A few years ago, for the first time since the 1960s, the US Coast Guard increased its estimate of average passenger weight – a rating used to decide how many people vessels can carry safely.
The change saw standard weight per passenger for US boats calculated at 185lbs rather than 160lbs. Just for some sense of scale, it seems that Tiger Woods weights 185 – so we aren’t exactly in the heavyweight bracket.
But with eyes turned to those at sea, what are the requirements for seafarers when it comes to weight? Obviously when it comes to passing a medical there are certain standards which have to be met – but what are they?
As a general principle the Approved Doctor issuing a marine medical should be satisfied in each case that no disease or defect is present which could either be aggravated by working at sea, or represent an unacceptable health risk to the individual seafarer, other crew members or the safety of the ship. Weight and body mass does come into this.
The occupational circumstances which apply at sea are fully considered by doctors issuing medical certificates – and perhaps the most significant element of this is the need for crew members to play a role in an emergency or emergency drill, which may involve “strenuous activity in adverse conditions”.
So while there is no definitive weight for seafarers, it is vital that they can perform vital tasks. If safety critical duties cannot be performed, if exercise test performance is poor, or there is demonstrable failure to follow recommendations but the individual may be able to meet requirements after a programme of diet and exercise the certification may be granted – but action is needed and weight loss will be needed to gain full certification.
Therefore the issue of obesity/abnormal body mass does come into play. When considering health and ability to work if the seafarer has a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 35 the doctors may consider only allowing them to work in coastal waters until reduced.
The body mass index (BMI), or “Quetelet index”, is a value derived from the mass (weight) and height of an individual. The BMI is defined as the body mass divided by the square of the body height, and is universally expressed in units of kg/m2, resulting from weight in kilograms and height in metres.
The BMI is an attempt to quantify the amount of tissue mass (muscle, fat, and bone) in an individual, and then categorize that person as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese based on that value. Commonly accepted BMI ranges are underweight: under 18.5, normal weight: 18.5 to 25, overweight: 25 to 30, obese: over 30.
So rocking up to your medical with an BMI over 35 is real cause for concern – for the seafarer, for the doctor and for any crewmates who had to rely on that person to jump to in an emergency, or if they had to lift him/her if something goes wrong.
Put simply obese seafarers are going to raise the eyebrows of doctors, while morbidly obese seafarers are unlikely to be able to climb the gangway again – both literally and metaphorically.
With the rising tide of obesity facing society, it is a concern for seafarers – and more needs to be done to ensure that exercise, fitness and healthy eating are part of the plan. Do the rules governing ships and seafarers help? Well yes and no.
The Maritime Labour Convention does touch on the issues, and looks to ensure that seafarers have access to good quality food and drinking water provided under regulated hygienic conditions. The food and drinking water need to be of “appropriate quality, nutritional value and quantity”.
MLC also states that sports equipment including exercise equipment, table games and deck games; and where possible, facilities for swimming are provided.
So far so good – the building blocks of health are there – but, we have to be realistic and there is nothing to stop people over eating or eating too many of the wrong things. There is also nothing compelling seafarers to exercise. Surveyors are not going to check who has been eating what, or whether the running machine has ever been turned on.
Seafarers have to make their own minds up – they have to decide how to shape their own bodies and careers. Eat up all you want, sit in the Engine Control Room or at the DP desk and grow as fat as butter, but don’t expect to be in your job forever.
It can be hard to do the right thing – even now writing this, the temptation for another coffee and a Snickers is hard to resist – but health and the ability to perform properly are important.
So while up to a certain point there are no real mandatory fitness standards, why not make health and fitness a positive part of the shipboard community? Weight loss challenges, sports and fitness programmes. Go to sea with a challenge in mind – come back home fitter, sharper and ready for anything.
Take a look at https://www.trainingonboard.org/ and see the many options to get you and your crewmates involved and fit. There are workout plans and loads of options to get you stronger, fitter and maybe happier too.