Today we are talking about a holistic approach to well-being as we have focused not only on the mental health of seafarers, but also on the physical health of seafarers and the social life on board and the general happiness of seafarers. There are many factors that can improve the quality of life on board and ensure a happier crew. With this in mind, the latest SAFETY4SEA survey revealed many barriers to mental health, as well as physical well-being being the most neglected of the other aspects.
2023 SEAFiT Crew Survey, which is the largest survey on crew well-being conducted worldwide with the participation of 1.6 thousand ships and 19 thousand seafarers, highlighted as a key result that the Internet plays a vital role for life on board. Over 70% of crew members have no difficulty establishing good relationships with their colleagues and rely on high-quality internet access to maintain connections and communicate with their loved ones ashore, a need expressed by a staggering 91% of participants. Also, the survey highlighted several critical issues that the industry has not prioritized in terms of seafarers’ welfare, including issues related to wages and connectivity to shore. It was emphasized that the industry tends to react to problems rather than take a proactive approach.hey
The survey was conducted during the first and second quarters of 2023, asking people on board and ashore to provide feedback on how they see several well-being/well-being factors related to their work and life at sea. Specifically, participants were asked to answer questions covering the following key aspects of crew well-being: well-being; Communication about physical/mental health; Factors of well-being while on board; Problems with happiness; Problems with physical well-being; Mental health barriers and; Obstacles to social well-being.
The questionnaire was answered in total 18,352 sailors, serving on board 1,574 ships. Most of the nationalities came from Asia and Europe and most of the participants were from the Philippines (37.3%). Other countries with a high share were Ukraine, India and Georgia. (Chart 1). The ship category that included the most participants was ‘Bulk Carriers’, as they accounted for 31.7% of the participating fleet. (Chart 3).
- Well-being on board is defined by a number of factors; many critical elements concerning life on board are at a satisfactory level. Specifically, in total Crew Wellness Index – SEAFit Index – revealed that the level of satisfaction is at 2%, more than in 2021 (71.2%).
- Tea 2023 SEAFiT index assessed the level of satisfaction with the following: Well-being index (WNI 80.5%), Communication index (CMI – 76.9%), Happiness Index (HPI – 73.8%) and Well-being index (WBI -65.5%).
- Level of satisfaction The mental well-being index in 2023 showed a decline compared to previous years (Graph 5). The survey highlighted many Mental health barriers (Table 2), revealing that the three main barriers are: lack of information about symptoms related to mental health problems (58.8%); inadequate health care for mental health problems (59.8%); and lack of guidance on coping strategies for mental health challenges (60.5%).
- Satisfaction level of The physical well-being index in 2023 showed a significant decrease compared to previous years (Graph 5). Among many reasons, this can be attributed to the extended duration of the pandemic, along with the challenges of being at sea for longer periods of time which has increased stress and mental health issues among seafarers. This, in turn, had a negative impact on their physical well-being and satisfaction.
- Communication with home is in the first place for sailors. Despite satisfaction in the relevant question (90.4%), seafarers continue to demand more Internet privileges on the boat.
- Recreational facilities are on the same level of concern for seafarers, as the physical well-being and time on board for relaxation plays a significant role in their satisfaction and their ability to prepare for a demanding daily programme.
- Salaries and bonuses are also very high on the agenda of seafarers with the level of satisfaction in the relevant issue up to 63.2%
- Other issues of great importance for seafarers are Increased workload, shore leave issues, food/water quality-quantity and career development.
In summary, the research revealed a shift in seafarers’ priorities, with health issues, which were paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic, now less prominent in their daily concerns. Despite improvements in connecting seafarers to their homes while on board, there are persistent complaints about inadequate internet connectivity and communication with people on land.
Wages and wages continue to play a key role in the overall well-being of seafarers. Most respondents expressed a strong need for increased recreational activities and mental support while at sea. Considerable attention is directed towards strategies for mental, physical and social well-being, such as scheduling meetings to improve resilient best practices, improving recreational facilities and nutrition, and organizing onboard activities.
Regarding crew satisfaction, research findings show that factors such as age and ship type have a significant impact. In general, male seafarers have a higher level of satisfaction compared to their female counterparts. Among the national groups, Filipino seafarers show the highest levels of satisfaction, while Italian seafarers appear to be the least satisfied. Looking at age groups, those between the ages of 36 and 55 are the most satisfied, while those over 60 are the least satisfied. When it comes to departments, the catering department is the most satisfied, followed by the engine and deck departments. Interestingly, officers tend to report lower levels of satisfaction compared to grades. The survey also reveals that crews on tankers tend to be the happiest, while those on general cargo ships are the least satisfied. On the whole, seafarers working on gas carriers tend to be the most satisfied.
Key areas of concern
In open-ended feedback questions, participants identified the following key items to be thoroughly addressed for immediate solutions:
- Increased workload
- Problems with shore leave
- Food/water quality – quantity
- More focus on safety issues on board
- Career development
- Termination of contract/Repatriation
- Increased salary and bonus
- The need for mental support on board
- Focus on maintaining human factors resilience
- Improvement of recreational facilities on board
- Free internet to improve communication with family/friends
Several seafarers pointed out that accessible communication, i.e. a free Internet data package, would significantly improve communication with their loved ones on land, and thus their well-being. The Internet is seen not only as a means of communication, but also as a source of leisure and entertainment for seafarers. It has the dual role of helping them bond with loved ones and providing recreational activities. Seafarers are quite concerned about access to high-quality Internet connectivity. This indicates that the reliability and speed of the Internet connection are crucial factors for their satisfaction and well-being. Satisfaction ratings on related issues highlight the importance of addressing these communication and bonding needs, in order to improve seafarers’ overall well-being.
There were many respondents who touched on the issue of focusing more on social life on board and investing in team bonding activities ie karaoke nights, Sunday barbeques on board, games. Furthermore, many participants requested a healthier diet rich in fruits and vegetables, recreational facilities and gym equipment.
An open-ended feedback question revealed human factors concerns, calling for training on mental health issues, resilience meetings, support from mental health professionals and a robust on-board and ashore health care system that provides health support. Moreover, several participants pointed out how important it is for the ship’s management to check the mental health of the crew in a timely manner and suggested health insurance for families on land.
Contract termination/repatriation and shore leave were also among seafarers’ major concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges with crew turnover. Contracts and repatriation routines are almost back to pre-Covid-19 levels, but restrictions on onshore leave are an issue that requires further discussion by industry stakeholders.
Overall, crew welfare issues are being successfully addressed according to the survey’s crew welfare index which remains at a high level of 74.2%. Although well-being issues (related to aspects of social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual well-being) show a high satisfactory level for the ship’s crew, seafarers feel that mutual communication and a demanding workload affect their overall well-being.