new time zone. Although, of course, we are all different - something you’re probably well aware of thanks to working in seafarer jobs - so jet lag can affect different people in different ways and for different lengths of time.

woman holding a clock in front of her face

But in the meantime, the good news is that there are things you can do (and things you shouldn’t do) to help reduce the nightmarish effects of jet lag and to give your body a nudge in the right direction when it comes to resetting your sleep schedule.

So, let’s take a look at some of the do’s and don’t of beating the lag!

Do’s for coping with jet lag when you work in seafarer jobs

Do: Remember you are what you eat

Maintaining a healthy diet while you’re jet lagged will be beneficial. Of course, when you’re onboard you will be at the mercy of whatever the ship’s cook serves up but keep in mind that carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes etc) will make you sleepy and foods that are high in protein (eggs, nuts, chicken breast etc) will make you feel more alert.

Therefore why not pack some almonds or other nuts to take with you to snack on while you’re waiting for your body clock to sync?

Read more: How to Get a Good Night's Sleep When You Work in a Seafarer Job

Do: Try not to get stressed out

As well as taking some healthy snacks onboard, when you’re packing to embark on your next seafarer job and you know you’re probably going to wind up jet lagged, include anything that you know will help you settle in, unwind and adjust to your new time zone more easily.

For example, your favorite tunes that could either help you stay pumped and awake - or fall asleep if you’re struggling to switch off. A sleep mask might also come in handy.

Read more: 10 Ways to Chill During Your Downtime in Seafarer Jobs

Do: Hydrate with some good old H20

Staying hydrated will help combat that horrible headache-y feeling that often accompanies jet lag, so drink as much water as time and circumstances allow for.

hand holding a glass of water

Do: Keep on moving

Jobs at sea are physical, we all know that, so help your body adjust and get back into the swing of things after your time off by getting in some gentle exercise once you’ve got off the plane. Go for a walk if your schedule allows, or do some stretches or low impact aerobic or strength training such as squats and push ups.

Related: 8 Tips for Dealing with Sea Sickness

Don’ts for coping with jet lag when you work in a maritime job

Don’t: Cave in to junk food

While you’re in transit and on the way to your vessel try not to fall for the dubious charms of fast food restaurants. Bottles of full fat fizzy soda, hamburgers and fries, takeaway pizza, fried chicken...mmm.

They might fill a quick craving and satisfy your hunger temporarily but your jet lagged body won’t thank you for it as it struggles to process all that salt, sugar, grease and fat.  

You need your seafarer skills to be on point and to be over the jet lag as soon as possible. Loading up on greasy carbs won’t help that.

Don’t: Cave in to drink or drugs

As someone working in jobs at sea you know full well that alcohol and drugs are a real no-no - and a potentially career-ending one at that.

Put simply, cargo ship jobs and stimulants don’t mix. And nor does jet lag either. Avoid any form of mind-altering drug (and that includes alcohol.)

It might be tempting to chug a few beers or pop a few pills in order to get some much needed sleep when you’re wide awake in the middle of the night, but not only will this be going against the rules of your vessel and/or shipping company, but seriously, it won’t help with the jet lag either.

A hangover and jet lag? No thanks!

a selection of craft beers

Read more: 7 Tips for Better Mental Health for Seafarers

Don’t: Load up on spicy food…

...if you’re not used to it. The scenario: you’ve just landed in a country known for its mouthwatering spicy cuisine. You can’t wait to treat yourself to something delicious before you embark and begin your next job at sea.

The problem: you’re not used to spicy food. The result: you could end up with stomach issues that lead to dehydration - and this will only make the jet lag feel worse.

For similar reasons, avoid grabbing a snack from or eating anywhere that looks less than clean. Food poisoning is not going to be fun when you’re jet lagged AND trying to do your best in jobs at sea.

Are you looking for cargo ship jobs?

If you’re ready to find your next seafarer job take a look at Martide’s open jobs at sea. We are always looking for qualified seamen and women with seafarer skills to fill our vacancies.

Advert for Martide's maritime jobs website showing phones with seafarer jobs on the screens

You can either apply directly on our website or you can make life easier when you’re on the go by downloading our mobile app. All of our seafarer jobs are listed on the app and you can apply for any you’re interested in with the click of a button.

The app is completely free and can be downloaded from Google Play for Android or the App Store for Apple devices. Get it today and we hope to see you onboard soon!

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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