Seafarers’ wellbeing has been a crucial topic for the maritime industry recently, especially now during the COVID-19 world pandemic. While the majority of us are adapting to working from home, seafarers continue carrying out their duties and operate the ships ensuring that vital goods, such as medical supplies and foodstuffs, are delivered safely and with minimal impact to respond to this pandemic. During such challenging times, seafarers’ wellbeing is of utmost importance to ensure that their focus is on operational safety and excellence.
Seafaring is a very challenging profession and life onboard has its own unique characteristics. Seafarers are far away from home, family and friends and they lack access to many facilities. They are isolated and have to deal with difficult circumstances at their job. All these can have an effect on their wellbeing. Lately, the maritime industry has shed its focus on finding ways to address and improve the wellness of seafarers. Wellness of seafarers is a multi-dimensional holistic concept that combines social, emotional, physical and spiritual wellness. All these different features have to be in balance to ensure healthy, quality of life and wellness.
Socially, seafarers face many challenges on board. They are away from friends and family for a long time and many of them live isolated lives while onboard. The automation onboard ships has led to smaller crews with diverse backgrounds. Thus, communication may be difficult leading to loneliness and the crew may be vulnerable. Humans are social animals and it is important to have a sense of community.
Seafarers constantly talk about the importance of social events onboard, such as movie nights, BBQs or even videogame competitions. These events give them the opportunity to chat with others and break free of the work and cabin cycle. It is important to fit the crew together to build a positive environment. This is a foundation of social wellness. Interpersonal skills are crucial to help them communicate with others onboard and deal with diversity competently. A greater understanding of one other significantly improves life on board.
Further, seafarers mention how important is for them to be able to connect with their families and friends and have good quality internet access. All these, help them improve and maintain social wellness on board the vessel. The social aspect is as much of the shipping industry as is the navigation of a ship.
There are several factors that can impact seafarers’ mental health, such as job stress, family pressures and limited shore leave. Being away at mean you may miss important family moments, which can have a negative impact on your emotional wellness. It is never easy to be away from home for extended periods of time. More than a quarter of seafarers suffer from depression and nearly 6% of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide. Therefore, one can understand how important emotional wellness at sea is. Thus, it is of utmost importance to help seafarers find meaning, purpose and accomplishment in life, both on and off-shore wellbeing.
They should feel confident to handle the challenging situations at sea and to be empowered to understand and manage their emotions while onboard. They should communicate and be connected with other crew members and their families in order to feel and understand that they are not alone. Further, it is important for them to have people to discuss and share their thoughts and feelings. Thus, social activities will enable them to maintain their emotional wellness too.
It is also important that seafarers look after their own health. Where possible, they should try to make nutritious and healthy food choices and ensure a healthy diet. It seems that a balanced diet means a lot for seafarer’s wellness since food quality and catering proficiency are foundations for a happy crew. Thus, access to healthy food options and variation is a foundation for physical wellness.
Proper nutrition, along with exercise and adequate rest and sleep help to prevent diseases and improve physical health. Exercise is a proven wat to release the ‘happy hormones’ serotonin and endorphin which make us feel happy, satisfied and enhance well-being. Exercising and sports also encourage team-building through social interaction and as a result enhance social wellness.
Attention should also be given to sleep and rest period in order to have fresh and fully rested seafarers on board. Due to the fact that fatigue seems to be affecting seafarers’ wellbeing, leading to maritime incidents, it is important to acknowledge the severity of fatigue and help seafarers rest and sleep properly.Thus, seafarers should keep a healthy diet, exercise regularly and rest properly to empower their physical wellness.
Intellectual wellness relates to how one engages in creative and stimulating activities and expands knowledge outside of the traditional knowledge relevant to seafaring. It is important for seafarers to spend time to empower their intellectual wellness while on board. They should spend time being informed and updated with issues related to them. This can include knowledge about seafarers’ rights and others. Knowledge about such matters will help them know their rights and negotiate in a better way with confidence.
Further, seafarers should aim to engage in creative and stimulating activities such as reading, listening to music, watching movies or playing games. These activities will also offer opportunities for social activities and will help to maintain intellectual wellness.
Spirituality is also vital since it can serve as a factor to alleviate stress and as a result enhance wellness. Seafarers should spend time to their spiritual needs. They should create an awareness of their own beliefs but also for other crew members beliefs and respect them. These beliefs guide their responses and actions so they should be aware of them.. It is vital for seafarers to share their beliefs and thoughts with other crew members. These will help them maintain their wellness onboard the vessel. The spirituality of seafarers will help them acknowledge others’ point of view, respect them, and comprehend and react appropriately to life experiences at sea.
A seafarer acts as an organized whole and thus a holistic approach should be taken to address and improve wellness of the seafarers. Seafarers deserve to have a better life and sea. Therefore, the maritime industry should prioritise crew wellness and invest on assessing and training the non-technical skills that are important for the maintenance of wellness and optimal performance on board the vessel.