The Secrets to Boosting Seafarer Productivity

seafarer productivity

Productivity is a word that businesses the world over like to use. It is an elusive means of getting more out of the same – or even less. For most industries it is fairly easy to measure, but for shipping it is a very different story.


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What does it mean?

If we are being technical, “productivity” is the effectiveness of productive effort, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. When it comes to seafaring, it can be almost impossible to truly measure effectiveness – especially as it sometimes means ensuring that things do not happen.

For shipping companies the concept of productivity is a really tough issue. Sure, seafarers need to keep vessels shipshape, they need to care for cargo, but when it comes to other matters, such as not colliding, alliding, being hijacked by pirates or running aground, then how can productivity really be managed?

Obviously it can’t. Not every ship which gets to its destination unmolested has been perfectly productive. It may just have been lucky. While a vessel of super conscientious seafarers could have disaster befall them…suddenly all their “productivity” would be called into question.

So, it all makes things rather complicated. Productivity in shipping has long, and we mean long, been linked to quality of the workforce. Scientific papers going back to the Seventies have found that the better the standard of those onboard, the better the ship and fleet performance data. Which is not seemingly rocket science, but it’s good to know.


Employee engagement 2
Employee engagement

Think of the classic “Golden age” of piracy model. The pirates were successful in the days of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Calico Jack, because they cared more than the weary, down trodden crews they attacked. The pirate code and the fact they were richly rewarded made then super productive.

Now, we are not proposing that the pirate model be followed – but there is definitely some food for thought. An engaged crew, one that works together well and which feels well rewarded, respected and recognised is a group which will excel in the face of any challenge.

For the modern seafarer, with a smaller team around them, and with less certainty of reward, role and with a possibly removed view of their own professionalism, as technology takes the strain – then it can be hard to maintain the level of engagement which boosts productivity.



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Wealth of seafarering

The issue of skills paying the bills, is as old as economics itself. In the “Wealth of Nations”, Adam Smith observed that common sailors were highly skilled when compared to their peers on land. And yet he said, “Though their skill and dexterity are much superior to that of almost all artificers, and though their whole life is one continual scene of hardship and danger, yet for all this dexterity and skill they receive scarce any other recompense but the pleasure of exercising the one and of surmounting the other”.

For the seafarers of Smith’s day, the reward of a job well done…and the idea of staying alive, made for the return on their investment of effort and expertise. The notion of seamanship was one of overcoming adversity.

Today things have changed, but there is a still a need to ensure that ship and fleet productivity are maximised. How though can that be done? Without the riches of pirate booty, without a constant threat of a watery grave to compel performance, and without the pride of a job well done…what then can be done to help crews to shine?



Sometimes, when the basics are in place, it can just take the smallest tweak in management philosophy to get the team working well. For seafarers, one of the issues which can make a major difference is the way they are treated by executives and managers ashore.

Aretha Franklin may have been singing about her man not her marine superintendent, but the message is the same. Seafarers have what the company wants, but all they are asking for is a little r.e.s.p.e.c.t.

Respect, goodwill, empathy, understanding and good old fashioned compassion are hugely important aspects of good management. Too often though they get overlooked, ignored or seen as some kind of weakness.

The best football managers have always been able to mix it up. Able to coax the best out of their players, not just by shouting and screaming – but by putting an arm around the shoulder when things are hard. By telling the players they are world beaters and can overcome all obstacles. Jurgen Klopp doesn’t just hug his charges because he is that kind of guy, he does it because it bonds the team and boosts performance.


Productivity 1

So, making people feel good, and ensuring they know how important they are can give a massive boost to productivity. While competitive attitudes and combative stances may reap short term rewards, over the long haul it will ultimately diminish the quality of the work.

Accidents and incidents will ensue where there are arguments and tension. So the healthy shipboard environment is one of mutual respect, camaraderie and a sense of belonging.

The French term for such an environment is “bienveillance” – which means one of “kindness” or “benevolence”. Though these things do not translate terribly well into the seafaring life. Managers who are deemed to be kind or benevolent, would perhaps be seen by others as being weak or ineffective.

Actually, the reverse is true. To make a ship a liveable and workable place, it takes exactly this sort of mentality. A respectful, valued and healthy relationship has to be established between those onboard, and also between ship and shore to maintain a healthy team cohesion.



According to various study on workplace productivity, the top ten essential elements of a satisfying workplace are:

  1. Recognition
  2. Trust
  3. Respect
  4. Politeness
  5. Rewards
  6. Fulfilment
  7. Communication
  8. Teamwork
  9. Kindness
  10. Satisfaction

What do you think? Does your company provide the tools and foundation for a productive vessel or fleet? We would love to hear your thoughts…


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.