Hope in rising happiness levels

No room for complacency though as delicate gains easily lost

by Steven Jones

The latest Seafarers Happiness Index data reveals a rise in optimism, with an overall average of 7.21/10 – up significantly from 5.85 in the previous quarter. This quarter two, 2022 report paints a picture of important positive progress having finally stemmed a constant decline in sentiment.

The biggest single impact has been the easing of travel restrictions.

While we have not seen the end of Covid-19 issues, we are perhaps seeing the beginning of the end. This means an easing of crew change issues, lifting morale on board. People seem to be moving more freely, and this has had a massively beneficial effect on seafarer sentiment.

Where in the last report we saw a confluence of concerns, from Covid to conflict to contracts – all dragging the mood down – this time we have seen an improvement in the mood because the pivotal issue of knowing when you are going home appears to have been resolved.

There can never be any doubt that the best day for any seafarer is pay-off day. The excitement, the change of clothes, the sense of achievement, and anticipation are constant drivers for seafarers. Often the first thing many do when they arrive on a vessel is to mark the calendar with when they are due to get off. That has probably been a ritual for all crew over the centuries.

When seafarers feel more certain about how long they will be on board, this translates into a far more relaxed outlook. The feeling that they will be home on time allows them to more easily deal with many of the challenges they face while at sea. As one might expect, certainty, assurance, confidence and a sense of control make for a far better trip.

This rising seafarers’ happiness data shows that we can make a difference. With more vaccinations, better travel choices, wage rises and new amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) delivering hope of universal maritime connectivity, there is cautious optimism.

But while the data suggests improvements, there should be no complacency. Indeed, optimism should be tempered by the delicacy of the recovery. These gains can so easily be lost if we once more see crew change issues. We should not and cannot rest on our laurels for a moment. There is still much to be done, and beyond the data-driven positivity seafarers still spoke to us about their concerns and the problems they face.

In the crosshairs

The reality of a seafarer’s life is that they are vulnerable to any geopolitical wrinkles. Where there is war, they can get trapped, attacked, and see conflict first-hand. When there is a pandemic and disease, they are vilified, unwant­ed and trapped on their ships. When things go wrong on a global scale, it is the poor seafarer that is so often and easily caught in the crosshairs.

Over past research, data was trending downwards, and moods were dropping even faster. Time and time again, we heard tales of a ‘broken’ profession, and stories of often insurmountable problems. Seafarers are sharing experiences which are frustrating and detrimental to their mental health. However, as industry good practice evolves and improves, we are hearing reports of a far more holistic and management-centric view of wellness, tackling mental health issues and clamping down on problems such as harassment, bullying and victimisation.

The industry has been collectively working hard to ensure that wellbeing is at the forefront of thinking. By listening we can empathise and understand the impact of the things we can do. We can learn what the best companies are doing, share best practice to make life better, to raise smiles and spirits, and to encourage all to try and find their path to seafarer happiness. With this rise in sentiment data, perhaps finally we are learning lessons and instilling the importance of happiness at sea.

Steven Jones is the founder of Seafarers’ Happiness Index, in asso­ ciation with Idwal and the Standard Club. The Index is designed to mon­itor and benchmark seafarer satisfac­tion levels by asking 10 key questions and serves as an important barometer of seafarer satisfaction with life at sea. Questions focus on a range of issues, from mental health and wellbeing, to working life and family contact. If you would like more information, to see the data or read more in-depth reports, visit www.happyatsea.org for access to the latest results and to have your say.