Survey reveals growing frustrations and challenges faced by seafarers, highlighting the need for collaborative industry-wide action to improve welfare and wellbeing in shipping
The Mission to Seafarers has published the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report for Q1 2023, revealing a decline in overall happiness levels among seafarers during the first three months of the year. The survey, which captures seafarers’ sentiments worldwide across a wide range of welfare issues, shows a fall from 7.69 to 7.1 out of 10, compared to Q4 2022.
The Seafarers Happiness Index (SHI) report covers ten key questions that provide insights into the challenges and opportunities facing seafarers. The Q1 2023 SHI was undertaken with the support of NorthStandard and Idwal, and identifies a return to growing frustrations among respondents, following a period of rising happiness.
Seafarers were relatively satisfied in the last quarter of 2022, but sentiment has since worsened. The average happiness level of seafarers in Q1 2023 was 7.1, which is lower than the levels recorded in Q2, Q3, and Q4 of 2022. In fact, nine out of ten areas surveyed showed a decrease in happiness levels. Despite an optimistic outlook for improvements to seafarer welfare in 2023, the latest report indicates that these expectations have not yet been met. As ever, there is still much room for improvement.
Challenges faced by seafarers
Q1 2023 data shows a decline in seafarers’ satisfaction against all questions, with the exception of connectivity. However, despite the rise in satisfaction, seafarers still reported connectivity issues at sea across different companies, as well as concerns about data allowances, internet speed, and connectivity limitations.
Shore leave and a desire to access welfare services ashore once more came to the fore as key areas for concern. Seafarers also reported growing frustration with owners who attempt to make seafarers sign on for longer periods than desired, as well as with the delays experienced in sign-off procedures. In addition, the challenges of coping with extended periods on board have reportedly been made harder due to inadequate food provisions, bureaucratic and unnecessary paperwork demands, ineffective shipboard leadership, and a sense of social isolation adding to the stress of life onboard.
The SHI report also identified several other challenges facing seafarers, including a growing wellness gap between companies that provide health and well-being programs and those that do not, access to dental care in some ports but not others, and limited access to mental health support, medical advisory services, and physical well-being consultations. Seafarers also expressed concerns about salaries, the cost of living, and potential obstacles to career advancement.
Despite the challenges, seafarers recognise the importance of positive onboard interactions for their well-being and job satisfaction. However, insufficient entertainment options on board are making it harder for them to find a reason to come together. Therefore, there is a need for improved social activities and shared spaces to encourage crew members to interact. This will not only enhance their overall experience but will also contribute to safer and more efficient operations on board ships. Prioritising crew interactions and relationships is crucial for mutual respect, effective communication, camaraderie, and teamwork on every ship.
The Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers, said:
“We saw the satisfaction of seafarers steadily grow throughout 2022, and this continued into the fourth quarter with a high-water mark of satisfaction at 7.69/10. Unfortunately, this positive trend came to an end in the first quarter of this year, as happiness levels have declined almost across the board. This illustrates how important it is to maintain momentum on seafarer welfare and why there can be zero complacency over the conditions in which our seafarers find themselves.
“We are committed to working with the shipping industry to address the challenges facing seafarers and improve their welfare. The SHI is an important tool in this work, and we are grateful to all the seafarers who participated in the survey.”
Thom Herbert, Idwal Senior Marine Surveyor and Crew Welfare Advocate, commented:
“The dip in the Seafarers’ Happiness Index in the first quarter of 2023 is a worrying sign after the steady increase last year and we will watch Q2’s results with interest to see whether this is the start of a downward trend. Hopefully not! It’s very frustrating to hear about ongoing issues with lack of shore leave and sign-off procedures being delayed. Moving out of the pandemic does not make lack of shore leave any less of an issue and we need to keep a spotlight on this to ensure it improves. I was particularly interested to hear about the challenges related to onboard meals, food budgets and quality, etc. As a former seafarer, I know how important good nutrition and good food is to keep you healthy and motivated. Good meal times together can also go a long way to help the onboard culture and camaraderie. Getting food right for people is basic and we should be doing better.”
Capt Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention at NorthStandard, added:
“It is unfortunate to see a dip in satisfaction levels from 7.69/10 to 7.10/10 in Quarter 1 of 2023, following the incremental rise reported throughout 2022. Persistent frustrations with shore leave and challenges with extended periods on board appear to have had a negative impact on scoring as the pace of industry-wide improvement to these areas has been slow. There is also a growing awareness amongst seafarers of the disparities in terms of provision of connectivity, access to mental health support and wellbeing programs offered to crew by companies across the industry. NorthStandard will continue raising awareness of these important wellbeing aspects to support positive change, improve job satisfaction, productivity, and retention among seafarers.”
Transforming Feedback into Action
During last week’s Singapore Maritime Week 2023, The Mission to Seafarers, NorthStandard, Idwal, Inmarsat, and Seafarers Happiness Index founder Steven Jones came together for an Executive Roundtable on Crew Welfare to develop an approach to improve the well-being of seafarers. Leading ship owners, managers, and charterers will use data and insights from the Seafarers Happiness Index and Idwal’s onboard findings to identify actions and approaches that can propel the industry towards a solutions-centered approach. The group aims to accelerate the seafaring industry from compliance to excellence by prioritising the wellbeing of crews and ensuring they are part of the equation for commercial success. The ultimate goal is to create real-world shipboard solutions that challenge the status quo and redefine how things are done.
The Mission to Seafarers hopes that the Seafarers Happiness Index report will draw attention to the challenges faced by seafarers and that companies and industry stakeholders will work collaboratively towards finding solutions to improve their welfare and happiness levels. By doing so, we can foster a more satisfied and motivated workforce, leading to increased productivity and retention among seafarers. The ultimate goal is to create a more sustainable, equitable, and humane shipping industry that benefits everyone involved, from shipowners and managers to seafarers and their families.
To read the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, click here