Community Lost at Sea
Building a sense of community at sea is a major part of the mental health challenge.
A community is dependent on the quality of relationships and most have common interests and perspectives. There can be few interests more common than being on a ship together, so what are the answers to ensure that seafarers see themselves as a team who act jointly to make life better?
Sit down together
Try to find a time and place for people to be able to regularly drop by. If others know that someone is likely to be in the lounge, saloon, tv room, or wherever, then others will go visit.
So, try and make it a social hub, even if it’s only for half an hour a day.
Connect online to connect offline.
It may seem counterintuitive, but people are shy and are increasingly used to connecting online.
So, let them. Even if it is within a small shipboard community, if we can have a social intranet onboard, then people could be encouraged to interact, which will likely mean positives for the group, not just virtually.
Organise a BBQ
There is one old staple of shipboard life that has been sustained, and that is often the dear old BBQ.
It works and is a great focal point to try and get people together.
If you haven’t had one for a while, pick the best day and get started. People love bonding over burnt meat – fact.
Make time for movies, make it something to look forward to.
Move them around so that different watchkeepers can take advantage.
Encourage people to talk about the films, and use them to bring people together.
Games are great to bring people together.
So, get some onboard, and use these as an opportunity to even have competitions and championships.
Where seafarers are tending to simply play Xbox or PlayStation alone, perhaps try and see what games are being played and post winning scores on a notice board…Gran Turismo lap times and the like, so that people can begin to compete.
Perhaps also explore ways of connecting machines onboard through a local area network.
So, people can game together, even from their cabins and without the need for being online.
This is another long standing shipboard favourite.
Though it can be difficult finding the songs choices which appeal to all across ages and cultural divides.
Perhaps some kind of Eurovision song contest can be introduced, with different nations putting their chosen songs through?
There must be some added elements which can make karaoke welcoming for all.
Sporting and learning
Increasingly ships do have good gym equipment, and that is great. However, often seafarers feel it hard to be motivated to use it or to find the time.
Having sports competitions, exercise regimes, and ideas to get people exercising can be a boost to the community. A sense of competition can get people wanting to be involved, and competition can be expanded to include fleets or even other companies.
It may sound ridiculous in our modern computer age but having a real noticeboard onboard can be hugely beneficial. Not just one which is full of safety information, but a social one.
Explaining what is happening on the ship and encouraging sharing and involvement. Pin up good news, and things to get people talking.
Whether this is to do with professional skills or ones outside of shipboard roles.
It can be amazing to go to sea and learn a new skill.
Someone might want to learn to weld or some form of woodworking.
Others may want to learn navigation or how to service outboard engines.
Onboard each ship are real experts in so many fields, if we can bring those who would like to learn together with those who can teach, that will help the sense of camaraderie.
Skills for life, not just the ship.
Encouraging seafarers to talk and share their tales and experiences is handy.
We often think about turning to Google for information, but if it was where to get a bus from a terminal to the Mission, or where to get bargains in a particular port, even the internet may be lacking.
Encouraging seafarers to develop “Guides to Ports” and assisting each other with getting ashore, can be a real community-building exercises.
Company magazines – All too often company in-house magazines are either focused too much on safety or dry subjects such as work issues or feature the wonderful goings on in the office ashore. They are not very good at capturing the good things which might be going on, onboard. So, editorial teams should be encouraged to interact with crews and make sure their stories are told.
If seafarers have found something that works, and which improves the sense of community onboard, then they should be encouraged to share it with the company, or even with other seafarers. The issue of community and the benefits it brings to mental well-being cannot be ignored, but shipping needs to know what it should be doing and what is likely to make a difference onboard.
FREE Mental Health and Wellbeing training package
Advice for individual seafarers and also to train your teams.
This package from Ocean Technologies Group contains a training video offering advice, hints and tips to create and maintain optimum mental health and wellbeing among seafarers as well as facilitation notes for delivering the training to a group.
Seafarer Mental Health and Wellbeing
This article that we created contains more hints, tips and practical guidance for seafarers.
It covers topics such as mindset, exercise, sleep and more.
Where to find help and support
The International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network has a number of resources available on their website here.
These include guides to:
ISWAN is an international maritime charity which works to improve the lives of seafarers and their families with services, resources, strategies and advocacy.
They operate SeafarerHelp, a confidential 24/7 365 days a year multilingual helpline to support seafarres and also their families.
Phone: +44 (0)20 7323 2737 (request a call back: www.seafarerhelp.org/callback)
Live Chat: via www.seafarerhelp.org
WhatsApp: +44 (0)7909 470732
SMS: +44 (0)7860 018538
Mission to Seafarers
The Mission to Seafarers is a charitable organisation which has been operating for over 150 years, providing support to seafarers both at sea and ashore.
You can contact the Mission to Seafarers by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sailors Society Wellness at Sea
The Sailors Society has a free, confidential helpline available 24/7 on +1 938 222 8181
There is also a chat function available on their website