How Can You Look After Seafarer Mental Well-being?

Feb 06, 2023 · 8 mins read ·

Crew Retention, Maritime Industry
seafarers on deck

Maritime institutes worldwide produce tens of thousands of new marine engineers and deck cadets every year.

And every year, these new grads more or less have the same ambitions. They want to succeed in the maritime industry by climbing the ranks one at a time.

These officers set sail on ships with reputable shipping corporations with their newly acquired skills and training, serve on board for a while, and then strive to advance in rank.

But despite the lucrative job offers, the exciting workplace, and the "globetrotting" lifestyle, many seafarers still leave their ship positions in favor of chances on land.

Why is this the case? Can employers and shipowners do something to minimize this problem?

And is this all somehow related to a seafarer’s mental well-being?

Let’s take a deep dive below.

A seafarer’s stressors

Life at sea is a rewarding experience, but like most jobs, there are days when the going gets tough.

And yet, the tough get going. But what are these emotional stressors that may affect a seafarer’s mental well-being?

  1. The nomadic lifestyle

At the beginning of a seafarer’s career, the prospect of traveling the world while you work is a powerful pull. But, unfortunately, not every day, you are transported from one beautiful country to another.

But then, life happens. A seafarer gets married, has a family, or develops this desire to stay on land and follow their passions.

And that’s when the nomadic lifestyle no longer suits them. Although some stay (because they need the income to support their family or passion projects), they are not in their happiest state.

2. Diminished social life

Almost everyone who boards a ship has grown up in a social setting.

Negative consequences like irritation, loneliness, and homesickness start to impact such people when they are abruptly exposed to the interiors of ships, especially on days when there is no social life.

Living on board a ship might not seem unpleasant at first, but an emptiness begins to set in as time goes on.

3. Being away from the family

While most sailors can accept being absent from their pals for a few months while at sea, being separated from their families for an extended period breaks their hearts.

Seafarers are deeply affected by losing those priceless times with their loved ones, who they care about the most.

Some may have just begun their married lives, while others may have recently become parents. No seafarer wants to miss time with their spouse or see their children age apart from them.

When this happens, mariners understand the value of "family life" and "loved ones." But unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons seafarers leave their careers at sea is the hardship of being gone for months.

The pros of a mentally strong seafarer

Like maintaining physical fitness keeps bodies strong, maintaining mental fitness enables seafarers to achieve and maintain good mental health.

When seafarers are mentally fine, they appreciate their lives, their surroundings, and the colleagues that they work with to ensure a smooth and safe voyage.

They can innovate, learn, explore, and take chances. As a result, they are better equipped to handle challenging situations in their personal and professional lives.

Seafarers may experience the anguish and rage that can accompany a loved one's passing, a job loss, relationship issues, and other challenging situations. But, eventually, they can move on and resume enjoying their lives.

The mental health issues that are occasionally linked to a chronic physical condition can be fought or prevented by taking care of mental health.

In rare instances, it can stop a medical or mental condition from developing or relapsing. For example, good stress management can reduce the risk of heart disease.

The mental welfare of seafarers can be significantly impacted by practical training in mental health awareness for seafarers and shore-based maritime professionals working with seafarers.

This training can also ensure they are well-prepared for some of the abovementioned problems.

Reducing stigma through education on mental health would also help significantly. Seafarers will feel more comfortable seeking assistance or discussing their issues with supervisors or colleagues if mental health is no longer stigmatized.

Additionally, training can help give sailors the knowledge and courage to approach a crew member who may be having difficulties.

Looking after their well-being: What can be done

Supporting your crew goes without saying—the voyage won’t be possible without the cadets, engineers, officers, and specialists on board the ship.

For shipowners or managers, the idea of support may be a tad too vague. One way to approach this vagueness is to segment.

Ask yourself and your crew, in what particular aspect can you help?

Several ideas are outlined below:

  1. If looking to build or strengthen relationships within the crew, investing in entertainment such as satellite TV, fast and reliable Internet connectivity, and gaming consoles can help the team relieve stress.

It’s also good to encourage the crew to engage in sports or even workouts to instill discipline in both mind and body.

Nurturing relationships with the people they left at home is also essential. As such, allowing the crew to access their email and talk with their loved ones will significantly help.

2. Improving the living conditions of your crew can also boost their well-being.

Investing in varied, quality food (ideally representing their home countries) can help them overcome homesickness.

Providing comfortable sleeping facilities ensures your crew gets a good rest. A well-rested team is happier and more alert than a groggy one.

3. As an employer, ensuring your workplace is one that thrives in collaboration and positivity is a must.

Implementing policies like anti-bullying or harassment can protect your crew from unnecessary mental distress.

Creating a schedule that enables seafarers to experience genuine work-life balance will also be great.

You can also advocate for mental health by ensuring there won’t be any sanction or difficulty if your crew decides to pause and attend to their mental health concern.

This way, they can get the help they need and not delay it for fear they’ll get penalized or barred from returning to work.

4. Lastly, be a true champion of mental health.

Look into conducting training and offering benefits such as confidential counseling and comprehensive health benefits.

To summarize

A person’s mental health is very similar to the seas.

One moment, it’s all serene and calm. The next thing we know, it’s turmoil and treacherous waters. We breeze through life when it’s the former, but we prepare and rise from the damage when faced with the latter.

We invest so much in repairing our ships and upgrading our equipment it’s only fair to extend the same care to our brave crew.

When you take care of everything—from your ship to your crew—you can expect only good things to come your way.

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Tricia Tan

Tricia Tan