Social interaction makes real sense

ISWAN project finds there are many benefits to be gleaned from a more cohesive crew

by Dr Kate Pike

The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network’s (ISWAN) Social Interaction Matters (SIM) phase two report was published this June.

Funded by the UK Maritime and Coast­ guard Agency (MCA) and the Red En­sign Group (REG), the project delivered a unique insight into modern seafaring, reflecting the experiences of seafarers on 21 vessels from 10 different shipping companies. They demonstrated that social interaction facilitates a mental reset and rest from work and promotes the development of stronger relationships between crewmates.

Additionally, benefits from social interaction include improved mental and physical health; improved awareness of the wellbeing of crewmates; helping to integrate new joiners quickly; building strong teams, good relationships, trust and familiarity; improved mood and morale; and development of an improved safety culture.

Alongside new data findings, the report provides guidance and recommendations to aid social interaction on board. Seafarers, shipping companies, charterers, and other maritime stakeholders can benefit from activity suggestions categorised by sports, food, technology, other entertainment, and relaxing and calming forms of recreation.

The guidance can be used to help promote a varied programme of social events, tailored to different crew needs and diversities, and different voyage plans and vessel specifications. The guidance also takes into account the conditions required to undertake different activities (such as weather and sea state), the space needed, facilities required, and preparation time required to organise them.

Social ambassadors

Volunteer social ambassadors on board each project trial vessel facilitated and recorded a variety of entertainment activities including (but not limited to) darts, table football, quizzes, computer games, swimming, karaoke, sundown­ers, hair cutting, film nights, fishing at anchor and ‘swap the cook’ nights. Establishing some activities as compe­ titions encouraged more crew to take part, and also provided the opportunity for different vessels to compete against each other and feel part of a wider social community.

The appointment of a voluntary Social Ambassador on board every vessel to help convene social activities and promote crew engagement is a key recommendation. The role should include ensuring crew preferences for their recreation time are reflected in the activities offered; encouraging a range of activities which promote a healthy balance of mental and physical stimulation; proactive planning of events, responding to varying workloads; ice-breaker activities for newly joined crew; and consideration of the safety of activities and the ongoing maintenance of associated facilities and equipment.

Recommendations also address some of the barriers to social interaction identified by the research, including:

  • Leadership on board and on shore should actively and empathetically engage in the promotion of social
  • Shipping companies, charterers and crew managers should support their seafarers to relax and interact with each other during their rest time.
  • Free wi-fi services should be made available to all crew to stay in touch with family and friends.
  • Recreation facilities available on board should be regularly reviewed by the company to ensure their compatibility with the crew’s preferences.
  • Further research into the impacts of fatigue and tiredness on seafarer mental health is required.

The project has shown that crew should be encouraged to interact daily, and even small amounts of social time make a significant difference to overall wellbeing. Greater emphasis on separating the boundaries between work and rest time is needed, along with promotion of social activities which help crew to relax together, have fun and take some respite from their working day. Vessels that supported their crew in this were able to mitigate the effects of long hours, numerous port calls and other factors that otherwise lowered mood, indisputably showing that social interaction matters.

Dr Kate Pike is the SIM Project’s research lead, director of project at Field-Research and associate professor emeritus at Solent University. Work on SIM continues with the development of the activities’ guidance and recommen­dations to be a long-term resource for the sector. If you would like to contrib­ute to this development, please contact Georgia Allen, Projects and Relation­ ships Manager at ISWAN, at [email protected].