Social interaction onboard: How to enhance crew’s relations?

18 January 2022

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​One thing is for sure, building positive relationships with others is important for our wellbeing. However, for seafarers working away from home for long periods, it can be difficult to remain in close contact with family and friends, so the opportunity to connect with other seafarers can be a major benefit.

From the moment of leaving the hometown the seafarer lives in a closed society with behavioral norms and social values different from those of the outside world.

In fact, the social environment of the seafarers has two major components. One component deal with working and living conditions on ships and the other relates to his family away in their hometown. Both are inter-linked.

Although long working hours, smaller crews, and cultural differences can be barriers to socializing with shipmates. Specifically, increasingly heavy workloads and fatigue are the biggest barriers to social interaction on board.

Evidence has shown that many obstacles to social interaction are seen to impact each other. For example, smaller crew sizes and increased workloads can lead to fatigue and isolation with seafarers simply not having enough energy to mix socially during their down time.

According to a study from the World Maritime University, social interaction results in higher productivity. While negative influence leads to decreased productivity and increases the risk of accidents and sicknesses.

In summary, social interaction can improve the mental and physical health and well-being of seafarers and demonstrate clear benefits for:

  • developing trust and better working relations with other crew members (family away from home).

  • developing team cohesion and improved resilience that can increase motivation and productivity at sea.

    improved safety practice.

  • combatting isolation and providing a release from the daily work environment.

A seafarer’s social life is a complex life, and it affects his work performance. Therefore, maritime countries have a moral international obligation to ensure that the world’s seafarers enjoy adequate safety standards and decent human working conditions

…World Maritime University explains.

What is more, in the ship community, which is completely self-reliant, an independent society, the seafarer finds himself facing a completely different world with an abnormal lifestyle, working conditions and relationships. All these differences may contribute to creating stress, fatigue and dissatisfaction.

In addition, communication is a major factor affecting social life onboard ship. Good communication is essential for a good social climate and individuals’ satisfaction. Difficulties in communicating with other crew members easily, or in establishing relationships with them may cause isolation. Isolation results in mental alterations and abnormal behavior, which may have undesirable consequences.

Among others, different cultures have been seen to influence the preference of certain activities and how the interactions take place. Generational as well as gender differences influence the perception of the drivers and barriers of social interaction. Additionally, Wi-Fi was seen as essential to social interaction by many current seafarers, but less so from non-seafarers working on shore.

Consequently, it is the main task of all those responsible for the well-being of seafarers to reduce, and, ideally, eliminate as many negative factors as possible. In other words, ensuring that crew engage socially, even for small amounts of time every day, is vital and should be a priority on every voyage, however long.

How to improve social interaction onboard

For shipping and ship management companies:

  • Develop a toolkit which documents evidence-based recommendations for enhancing social life on board.

  • Adopt recommendations which help to reduce social isolation of seafarers.

  • Encourage parties or get-together events.

  • Encourage or even arrange team-bonding activities.

  • Crew differences including nationality, gender and age should be considered in the planning of social activities as these factors can influence recreational preferences.

  • Consider what engages and brings people together and adapt suitable activities to their own company requirements.

Although measures can be put in place to facilitate recreational gatherings on board, it is these fundamental issues that need to be addressed for a long-term impact to take effect. Social interaction on board has a unifying impact that promotes a happier, more motivated crew that can work more effectively and safely together.

…Dr Kate Pike, Associate Professor Emeritus at Solent University, Southampton said.

Overall, associations and welfare charities should keep spreading the word on the importance of socialization as a key component to seafarers’ wellbeing and subsequent overall efficiency.

For seafarers:

  • Respect social norms and treat others fairly, equitably and honestly.

  • Be aware of seafarers’ cultural differences and deal with them effectively.

  • Take advantage of tool box meetings. The morning meeting, where crew members are assigned with their daily duties is a good opportunity for any crew member to meet any other crew member.

  • Training sessions onboard are also useful for interpersonal relationships onboard.

  • Create a chat group and build the relationships you have with your crewmates. In fact, it can form a support system while you’re at sea and they may be the key to helping lift your mood.

  • Head to the gym

  • Any free time you have in the periods of downtime in your seafarer job could be put to good use by swapping skills, talents or knowledge with other crew onboard.

Concluding, keep in mind that social interaction not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. In-person is best, but connecting via technology also works.