Seafarer happiness up, but tanker crew less happy

Feb 17 2022

The 3rd quarter Seafarer Happiness Survey reports an average happiness of 6.6 out of 10, the highest score since Q3 2019. But tanker crews reported their happiness at average 5.98.

In the third quarter of 2021 Seafarer Happiness Survey, conducted by the Mission to Seafarers, average self-reported happiness, on a score of 1-10, was 6.6.


The survey typically gets around 2,000 respondents, starting with a simple question “How happy generally when at sea?” The survey is conducted quarterly with support from Wallem Group and the Standard Club.


This is the highest score since Q3 2019, when it was also 6.6. Scores gradually declined to 6.2 in Q2 2020 during the first phase of the pandemic, then rose to 6.45 in Q1 2021, took a big jump down to 5.99 for Q2 2021 with a second wave of pandemic, the lowest ever recorded. Now the latest score is much better, 6.6.


By ship type, tanker crew were least happy, scoring themselves 5.98, compared to crew on bulk carriers (7.2), container ships (6.35) and general cargo ships (7.12). 12 per cent of replies were from crew on tankers.


5 per cent of seafarers responding said that they have been away at sea for over a year and a further 13 per cent of respondents have served at sea for over 9 months, with the remainder reporting less than 9 months, at the time of doing the survey.


The Mission to Seafarers' interpretation is that "COVID-19 related strains on seafarers are beginning to ease, and support measures for seafarer welfare have now had a chance to take effect. Yet challenges with shore leave and ship-shore connectivity remain."


"The data suggests that crew sentiment has stabilised, which is, at face value, good to see,” said The Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers.


“However, it is too soon to say whether this is a start of positive change, or if seafarers are simply more resilient to the situation they are experiencing because of the pandemic.”


Key points

There were a number of comments on standard of catering and the dearth of good quality ingredients. Some Western seafarers claimed that they suffer as their diet tends to be more expensive than other diets, and they perceive the quality of their meals is reduced to save money.


One cause of unhappiness is when crew either have no access to satellite communications, or feel that it is poor quality, slow, patchy and expensive. Many respondents see internet access as a way of assessing how a company feels about its crews.


One seafarer stated, “Our internet on board costs US$25 for 100MB”. One stated that they were given 250MB for a whole month, not even enough for one video call to their family.


On training, there was some good comments about how senior officers on board were sharing their knowledge. Also, some potential concerns. Some seafarers reported worries about revalidation periods of their certificates. They were concerned about future problems if they cannot get home to renew or refresh their shore-based training as required.


Many seafarers complained about not enough crew onboard, Mission to Seafarers said. There were complaints about ships going to an almost skeleton crew after a charter ended, while waiting for the next one.


Some seafarers complained about not having anyone onboard who can speak their own language fluently, or to a level adequate to engage in non-work-related matters. "It is arguably cultural and language difficulties which sends people back to their cabins," Mission to Seafarers said.


Crew retention

"We heard from many seafarers, particularly those aged 35 and over, that they were not intending to return to sea once they eventually got home,” Mission to Seafarers said.


"Some are seeking roles within maritime, but many are just looking for a way to get out.”


"The challenges of balancing home life, with the uncertainties of the crew change crisis, have led to many who were tentatively considering a move ashore accelerating their career change plans."


Some seafarers also wanted to “get ahead of the curve when autonomous ships arrive”.


One seafarer wrote, “fun and happiness are taken out of sailing by most ship owners and managers for commercial gains.”


Mental health

The Mission to Seafarers says that mental health impacts were frequently mentioned in the responses.


One seafarer said, “I cannot get ashore and talk to anyone but those on board.”


The survey asked seafarers how long they had been on their current vessel, so it could track how their happiness declined over time. It showed that happiness started to decline after 6 months. The full responses were: 1-3 months, 6.4; 3-6 months, 6.6; 6-9 months, 6.3; 9-12 months, 6; and over 12 months, 5.5.


One seafarer stated, “First month: 10/10, Second month: 8/10, Third month: 5/10, Longer: 1/10”.


One seafarer stated, “During my last commission I started to feel depressed but was not entirely aware of it at the time." He went on to describe how he felt increasingly anxious and stressed and was having trouble sleeping, engaging and even focusing on work.


Having never experienced “these kinds of feelings before” he didn’t realise the warning signs until he got home and noted how different he felt when he was away from the ship.



On bullying, one respondent stated, “I’m sick of hearing and going along with the adage of ‘it’s gotten better.’ No. It’s inexcusable when it’s bad. Bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment, sexual assault, dismissal for reporting. These are all things I’ve experienced within the last year. And some people try to tell me I’m lucky”.


One seafarer stated, “It’s a pirate ship out there on the unconquered boys club seas of the saloon-style wild west. Nothing gets back to land. If it does, it’s not the full truth, it’s late, and follow up is past due with victim blame being the first topic of discussion”.


“We have heard from seafarers who say that their senior officers are wonderful and make a real difference, and we also read tales of those captains, chief engineers and officers who make a toxic atmosphere,” Mission to Seafarers said.


Bad company rules

“Over the past year and a half, we have read reports from vessels about some ill-conceived, or poorly thought-out diktats, that have been added to their safety management or operational systems,” Mission to Seafarers said. For example, rules about “washing all their equipment, clothing and even bedding at ridiculous intervals.”


“Demanding that masks be worn on board, or social distancing when trying to hand over a navigation watch, meaning that neither watchkeeper can see the radar screen at the same time.”


"Rules which are not fit for purpose, not thought through, or considered, make for tension, pressure, annoyance and frustration on board.”


One seafarer wrote about a major company program, “The scheme has made our life hell on board. Are we teachers, mentors or psychologists to conduct these programs? We spent a lot of time doing this with hardly any output.”


Treatment in ports

There were comments from seafarers feeling unwelcome or as potential virus carriers in ports.


"Some have reported being made to leave vessels wearing plastic disposable suits and made to transit airports looking like pariahs. This is a source of much annoyance for seafarers," Mission to Seafarers said. "It is not right, not necessary and delivers only a COVID theatre of viral protection."


"On the subject of vaccinations, those who had received them were immensely relieved and grateful," the Mission said. "Ports such as Antwerp and Singapore were singled out for praise."


Respondents also singled out Japan as a country which showed appreciation for the importance of [crew] movement and worked to support it.



"Very often respondents speak of good salaries and their pride in providing for families back at home," the Mission said.


“We also hear from many who feel underpaid, who are not rewarded well for what they do, and indeed the tragic prevalence of abandoned crews who have to fight for years to get what they are owed."


One seafarer wrote, “What tickles me is when I’m told I am overpaid working at sea. Easy thing to say when you sleep in your own bed every night, can have a glass of wine with your dinner, kiss your kids goodnight each night, pop to the shop to buy whatever you need whenever you need and can pick up the phone/jump in the car to speak to family and friends any time you like.”


“Try having a circadian rhythm that’s totally disrupted, not knowing when you’ll be home and having to work a full 12-hour shift plus occasional extra every single day for months on end”.


Download the report here


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