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Seafarer Happiness Improves but Remains Fragile

seafarer happiness index
Seafarer happiness rebounded with improvements in travel and social activities (Peter Cornelissen photo courtesy of ISWAN)

Published Aug 1, 2022 6:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Crew welfare and the satisfaction of seafarers are on the rise as the maritime industry has focused on some issues identified as the major concerns for seafarers according to the latest report from the Seafarers Happiness Index. While much of the progress relates to the relaxing of restrictions brought on by the spread of COVID-19, the Christian charity The Mission of Seafarers reports that there has also been a marked increase in a range of areas that contribute to overall improved seafarer wellbeing.

The survey, undertaken with the support of the Standard Club and Idwal, reports on Q2 2022 and shows according to the organizations that the influx of industry solutions to tackle seafarer wellbeing has finally begun to lift morale and the mindset onboard. The index recovered after reaching a record low last quarter, with overall happiness measured at 7.21 on a scale of 10 up from 5.85. They reported that levels are rising across all categories.

“It is great to see seafarer happiness increase after such low satisfaction in the last Seafarers Happiness Index report,” said The Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers. “While it has been a difficult two years, it is nice to see some optimism return, which is largely down to the hard work the industry has done to make life better and raise spirits on board.”

The report says that two key areas are contributing to the improvement of the happiness index and crew welfare. Much of what they highlight relates to the pandemic, but they are also pointing to management’s efforts to take steps to create a better environment for seafarers during the long periods at sea. 

“Seafarers are able to move more freely and have more certainty about whether they can go ashore and when they will next be able to go home. This freedom of movement has had a hugely beneficial effect on seafarer happiness and as vaccination levels also rise among crews, there is a sense of stability returning to the industry,” according to the report. 

They write that a sense of stability has emerged as the pandemic stabilized and countries have grown more confident in their efforts to slow the spread of the virus. The fact that shore leave has been restored and with welfare facilities open on shore has contributed to the improved mood for seafarers. However, it is the reduction in travel restrictions and the ability to implement crew changes on time and with greater regularity that has contributed the most to the improvements.

“The data from Q2 reflects that the industry is getting better at making crew changes more regularly, with 41 percent of seafarers onboard for between just one and three months,” according to the report.

The report says that there is a clear impact from the increase in wages and the other amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention recently enacted. They also point to a focus on social events that boost morale, including weekly gatherings, quizzes, karaoke, sports, barbecues, and movie nights, along with the promises of improved communications so crew can maintain more frequent contact with family and friends at home.

“However, there are still areas that can be improved upon, which is why it’s so critical for organizations to continue taking meaningful steps to boost seafarer happiness and crew welfare,” said Wright. “As always, there is much to be learned from hearing directly from seafarers on how they feel about life at sea – the positives and negatives.”

While the efforts to provide amenities and events aboard the ships are appreciated, the report highlights the lack of time and the challenges of balancing work and leisure time suggesting that some of these efforts might be window dressing unless more is done. They say that the hours of work and rest continue to be in conflict and there are concerns over the cost of communications. They also wonder about the quality of the service that will be made available. 

The Mission to Seafarers also warns that the recovery in seafarer happiness can be easily lost. They believe the industry still “has a way to go,” addressing concerns and can not let up on its attention to the issues that contribute to crew welfare.