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What Matters to Mariners? The Bad Side



There have been a number of surveys, studies and research papers published recently which all paint a picture of what life is like at sea. So, what are the things which matter most to seafarers today? Let’s explore the latest feedback from the sea, this time we look at the negatives.


During the recent Day of the Seafarer, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) started a debate on what it was like to have a good time at sea. They asked how a positive day onboard ship consist of? We have covered this in the “Good Side” article – but this time we delve into the problems.

It is great to talk about positivity within seafaring, and wonderful for organisations to take the opportunity to share good news stories, and to think about what benefits come from being a mariner today.

Bad Day

Sadly, it is not always good, there are problems and issues at sea– and they do need discussing. The responses to an IMO survey and across social media captured the great things about being a seafarer. Alas, other news from the sea is not so uplifting.

Life as seafarer is all too often far from perfect, and there are many things that can and should be improved. Fatigue, piracy, abandonment, criminalisation, mental health concerns, to name but a few. There are many problems which need to be understood and addressed.


Just before we go into the negatives – let’s take one more chance to see how great seafaring can still be when things go well. On good ships with great shipmates, working for companies who care and invest, there is much to be happy about. Here are the top reasons for loving being a seafarer:

1) Seafarers are proud of their skills and heritage

2) Seafarers enjoy the lifestyle and freedom of being at sea

3) Seafarers value getting shore leave and visiting other cultures

4) Seafarers do often receive good pay compared to their homelands

5) Seafarers are proud to send money home and look after their families

6) Seafarers do often get good food and get to enjoy eating it

7) Seafarers enjoy and value good quality training which improves their skills and careers

8) Seafarers are on a great career ladder which can lead to real success

9) Seafarers enjoy the camaraderie of their relationships onboard

10) Seafarers are often made to feel welcome when they visit places, particularly by charities such as the Mission to Seafarers, Apostleship of the Sea, Sailors Society, and ISWAN


Seafarers Happiness Index

It is a shame, but the cheery best-case scenarios don’t always capture the reality of being a modern seafarer. It is important to hear the good, but that should never insulate us from the need to understand what can and does go wrong.

Seafarers deserve to be heard, respected and understood – and so when they speak about problems, then that should carry significant weight. For every seafarer that doesn’t experience highs, then at least the hard-fought experiences should deliver learning opportunities and chances to improve.

In the latest Seafarers Happiness Index from the Mission to Seafarers, crews from around the world, across different ranks and vessels types shared some of the things which make life at sea hard than it has to be. So, just what are the lessons which can be learned?

  • Inspections, workload, management onboard and ashore are negatively affecting seafarer happiness.
  • Isolation and loneliness are felt as being major issues for seafarers.
  • Fatigue, stress, and boredom are a factor at sea. Seafarers reported trips to sea as, “killing time” and of life being “dull”.
  • Some shipboard interiors were criticised as being “sterile” and “soulless”. Shared social spaces are not being sufficiently well designed or thought through.
  • Connectivity is still the number one demand of seafarers. Crews expect better levels of service and lower costs.
  • Seafarers keen to make crew internet access compulsory on all ships.
  • Shore leave restrictions, stringent security, and high costs are seen as being majorly significant, and they have a negative effect.
  • Shore leave is still viewed as important, and the chance to break free from the normal routine is seen as being hugely beneficial.
  • Bad Day at Sea

    Worrying culture developing onboard which seemingly looks down on seafarers seeking to spend recreation time ashore.

  • Pay “discrimination” for different seafarer nationalities is causing frustration and anger.
  • Static pay levels experienced over the past few years are cause for concern.
  • Standard of food is an issue, and seafarers accused some chandlers of sending cheaper, lower quality brands to ships.
  • Catering is vitally important. The standards, experience, and training of cooks is a concern.
  • Food is a very sensitive issue and there can be social problems onboard where the standard of cooking or provisions are felt to be inadequate.
  • Exercise is a concern, and workloads combined with relentless demands mean some crew find it hard to get time to exercise.
  • Maritime training is seen as important, but seafarers resent the impact of training on their leave.
  • The frequency and repetition of refresher training also came in for criticism.
  • Workloads are still reportedly high, but seafarers see little time or opportunity to get it done. This is especially true on vessels which make only short sea voyages.
  • Six-hour cargo watches were singled out as a major concern.
  • There were criticisms for managers and office workers ashore – a lack of experience or knowledge ashore means that seafarers are being asked to do more.
  • Also lack of “ownership” of the issue of mental health onboard within companies.
  • Paperwork is still an issue. Seafarers reported spending longer completing the paperwork for a task than the job itself.

You can see the full report at

What do you think? Is seafaring still a great career? What would you change to make it even better? Or do you think there has never been a worse time to be at sea? Share your thoughts with us, we’d love to hear from you.