Stark reality of crew change crisis

Happiness levels down across the board

By Steven Jones

Every quarter the results of the Seafarers’ Happiness Index (SHI) are compiled. Throughout the past 18 months the responses have held up surprisingly well. However, in the second quarter of 2021, the impact of issues such as travel bans and challenges of crew changes began to be acutely felt.

Where in the past we had seen optimism and hope, suddenly we saw a significant drop in satisfaction levels across all categories. In the latest reporting period, the average happiness levels of seafarers dropped to 5.99/10, a steep drop from 6.46 in quarter 1.

As the happiness levels tumble we have heard from seafarers who talk of losing faith and for whom optimism is evaporating. While the first and second Covid-19 waves impacted seafarers hard, there are signs the latest waves could be even worse.

There are clear indications of issues relating to crew travel and uncertainty over leave, while an almost complete ban on shore leave is taking its toll. Even areas that usually hold up well – such as interactions on board – are struggling, and responses from seafarers paint a picture of stress, fatigue and frustration.

There is a growing sense of weariness at sea, as ships are working ever harder to deliver on the demands of trade. In the latest SHI we were told by seafarers that they are feeling constant stress and pressure. One seafarer stated: “It would be bad enough to be working for longer, but we seem to be working harder too.”

In addition, there is growing resentment that the demands on crews are constantly rising. Working days feel inexorably stretched, not just in time, but also in what is being asked of them. One respondent said: “We have broken sleep, broken systems, and people feeling broken too.” Another added: “Who can be happy with high stress, overtime, constant papers and regulations?”

Frustration with onshore

The impact of Covid-19 on workloads is still being felt, and seafarers are wrestling with hygiene demands and pandemic-related requirements. The amount of administrative work is also rising as office staff increasingly demand information. One respondent stated: “The office, they want to know everything, but they already have the information. So, we get asked many times for the same things.”

Seafarers also raised concerns about the checks on working hours. Port and flag State inspectors were said to be checking crew records, but not cross- referencing with ship logs. Another issue was of the physical impact of not getting ashore. Seafarers reported a desire for “intimacy” and there is a definite sense that physical tensions are being played out on board through growing anxiety, stress and frustration.

There were other tension points noted too, including a worrying sense that the different national approaches to dealing with Covid-19 is having an impact on vessels with mixed crews. This is leading to resentment along nationality lines.

The signs of a depressed, stressed, fed-up and frustrated workforce are evidenced in the responses. Across several years in compiling this data there has never been such a sense of growing despair and anger. Usually there are some bright spots to soften the blow in other areas, but this time with all categories falling it seems that extended periods on board and relentless daily demands are having a negative impact.

Crews spoke of a sense of disconnection, of being sick of their meals, fed up with the gym, tired of the same company, and missing the people ashore. The message is of a pressing need to make life better at sea as patience is running out.

Steven Jones is the founder of the Seafarers’ Happiness Index, in association with the Wallem Group and the Standard Club in 2021. 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 for access to the latest results and to have your say.