How to make accommodation blocks more liveable – part two

Peter Gartsjö from PG Marine continues to look into how conditions at sea can be made more comfortable.

In 1976 on my first ship, Laponia, there were separate dining rooms for the master/chief engineer (saloon), officers, petty officers, mess personnel and finally crew. Some years earlier there had even been separate messes for deck officers and engineers.

As anyone can see, it was quite a large crew to manage a ship and compared to today’s ships a huge social event where we always found someone with similar interests to spend our free time with. There were a lot of common activities during spare time, frequent barbeques, sports events ashore and onboard, cards, dice games, etc.

Today we might not find so many collegues that we want to spend free time with for various reasons or even someone free to play a game or even watch a film with.

In 1976 the only social connection with home was an ordinary letter that once in a while managed to connect to the ship. And God forbid if the master called to tell you someone wanted to speak to you over the wireless – this meant someone had passed away at home.

Today we have minimal crew, a crew that have smartphones, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc. Today’s generation needs to communicate with family and social networks.

When I saw my first newbuilding specification in 1997 from the start we focused on technical issues – how to make the tanker more efficient, something that was quite easy as the specification was normally just one standard with absolute minimums to meet the various rules and regulations, a bit like being offered a Toyota Corolla instead of a Lexus as it had four wheels, doors and what was necessary to make it drive.

The second time was in 2002 and now the computer had really gone wild – cabins were mixed onto the same level as the AC room, laundry (just one common one), entry to deck and engine room, the next level was again cabins, offices and the mess so one wondered how crew there would ever sleep in port or at sea. As I then had the possibility to redraw the accommodation completely I jumped at the chance.

For an accommodation there are two ‘fixed; anchor points – engine room and deck access – the latter quite simple, but the engine room entry a bit trickier but even this can be adjusted.

Then the question: What is most the most important function of the accommodation block? I would say sleep, eat, socialise and then work.

If crew get their rest they can do the others – if it’s only work there will hardly be a chance for anything else

So start by designing the accommodation where the cabins are separated one deck above the deck entrances so only crew can enter and never any unauthorised personnel or visitors.

The minimum standard in a cabin must be a shower and toilet, writing table with a small refrigerator, access to LAN, a sofa (long enough for lying down), a bed and a small coffee table. Ensure that the sofa and bed have a 90 degree off set. Now we have set the game plan.

Next is cleaning these quarters. Today the hardest working person on a ship is the mess man closely followed by the cock – and no incentive what so ever is done to support them.

First of all – why is there not a cleaning cubicle on each deck where there is a space for all required cleaning utensils including a vacuum cleaner? Now the mess man has to carry this up and down relentlessly. Why is there not a laundry room on each deck with two or three smaller washing machines and a drier? Now all is down to one common laundry with one 25 kg machine and possibly one 12 kg machine to be used for all linen, dirty overalls and private clothing and uniforms.

And those of us that have sailed have many times seen the biggest machine occupied by a pair of socks and an underwear with too much washing powder, wasting precious freshwater.

It’s important to note that there are very limited locations for the access down to the engine room. Once this has been set there are very few restrictions to move the other layout around.

For the first part of this in-depth feature, click here.


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  1. Naval architects appears to lack any hands on experience of work and living conditions on board a vessel judging by their end products when it comes to living conditions and general indoor arrangement pertaining to crew quarters. The same goes for some owners/operators involved in the design of a new vessel. Here it must be said that Scandinavian and Nordic ship owners have been forerunners when it comes to decent living conditions for the crew. As an OS I sailed in a tanker in the mid fifties where I had a single air conditioned cabin fitted with a wash basin with hot/cold tap water. The vessel even had a Dentist’s office and the owner provided basic dental care once a year during an ocean passage.
    Later in life, as an deck officer and master on various types of ships I have had many spoiled efforts to have a proper rest/sleep in port while cargo is worked due to poor isolation and wrong position of cabins in relation to various disturbing sounds created by a number of sources. It is much to my surprise that these problems still exists in today’s accommodation blocks. Well frankly not, for until quite recently I have seen too many examples of poor crew accommodations after literally visiting thousand of vessels flying various flags as a marine surveyor. Fatigue appears to be one of the major reasons for mishaps at sea/on board vessels. Fatigue, due to poor or lack of proper sleep (sleep depravation) is a major contributing factor, caused due to poor design of living quarters. I have never understood that every Tom, Dick and Harry have access to the crew quarters, slamming and knocking on doors and speaking loudly by visitors, usually utterly renons of respect for the fact that they actually are visitors in someones “home”.
    Therefore I hope that the issues brought forward by Mr. Peter Gartsjö in his two “papers” will be received and understood by those involved in ordering and building ships of today. An important aspect safety-wise. I only want to add that Mr. Gartsjö forgot to mention that by using a clever color scheme an often sterile interior can be made warm and welcoming.
    Also, I would like to suggest that even cargo ship accommodations could be fitted with balconies similar to what one can see on cruise vessels. Access to fresh air appears to be quite limited or non existent, as well as protected open air spaces, on “modern” accommodation blocks.
    The latter perhaps no need for since a limited crew number will not any longer allow for a gathering around a barbecue like in the past.

    1. Dear Erik
      thanks for your reply and suggestion – with yours – even simple things like AC – no redundancy just one unit to support and when it breaks well it is a sauna.
      for Insulation – not only disturbance by people walking and talking – I had a “neighbour” that snored and kept me awake.
      Sailing on “”Eken” (Ektank) No one – I mean NO ONE, that was not crew, was allowed to enter the Accommodation, OK- once in a while we had the Customs doing a raid but that was part of the game.
      Officials, Cargo Master, Terminal representatives, Agents all had to stay on main deck where the Office was located.
      And NO crew was allowed to enter the accommodation, mess, dayrooms etc. with any working gear. Time was give to change for lunch and dinner and even coffee time. It was like living at home
      Today we see crew – officers alike sit in dayrooms with boiler suits, walk around with work shoes etc. why well no one tells them not to but also the accommodations are so depressing no one sees the difference between the work space and living space.
      Walking on living quarter decks don’t be surprised if you find overalls hanging on the corridor railings for drying as there is no working drier or facility to dry them after the washing etc.

      Finally – It would be interesting to have a Naval Architect comment on their view and schooling on this issue if any?

  2. Good one Peter, like the previous one
    No nonsense practical solutions to real crew welfare issues!
    Shipping must get its humanity back.
    Starting from how crew is treated.

    1. Sam – thanks for letting me do these two contributions. I’m happy to see so much positive response – also on LinkedIn where it has had quite a good read.
      from my reply to Erik would you be able to find a Naval Architect that can give some feedback on how they are schooled into design of the living quarters – if at all?

  3. There appears to be a lack of understanding on blaming a naval architect for the design of today’s accommodation blocks. It all comes down to two things, the owners being willing to pay more to have a higher specification for the crew and the authorities to specify minimum standard that is better than we currently have today.

    Until owners actually care about their crew and their well being (there are some that do, but they appear to be a diminishing number), and not just making sure the ship is as cheap as possible accommodations will keep getting worse. I think the biggest factor that I have personally seen is the increasing number of stairwells that are all steel construction with no flooring or wall panels to help dampen the sound of people plodding up and down all day.

    The national authorities also have to stand up to the lobbyists and also force through big changes to the requirements for minimum standards as otherwise nothing will change organically. Unfortunately ships crew are seen as a line item on an owners accounts so unless they are forced through regulation what incentive is there to make the vessel more expensive when there is no link to the people onboard and the owner.

    There is also the complication that the accommodation volume is a part of the tonnage calculation so to minimize the GT of the vessel the accommodation must be made a small as possible which leads to further comprises in the design.

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