The U.S. Maritime Administration (Marad) is inviting all mariners to participate and offer their opinions at a symposium exploring work-life balance in the maritime industry on April 16.

Although held in person in Washington, D.C., mariners will be able to follow the full-day of speakers and discussion online. 

Opening remarks will be made by Sinclair Oubre, a priest and licensed mariner from Beaumont, Texas, who is executive director and port chaplain for the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center.

The symposium will feature panel discussions and break-out sessions led by industry leaders, academics, mariners and prospective new entrants into the industry.

They will discuss issues related to work-life balance and recommendations for improvement. Topics will touch on career progression, training, reasons why people leave the industry, lifestyle onboard vessels, mariner mental health, among other subjects. This will be followed by a “fireside chat” with those who represent the future of the industry — midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, located in King’s Point, N.Y.

Among the panelist will be officials with the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, director of human resources at Maersk Line, advocates for diversity in the maritime field, an officer in the Military Sealift Command, head of human resources at Crowley, chief of personnel qualifications at the Coast Guard’s Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing, director of the Women Offshore Foundation, which helps women progress in the offshore industry,  and a counselor/therapist at California State Maritime Academy who counsels cadets and sails as the medical team’s mental health counselor on the academy’s training ship.

The afternoon will include small break-out sessions in which mariners will be asked to join the conversation and share their experiences and suggestions on how to improve the mariner’s work-life balance.

This has become an important topic in the maritime industry as it struggles to recruit and retain workers in a tight labor market. Despite excellent pay and benefits, it has become increasingly difficult to bring in younger recruits to maritime jobs, as many tend to dislike the environment of working in close quarters, often in dangerous and noisy conditions, and spending long stretches away from home.

But in some maritime sectors, work-life balance is a selling point. In the inland tug and barge industry, for example, companies often stress that although tugs operate 24/7, crews work in shifts, often two six-hour watches a day, and typically work for three weeks and then have three weeks off.

Inland mariners often say this is one of the best aspects of their jobs, as they can spend time with their families or enjoy their favorite activities while away from the river. Crewmembers on some harbor tugs can go home at night and often work a single 12-hour shift, according to the American Waterways Operators, which represents the towing industry.

Crews on passenger vessels and harbor pilots also work shifts that allow them to go home at the end of the day. Mariners working on sea-going vessels like container ships have much longer schedules at sea.

To register, send an email to: [email protected] and provide name, email, company and indicate whether you desire to attend virtually. 


Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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