Third quarter of decline in the Mission to Seafarers Happiness Index sparks concern over downward spiral in seafarer wellbeing
Further concern over seafarer welfare has been raised by the results of the latest Seafarers Happiness Index, published today, which reveals a further drop in seafarer happiness. This report covers Q3 2023 and is the third successive report to show such decline, sparking fears over the impact on all those working at sea.
The Seafarers Happiness Index is a quarterly survey conducted by The Mission to Seafarers and made possible by the sponsorship of NorthStandard and Idwal, as well as the support of Inmarsat. It measures the wellbeing of seafarers through ten key questions about their work and life, designed to gauge sentiment about their experiences on board.
The Q3 report shows an overall fall in seafarer happiness to just 6.6 out of 10. This compares to 6.77 in Q2 2023 and 7.1 in Q1 2023.
The results showed a decline in most areas covered by the survey, including wages, workload and onboard connectivity, which saw the most significant fall in happiness levels. The only areas to buck the trend of a decline in happiness for this quarter were shore leave, training and food, where the report showed marginal improvements.
This latest Seafarers Happiness Index report brings together seafarer perspectives to highlight the major factors impacting happiness. Key recommendations centre on facilitating shore leave and engaging with ports globally, addressing remuneration concerns, promoting diversity and inclusion, managing workloads, and leveraging technology to enhance work-life balance.
Concerns emerged around salary inadequacy in this quarter’s feedback, especially for senior roles. The survey also heard reports of how catering budget constraints can force nutritional compromises, underscoring the need for well-provisioned ships and skilled catering crews. Maintaining onboard gyms and exercise equipment was also seen as an issue.
Connectivity and communications represented a double-edged sword in this quarter’s feedback, enabling contact with loved ones, but potentially facilitating micromanagement from ashore. To address this, there were calls for guidelines to promote a healthy work-life balance through technology.
The issue of overwhelming workloads again came to the fore. This was felt to be driven by expanding regulations and administrative tasks. There appears to be a growing sense of unmanageable responsibilities among seafarers, which is causing a huge amount of stress.
The report highlighted how prejudices and misunderstandings can impede social cohesion on board. There are cultural issues at play and pressures from home that are not always fully explored, including some troubling insights into gender disparities and barriers to diversity and inclusion. This included reports of a lack of acceptance, discomfort and exclusion for female seafarers. To address these issues, it is essential that more is done to foster open communication and overcome biases.
The report is not without some positive feedback on life at sea. From a more encouraging perspective, respondents spoke of the benefits that a seafaring life can offer, including a steady income and adventure, whilst recognising that it also demands substantial sacrifice.
The Revd Canon Andrew Wright, Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers, said:
“It is deeply concerning to see seafarer happiness fall again during the third quarter of 2023. This extended downturn across all three quarters of 2023 so far paints a worrying picture. It seems clear that happiness levels will not recover to acceptable levels unless we can address the systemic challenges that continue to undermine the welfare of our seafarers, such as limited shore leave, unsustainable workloads, insufficient connectivity, and stagnant wages.
“This latest report also offers a number of important recommendations to address these issues. If we can work together in common cause as an industry, we can reverse these recent declines in seafarer wellbeing and turn the tide towards not just improved welfare at sea, but ensuring that seafaring is a decent and fulfilling profession for all.”
Idwal Senior Marine Surveyor and Crew Welfare Advocate, Thom Herbert said:
“The concerning continued downward trend in seafarer happiness revealed in this report mirrors issues we see during our vessel inspections. While connectivity enables constant family contact, it also risks facilitating micromanagement from ashore, persistent barriers to shore leave undermine its importance as a respite, and nutritional compromises on board highlight the basic need for well-provisioned ships and skilled catering crews. It is also deeply troubling to hear about the issues around gender issues and disparities. As ever, we believe targeted efforts to improve policies and practices in all these areas would go a long way to restoring optimism amongst crew and enhancing retention.”
Yves Vandenborn, Head of Loss Prevention Asia-Pacific at NorthStandard added:
“At 6.6/10, Quarter 3 of 2023 marks yet another dip in the overall happiness levels of seafarers at sea. This represents the longest sustained decline since the Seafarers Happiness Index was founded. Some areas reflect marginal improvements while others show persistent declines. It is worrying that overall happiness remains hampered by persistent challenges in workloads, connectivity, and ability to keep fit and healthy on board. NorthStandard will continue to raise awareness on the seafarer condition and will work on collaborating with industry leaders in charting a course towards an improved working environment for seafarers worldwide.”
The Mission to Seafarers is working with industry partners to address the many issues that continue to affect the wellbeing of seafarers, as well as providing direct support for seafarers through its global network of seafarers’ centres and ship visits, chaplains, staff and volunteers, and its digital solutions, such as its ‘Happy at Sea’ app for seafarers.
The Mission would also like to express its appreciation to the shipping companies and shore managers who have encouraged their seafarers to participate and provide feedback.
To read the full Seafarers Happiness Index report for Q3 2023, click here.