How to Cope with Working Away from Home in Jobs at Sea
If you’re one of the many people across the globe working in jobs at sea then you’re probably well used to working away from home. You know what a life on a cargo ship entails and your contracts come and go like clockwork.
Working at sea can be exciting and and an amazing career opportunity that can be both personally and financially rewarding.
But as any seaman can tell you, it can have an impact on the relationships you have with your loved ones.
How to cope with working away in jobs at sea
It can be a strange life to get used to at first: bouncing between working on a ship for any given number of months, to then return home to your family, before setting off once again.
Relationships take work under normal circumstances, whether it’s the relationship between a husband and wife, parent and child, or other partner or loved one.
Add to that the fact that communication can be difficult when you’re away working at sea and you’ll need to take extra care to nurture your relationships.
How to cope with working away from home
Often those working in seafarer jobs find that they spend more time at sea than they do at home. This means that not only are you missing your family and friends on an emotional level, you’re also having to deal with practical issues and challenges either from afar or in a shorter space of time when you’re ashore.
Read more: 5 Ways to Beat Homesickness in Seafarer Jobs
Not dealing with issues at your kid’s school, getting the car fixed, or dealing with all the life admin that gets thrown your way when you’re working away from home.
This can make small problems add up and seem larger than they really are. These problems still need to be dealt with, but you also need to factor in time to de-stress and spend with your partner, parents, children, friends, siblings and all the other people who want a piece of you when you’re back on shore!
So how do you survive these challenges and make sure your (and your family’s) practical and emotional needs are met? All in a relatively short space of time. It means that you need to build stronger bonds with everyone that matters to you back home.
It means building a partnership with your partner or spouse and helping your children adjust to a life where mommy or daddy is away for several months at a time. It takes work - but that’s relationships and family for you!
Challenges to overcome in seafarer jobs
Many people are employed in jobs that mean they’re often working away from home. From a deck cadet to a Hollywood actor, and from humanitarian and aid workers to high ranking politicians.
But working on a ship comes with a unique set of challenges and it can be hard to make the folks back home realize that.
Jobs at sea are often physical, they can be adrenaline fueled, they involve battling against the elements, they demand 110% concentration and dedication, they involve watches and shifts and broken sleep patterns.
On the other hand, your job is a huge part of who you are and what you do. And you may have a deep bond with other crew members onboard who understand the lifestyle you’ve chosen far better than even your best friends on land can.
And then you return home and it’s all back to that humdrum life of routine, checking the kids’ homework, taking the garbage out, walking the dog, making dinner...you get the picture.
The polar opposites of your life are really extreme.
Strengthen the bond with your spouse or partner
But what you need to try and do is embrace these two extremes. Relish the time you have doing ‘normal’ domestic chores and the time you spend with your spouse or partner.
And appreciate that as difficult as it is for you living this ‘dual life’ - it’s not easy for them or your family either.
That’s why anyone working on a ship needs to pay extra care and attention to their relationships and make sure that the wife/husband or girlfriend/boyfriend who stays onshore to run the everyday life of your family is also a true partner in every sense of the word.
You need to appreciate each other’s strengths and be grateful for the way you both manage this unusual life that you lead together.
A strong bond will make sure that communication is easier for both of you and that your time spent ashore is well spent, and doesn’t fly by in a whirl of misunderstandings or even arguments.
It’s worth remembering that your partner at home is making compromises too. Maybe they are a stay-at-home parent who would love to have a full or part time job, but are unable to because of the children.
They’re also dealing with all the little stresses and strains of everyday life that you might not get to see because the kids are on best behavior when you’re home!
This can be emotionally draining - for both of you. But often it’s the practicalities of life that cause issues when you’re away working at sea. This is why strong communication and mutual respect for one another’s roles in the family unit are so important.
Even if you’re not a great talker, you’re going to need to learn how to open up to your partner so that issues can be nipped in the bud and solved before they cause real problems.
Spend quality time with family and friends ashore
Life on a cargo ship can be demanding. And it’s for that very reason, that when you head back to shore you’re looking for some real R&R. However, just because YOU have Rest and Recuperation on your mind, it doesn’t mean that everyone else will!
In fact, you probably know only too well that your so-called vacation can sometimes feel as if it’s as hectic as working on a ship!
Not only do you have all the admin and general life duties to take care of, as well as your next contract to line up, if you haven’t already done so, but extended family and friends will often want to see you too.
And that can mean everything from taking trips across the country to catch up with a grandparent to endless nights out with your buddies.
While it’s only natural that they want to see you - and for you to see them - if you do have a partner and children on shore, it’s crucial that you make time for them too. If you don’t this can lead to feelings of neglect and resentment.
Make sure you schedule in ‘date night’ with your spouse or partner, and ensure there’s plenty of time to hang out with the kids too, whether that’s a trip to the beach or the park, or just helping them with school work.
Take time out: jobs at sea are tiring
It can be tempting to return home from your life on a container ship and go in all guns blazing. Home improvements, gardening, taking the car for it’s annual check up, fixing minor issues around the house...these things all add up.
It’s worth bearing in mind that your partner has probably been coping ably without you so don’t charge through the door and instantly take over.
Of course, if there are jobs that he or she can’t do and you can, then this is your time to get involved and offer some support.
But you need downtime too. Working away from home can be mentally tiring and seafarer jobs can be physically exhausting. Plus you may well be jet-lagged at first from your flight home.
You’re on shore to recharge your batteries as much as anything. From an employment point of view, you need to be well rested before you start looking for a new job or contract.
Plus don’t forget that being tired makes it easier to snap, shout and be disagreeable. That won’t be fun for your family and it won’t make the most of your precious time ashore.
The answer: build in some ‘me time’ and make sure you get a chance to do some of the things that help you chill out. Whether that’s long walks, beers with buddies, going to see a movie, or hitting the gym.
Create a partnership for success on shore
So, to conclude, having time for yourself to relax, recuperate and recharge is vital. And so is spending some quality time with your family and friends.
Work on the bonds that strengthen you and your partner’s relationship such as having mutual respect for each other’s roles in the wellbeing of your family.
And don’t forget to take an interest in their job, too. if they have one. Their work might not seem anywhere near as exciting as your life on a cargo ship, but showing an interest is showing that you care.
Keep on talking, and remember that the little bumps in the road (or the choppy waves!) are there to serve a purpose and will create a greater sense of partnership and connection when you overcome them.
Create a partnership for success at sea
If you’re ready to get back to life working on a ship, you’ll need to line your next contract up!
At Martide we have hot vacancies for seamen for all ranks and levels of experience. Take a look at our seafarer jobs board and see if there’s something that matches your qualifications.
You should also download our free mobile app for seafarers.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for the most up-to-date seafarer jobs as well as tips for finding new positions, plus other news and fun things to do with working on a ship!
Eve is Martide's content writer and publishes regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea.