How to Get More and Keep Them: The Seafarer Conundrum

Members of Team KVH immediately prior to hitting the runway to pull a FedEx 727

With the shipping industry currently enduring something of a torrid time, it can be all too easy to forget the need to safeguard the recruitment and retention of seafarers for the future. While today may be bleak, how can shipping be ready to react when the recovery comes?



Crewtoo happiness index

At the Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) conference held in the USA recently there was much talk about the issue of how companies make seafaring attractive, and then how can shipping keep people stay in jobs – without losing them to competitors, to a shift ashore, or even out of the industry all together.

News reports state that the US merchant marine is facing a real shortfall of seafarers – and similar announcements have been made elsewhere. So what can be done to make sure we get more people in and keep those we have?

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that seafarers seem relatively and comparatively satisfied with their lot. According to the most recent BIMCO/ICS Manpower Report 2015 the majority of respondents were reportedly content with life at sea – something which is corroborated by the Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index.

However, while the current maritime workforce may be relatively content, it is important that shipping presents a positive image and is able to send out the message to ensure that more people go to sea. The message needs to shout out that jobs at sea can open up great opportunities, both short and long term.



Keep it real

However the need to be “positive” shouldn’t allow too great a leap from “reality” – it is not enough to say that things are great, we need to make them so. We need to see that companies work hard to support their seafarers. It has often been said that people may doubt your words, but will believe your actions – and that in essence is the challenge for shipping companies, and indeed the whole industry.

Somehow we need to move away from talking the talk, and we have to walk the walk. Companies are keen to embrace new initiatives – and such efforts should be applauded. Moves such as Euronav, the largest New York Stock Exchange listed independent crude oil tanker company in the world, agreeing a four-year sponsorship of Sailors’ Society’s “Wellness at Sea” programme.

This is the type of move which sends out a clear message – and according to Paddy Rodgers, chief executive of Euronav, said: “We, at Euronav, are concerned about the health and well-being of our own seafarers and it is with a sense of our broader responsibility to the whole industry that we support this initiative, particularly as it emphasises mental and emotional well-being, which are often ignored, but when they are absent their place is soon taken by accidents and injury.”

It is great to see such a positive step – but no amount of sponsorship can insulate shipping companies from the need to more on a day-to-day basis. Providing support to charities is fantastic, but some companies could and should do more to assist and to support their own seafarers directly – without recourse to the middleman.




With the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006) providing a baseline level for treatment of seafarers, some companies could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that compliance is enough.

Given how poorly some seafarers are treated, perhaps certification for some companies is a major leap. Lest we forget, though, compliance is not excellence – and there is a long way and much to be done before shipping can shout too loudly of its credentials for caring.

There are so many things that seafarers want and need – and in MLC we are starting to address them. However, there are gaps in the rules, and there are so many opportunities to really go above and beyond.

The best companies not only care, they reach out – they talk with their seafarers, and they find out what they both need and want. This is where real excellence emerges. Not from following rules, but more a playbook on how to get the best from people by giving the best to them.



At CMA, KVH Media Group spoke on the issue of seafarer happiness – and the wants and needs of those at sea. From our Crewtoo Seafarer Happiness Index it has become clear that there is a maritime manifesto of wants and needs…and the industry, owners and charities would do well to listen to those at the sharp end. So what do seafarers want?

  • Seafarers want answers to isolation and loneliness at sea.


“Homesickness, lack of internet access and lack of camaraderie onboard – are combining to create a negative downward spiral and a “rollercoaster” of emotions”.


  • Seafarers want to feel connected at a reasonable price and with good quality service.


“Seafarers crave the connection that online access brings. Connectivity was felt as being the most obvious and simple answer to ensure that seafarers are able to cope with boredom and loneliness”.


  • Seafarers want reassurance they will not be unfairly criminalised


“The fear of criminalisation was an issue which were voiced repeatedly and vociferously”.


  • Seafarers want the rising tide of administration and paperwork to be stemmed.


“Seafarers felt that paperwork was being used not to make operations safer or more efficient, but cover liabilities ashore”.


  • Seafarers want shore leave to be free and straightforward, transport cheap and facilities to be good.


“Shore leave is a perennial problem for the modern seafarer. Long gone are the days when port calls meant something to look forward too – today, it is more likely to signal a procession of inspections, and more work to be done”.


  • Seafarers want port calls to be about more than a dread of audits, inspections, and more work to be done.


“Seafarers said there is “Too much to do and too little time to do it in”. Complaints surrounded paperwork and dealing with audits and inspections.”


  • Seafarers want to earn a fair wage, and to be guaranteed to receive their money.


“It was also felt that as wages ashore were on the rise, then the lure and attraction of the sea was being diminished.”  


  • Seafarers want good quality food, which is nutritious and which reflect their needs.

“Food onboard is an emotive issue, from the purely nutritional demands fuelling a vessel’s workforce, through to the social benefits which come through people enjoying their dining. Good food does indeed equal happier seafarers”.

  • Seafarers want to be able to exercise and stay fit.

“Seafarers recognise that they sometimes need to make time and motivation to ensure their own fitness and health. Heavy work schedules and demands meant it was difficult, or they were too fatigued to contemplate exercise”.

  • Seafarers want training to reflect their needs, not just to meet legislation.

“Training is a pivotal and emotive issue, which seafarers have widely divergent views on. Some want to learn more and more, and to excel. While others see it all as rather a chore”.


  • Seafarers want to feel part of a shipboard team, with camaraderie, friendships and interaction.


“Interaction, friendships, bonds and professional support are vitally important onboard. Seafarers spoke of the pleasure of getting along with people, and of how positive such camaraderie is. Good colleagues was seen as being hugely significant, and made all the difference for seafarers”.


  • Seafarers want answers to ensuring social cohesion onboard.

“There are concerns too many seafarers do tend to retreat behind closed cabin doors, and there is too little social cohesion onboard. Companies were urged to do more to counter this.”


  • Seafarers want their work loads to be considered, and the effects of fatigue and stress to be tackled.


“Heightened work loads lead to tiredness, stress and fatigue. An increased work load and lack of rest can combine to further undermine crews, weaken morale and damage the reputation of the profession. Seafarers spoke of “overload” as they feel unable to cope within the hours of rest requirements.”


It is vital that recruitment and retention activities reflect the issues which seafarers are raising. Those at sea are shouting out and we need to receive that loud and clear. Entertainment, access to news and connectivity are key elements – want to know more, we’d be happy to talk.




About Rob Parkin 22 Articles
Rob has worked in the maritime communication and content industry for over 18 years, during which he has gained great experience and insight in to this essential and sometimes misunderstood service sector. Coming from a media background, Rob has developed a passion for the welfare and connectivity of those at sea. Rob is very excited about new technologies and media services that are heralding the beginning of a new digital chapter in shipping.