Crumbs of comfort for crew

Steven Jones, the founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, on some of the improvements seen on life at sea during pandemic.

It is a good sign for seafarers and the industry that there is so much rallying around behind the Neptune Declaration and pressure is being applied to ensure the messages about the importance of seafarers are being heard. It is vital seafarers get back home, that those stuck at home can return to work, and that crews globally can be treated and recognised as key workers. 

To the backdrop of the ongoing drive to get crews the actions they need and crave, the latest Mission to Seafarers, “Seafarers Happiness Index” results have been published. The feedback covers the final Quarter of 2020, and not surprisingly once again feature the many and myriad problems facing crews and shipping. 

Acts of perceived generosity mean a lot

That said, there was once again a small climb in happiness, as the average SHI results showed happiness levels of 6.37/10, ever so slightly climbing. Why, oh why, and how, oh how, can seafarers be feeling at all happier in such dreadful times as these? Well, it is a fair question and one which perhaps highlights the difference between the macro and micro views of life at sea.

When we look at the big picture, yes there is much gloom and doom. The fact is that seafarers feel let down, abandoned (both literally and metaphorically in some cases), and there is a sense of despondency, depression and uncertainty shaping the mood of most. 

However, what we have seen on a smaller scale is the big impact that shipowners treating their people with respect, empathy, compassion and care.  We heard from crews who have received gratitude, respect and actual tangible improvements to their day-to-day life. These have had a hugely uplifting effect. 

We heard from crews who have seen their companies raise the feeding rate, throwing a few extra dollars a day into the mix. This has meant they have received better ingredients, more varied options and far tastier meals as a result. The impacts of what those ashore may overlook can bring a real sense of powerful and positive improvement. 

Seafarers feeling sated after eating good food or having meal options they really enjoy or look forward to, that is important. It may not seem much, but the message is a powerful one, it says that employers care, that they understand and that our seafarers matter.

It was not just in the galley and saloon that we heard of the kinds of investment and spend which are making a difference. We received a number of responses from seafarers who had received either free access to data and calls or whose fees to connect to home were being cut or subsidised. 

Again, the message is a loud one. It says that owners in these cases understand that the impact of being stuck at sea means that seafarers feel isolated and need to be in touch with home. This kind of support and access means a lot, and we saw a big jump in the reported happiness levels of those seafarers who said they had good, fast, cheap or free access to speak with home, to go online and to feel better connected with the world. 

The small scale, big impact investments did not stop with food and data, we also heard from ships which had received new gym or entertainment equipment. Seafarers whose owners decided to try and make life a bit brighter with the provision of the likes of running machines, table tennis tables, or even games consoles. 

As with the other positives, the acts of perceived generosity mean a lot. Seafarers obviously understand that the global problems of a pandemic have brought complications, and they (in the main) do think that the industry and their employers are working to press for solutions. However, the big picture efforts do not necessarily impact a day in the life of those onboard. 

Yes, it may be reassuring to read of noble efforts, but until the flights are booked, then it feels rather distant and nothing more than a hope to reach home. Whereas a full stomach after a great meal, the joy of talking with family and chatting with friends at home, and the power of laughter as crewmates have more entertainment to share, well these small gestures mean a lot. 

It may not seem much, and almost a year into a pandemic, it is disappointing to see that such small crumbs of comfort are the most optimism we can muster. It is something though, and it really does matter to those who receive them. These things have a big impact on the quality of life. 

The message to owners would be that yes, keep pressing for the large changes, the government support, the UN resolutions, but spare a thought about how you can spread a smile at sea today. What can you do to make seafarer’s lives better, more comfortable and enjoyable now?

You can read the report and access more resources at

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