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Seafarers Want To Be Fit



As we have written before, it is not just ships which are getting bigger…seafarers are growing too! Studies have shown that offshore workers have ballooned in weight by 20% over the past 30 years’.

While three quarters of Danish seafarers in a study were found to be overweight, it is a problem which is spreading… Data from ship managers suggests that as many as 10% of all Filipino seafarers are either obese or border line before heading to sea.

Healthy Food

Healthy food

People are snacking more and they are consuming huge amounts of calories. Poor food, bad cooking techniques and a thirst for soft drinks are taking their toll on health, wellbeing and even safety.

We have discussed how changes of diet can help – at our other Crewtoo page here – but seafarers also want to be able to exercise more – they want to have access to the time, space and equipment to become healthier.


Staying fit is really a key element of being a seafarer – but unfortunately, studies of seafarers’ health have found some consistent negative trends. Those at sea tend to smoke more, drink more and take less exercise. Not surprisingly, their health is less good than the general population.


Benefits of good fitness


Add in other lifestyle factors, such as higher than average stress levels, the quality of sleep at sea and the importance of maintaining good health while at sea becomes more important.

The benefits of exercise and keeping fit are huge. Exercise not only makes you physically and mentally stronger, but it brings massive emotional and psychological benefits too. People who exercise are more balanced, and experience less stress. They are able to keep weight under control, their digestion improves, blood sugar stabilises, sleep improves, as does concentration and self-confidence.

Seafarers recognise this, and are desperate to be able to exercise and to get fit. So it is vitally important that resources, time, money and innovation are expended in finding the right answers to this question.


Life at sea is governed 24/7 by the environment of the vessel – and of course that dictates the amount of space available for gyms or exercise equipment. Sadly all too many vessels are still designed without fully embracing the concept of quality of life – and that needs to change.

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is quite vague on the matter – and while it stresses that exercise equipment would be lovely to have, it tries to cover too many bases.

So, while it states that recreational spaces and equipment should be appropriate – it is not seemingly rigid enough to ensure that seafarers actually have what they want, or even need.

Seafarers want to be able to exercise – they want to be able to have health and wellbeing as part of their life at sea. Perhaps we need to manage this better, with lifestyle coaches within the management team ashore.



The crew of a ship should be considered like footballers on the pitch – they need to be trusted and respected, but they also need to be guided and nurtured. They need to have assistance and support to make the most of their talents, and to deliver on the challenges of the job in hand.






A well-stocked, light, air-conditioned, gym is a great asset – and while owners bemoan the fact that seafarers are slinking off to their cabins alone, then it seems that exercise, fitness of body and mind will be the social glue that can finally make up for the lack of a communal bar.

With alcohol no longer an answer, perhaps exercise can perhaps become the shared collective enjoyment? With social media, smart phones and the will to bring people together – exercise, fitness, weight loss and onboard challenges – these could shape not only a nicer life, but they could answer so many of the fitness and wellbeing issues that seafarers are facing.

We need to provide not just the means to exercise, but the drive to do so – the rewards for being fitter should be self-apparent, but sometimes people need a little prompting.

There needs to be not just hours of rest being considered, but we should make time to relax, not just sleep. Time for hobbies, recreation, exercise, enjoyment, improvement and chances to make life at sea more pleasant.


It seems that all too often the chains between seafarers and owners are too stretched – crews almost become someone else’s problem. The manning agent has provided the people, so once they do that, what do they care?

Often owners are using someone else’s people, so what do they care? So long as the vessel is moving, the cargo is being lifted, and there are no accidents – the seafarer becomes just a part of the machine.

That is not good enough! That is not a good way of running a business or industry. It is time to make people accountable, to encourage companies to see the benefits of fitter, happier, lighter and stronger seafarers.

So the argument needs to shift from just doing the minimum of MLC – it needs to be about how to make businesses better, and that starts with the people. This is about health and longevity, not just for crew – but for the industry too.


If ships are not blessed with the best of equipment – there are some options that seafarers can use to at least start the health and fitness process. The most fundamental fitness issue is the resting heart rate.

Raise your heart rate

Raise your heart rate


This gives a good general indication of a person’s physical condition and the most beneficial fitness training is at 60 per cent of the “maximum heart rate”. This threshold is calculated by subtracting your age in years from 220 (i.e. someone aged 45 has a maximum threshold of 220-45 = 175 heartbeats per minute). Training thus should not exceed 60 per cent of 175 = 105 beats per minute.

ISWAN ( has produced guidance for keeping fit, plus leaflets outlining a range of on board exercises. They recommend the following:

Warm-up: 5-10 minutes of exercise such as walking, slow jogging, knee lifts, arm circles or trunk rotations. Low intensity movements that simulate movements to be used in the activity can also be included in the warm-up.

Muscular strength: A minimum of two 20-minute sessions per week that include exercises for all the major muscle groups. Lifting weights is the most effective way to increase strength. Some seafarers use tins of paint if there are no weights!

Muscular endurance: At least three 30-minute sessions each week that include exercises such as calisthenics, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and weight training for all the major muscle groups.

Cardiorespiratory endurance: At least three 20-minute bouts of continuous aerobic (activity requiring oxygen) rhythmic exercise each week. This group of activities may be hardest to cope with at sea as they include brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, rope-jumping, rowing. Perhaps a stroll around the deck may help?

Flexibility: 10-12 minutes of daily stretching exercises performed slowly, without a bouncing motion. This can be included after a warm-up or during a cool-down.

Cool-down: A minimum of 5-10 minutes of slow walking, low-level exercise, combined with stretching.

So while we hope that owners will begin to place ever more and better exercise facilities onboard, in the meantime there are some activities that can at least help. What do you think? Do you have enough opportunity to exercise? What would you like to see onboard your ship? Let us know…