Mariners struggle to find happiness at sea, study shows

International seafarer welfare charity The Mission to Seafarers, says that reports of obesity, mental health problems and gender discrimination among seafarers are on the rise, while happiness at sea continues to fall.

The London-based mission provides help and support to the 1.5 million men and women who face danger every day to keep our global economy afloat. The group works in over 200 ports in 50 countries caring for seafarers of all ranks, nationalities and beliefs.

According to the mission’s Seafarer Happiness Index, a global survey designed to track seafarers’ welfare needs and feelings about life at sea, overall seafarer satisfaction levels at sea has dropped to 6.32 out of 10 — a decrease of more than 5% from the figure recorded at this time last year (6.69).

Over the past 12 months, the mission published a series of anonymized reports from the survey which flagged a number of alarming issues. These include rising concerns around the mental wellbeing of seafarers, with many respondents to the survey reporting high levels of boredom and stress. A number of seafarers criticized the shortage of facilities onboard, while others complained of a lack of shore leave and access to reliable WiFi.

Several female respondents also reported incidents around gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at sea. Last year’s index had the highest number of female participants to date, comprising 12.32% of the total in the latest report to be published. On average, female seafarers tended to be less happy than their male colleagues. A few reported feeling lonely or isolated, especially when they were the only woman onboard.

Issues around weight gain and exercise were also flagged in the responses. Some respondents complained that chandlers were sending cheaper, lower-quality branded food supplies to ships, while others stated that while they wanted to exercise they found it very hard to either get the time or the motivation.

The announcement came ahead of this week’s CMA Shipping Conference in Connecticut, where the mission’s director of advocacy and regional engagement Ben Bailey presented the findings from the first three months of this year on Wednesday.

“The mission’s Seafarers Happiness Index is about empowering seafarers across the world by giving them a confidential platform to voice their opinions and concerns,” Bailey said. “In an industry that so often goes unseen by the vast majority of the global population, it’s so important that we do our part to show that these men and women are not forgotten and that we are always listening.”

During his presentation, Bailey also highlighted the need for more seafarers to take the survey, and for shipping companies to use the results as a key measure for progress and growth.

“The survey and the subsequent reports that we publish, provide us with a genuine insight into the issues affecting thousands of seafarers, allowing us to see what makes them happy and identify the things that may be affecting their mental health in a negative way,” Bailey said.

This year the mission will continue to publish its findings from the survey once a quarter.


About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

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    Sadly it all comes down to what shipping companies are willing to invest within deck & engine departments. Food quality is vital and cutting corners to meet bottom lines will impact retention rates. Likewise, with USCG’s 2 yr medical reporting, keeping fit with proper equipment on board only underscores how vital personal health needs to become in today’s marine industry. Yes, its tough keeping the rotations going while maintaining proper exercise time for fitness. The reference made to mental health is always of importance and here again with time = money, shore leave has become a thing of the past for a long time. In those old days of the 1920 30’s shore leave was romantic …. thanks to those slow Burton Falls deck gear. Containers changed the industry drastically as vessels could turn around faster yes but at what cost to the crew? Also its interesting to note the report did not cover down/rest & sleep time. Good mental health requires wholesome quality sleep for all department personnel within the rotation cycles and beyond. How many times have we seen within USCG Proceedings where sleep deprivation became a key component to a maritime disaster. STCW is designed to address Personal & Social Responsibility so its troubling to hear female crew members describing their plight. Not every ship needs an Ensign Pulver but a good Mr. Roberts goes a long way within the ranks of ship’s morale. The marine industry as a whole is also facing the challenging realities of today’s modern social structures. “Going to Sea is a life style” as it was described family, friends, partners etc all had to get in line so to speak back in the day. Good internet capability with strong visual/oral linkages can go a long way in addressing loneliness to a degree but having quality time off to be with family etc is essential for good mental health as well. This report is clearly a valuable eye opener and warrants vigorous review within all levels of operation.

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