Research Into Social Interaction Among Crew Members Informs New Guidance For The Maritime Sector

In a report released today, the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) details the findings from phase two of its Social Interaction Matters (SIM) Project and provides actionable guidance and recommendations for shipping and ship management companies, seafarers and other maritime stakeholders.

The project is funded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Red Ensign Group (REG), who sponsored the project with the help of Trinity House and funding from the UK Government.

The SIM Project’s phase two research gathered first-hand accounts from the seafarers of 21 vessels from 10 different shipping companies operating worldwide, and examined the data to explore the impacts, drivers and barriers of social interaction whilst living and working on board. The research took place between November 2020 and January 2022 and coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, the pervasive influence of which is demonstrated and explored throughout the report.

Dr Kate Pike, the SIM Project’s Research Lead, said: ‘The project has shown that social interaction promotes mental and physical health and provides an essential outlet for seafarers from their work on board. It enables all crew to get to know each other better which supports a caring environment that helps to develop a strong safety culture where people look out for each other. Social interaction and activities are not just pleasurable pastimes, they are a necessity that should be fully supported by shipping companies and strong leadership on board and ashore.’

SIM Project Report
New research on board commercial merchant ships has provided a unique insight into life on board and the benefits of social interaction for crew wellbeing. Image Credit: ISWAN

The findings highlight the importance of engaged and visible leadership both on board and ashore, to support and encourage crew participation in any social activities. Vessels in the SIM trials that supported their crew in this were able to mitigate the effects of long hours, numerous port calls and other factors that otherwise lowered mood. The report also states that more clearly established boundaries are needed between work and rest time on board.

From these findings, along with those from the project’s phase one, ISWAN has developed a set of actionable guidance and recommendations for shipping and ship management companies, seafarers and other maritime stakeholders to improve opportunities for crew to socially interact. These are designed to help promote a varied programme of social events, tailored to different crew needs and diversities, and different voyage plans and vessel specifications.

Among the report recommendations is the appointment of a voluntary Social Ambassador on board every vessel to help convene social activities and promote crew engagement. ISWAN also recommends free WiFi services for all crew to stay in touch with family and friends and access online entertainment; and frequent review of recreation facilities to ensure they meet the crew’s preferences and needs.

The report concludes that further research is needed into the effects of fatigue and tiredness, and their impact on seafarer mental health. ISWAN plans to continue the development of SIM as a long-term project for seafarer wellbeing, starting with a controlled evaluation of the effectiveness of the project’s guidance and recommendations which ISWAN hopes will lead to its establishment as a continuing resource for the sector.

Georgia Allen, ISWAN’s Project Manager, said: ‘I am so pleased to be able to share this SIM Project phase two report, which is the product of much commitment from all those involved. Much like the lives of the seafarers we sought to understand more about, phase two of the project has resulted in a richly diverse and fascinating body of data which has laid the foundations for much more work to come. ISWAN is committed to the long-term improvement of the lives of seafarers and their families worldwide, and improving seafarer wellbeing through greater understanding of the importance of social interaction and its increased facilitation is central to this and we will continue to work to promote the mission of SIM long into the future.’

Katy Ware, Director of UK Maritime Services & Permanent Representative of the UK to the IMO, Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), said: ‘I am delighted to see the continuation of this vital work in recognising the importance of social interaction to the wellbeing of seafarers. It is important to see the recommendations from phase one put into action and we have already seen that small steps can have huge impacts, such as having a designated wellbeing ambassador on board.

‘There are many aspects of life at sea that cannot change, but this research shows that wellbeing is not one of them and it can be improved by strengthening social interaction, particularly alongside organisational commitment.’

ISWAN’s Social Interaction Matters (SIM) Project Phase Two Report can be downloaded here.

For more information about the report and/or the project, please contact Georgia Allen, Project Manager at ISWAN, at georgia.allen@iswan.org.uk.

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