How to make accommodation blocks more liveable

Splash reported last month on The Mission To Seafarers’ comments that today’s sterile accommodation blocks make hospitals look attractive by comparison. The article prompted Peter Gartsjö from PG Marine to get in touch with some simple improvements for life at sea. Below is the first of a two-part feature looking at how accommodation blocks can be made more liveable.

Is the accommodation a place to work, eat, socialise, sleep, do laundry, sports or is it a jail? I would say a bit of each!

Sadly looking at accommodation layouts today most are designed as a jail, with the rest as necessary ‘add-ons’.

This is because the block is a giant computer-generated cubicle with ‘x’ rooms, beds, bathrooms, chairs, tables with zero understanding that humans shall live and work there.

As long as a minimum requirement is met (there are some rules for this) the yard has done its part. So if a ship is bought on speculation – guess what – you get what you pay for – bare minimum with absolutely no thought about the crew that shall live, eat and sleep onboard.

A prudent owner might if there is in-house knowledge ask for upgrades and design changes and accept the minimal extra cost (looking at the cost of an upgrade is a fraction of the total cost). But if there is a lack of knowledge and will and as there is an extra cost to upgrade the accommodation many will just accept the standard layout.

Should the owner see his ship as an investment and want to keep the value of the asset and accept the cost for an upgrade it could be a different outcome. But then comes the person doing drawing approvals – many will be naval architects who have never slept on a ship and if it is done by ex-officers they will focus on the bridge and office. Cabins for senior officers will become ballrooms with carpets, a separate bedroom, most probably a bathroom with a tub, sofas, chairs and TV sets so far away they need binoculars to see the screen.

The crew will at best have their own toilet with a shower. Don’t be surprised if you see relatively new built ships that still have common showers and toilets or a ‘common’ toilet and shower for two cabins. But as this is for crew they are seen as less needing when it comes to the possibility to relax after work.

The dayroom and mess for the officers will be double the size of the crews, and both tend to be so impersonal that hardly anyone goes in to spend any time there. Dayrooms are empty spaces as most crew go back to their cabins to sleep, watch films/series on their private laptops and have a lot of time to ponder demoralising issues.


Solutions are at hand are but this calls for acceptance that the crew are human beings with the same needs and more than people ashore.

  • First of all, ensure that all ships with crew staying onboard for more than a four-month contract must have free satellite time. No, they don’t need 24 hours a day connectivity but for sure some minutes each day to call home – Skype, etc with face to face helps a lot.
  • Don’t make ballroom cabins – rather make them good for sleeping but not for socialising – this is the function of the dayroom.
  • Ensure that the bed and sofa in cabins are 90° from each other – this to give the option for sleep on a rolling ship.
  • Ensure that there is sufficient insulation and/or bulkhead between cabins so no one is disturbed by their neighbour.
  • Ensure that the beds are never on the same bulkhead
  • All cabins should have a writing desk and a refrigerator.
  • All cabins should have a small coffe table.
  • Minimise any cabins on decks with traffic for daily work. The best solution here is if all living quarters are on ‘private’ decks with zero traffic be it from crew going out on the deck or the engine room or visitors.
  • Make the cabins smoke-free – for safety reasons but also cleanliness for the next inhabitant.
  • Make a separate smoking room with the same standards as the other dayroom but with an extremely good exhaust.
  • Make the dayroom and mess common to erase the borders between ‘them and us’. And make life for the mess man and cook a bit easier.
  • Design the dayroom and mess with style – not only throw in a sofa and a table – some smaller tables and flower pots. Have a decent sized entertainment system installed with a large TV, and computer connected to LAN, karaoke machine, etc.
  • Have a laundry on each deck with cabins – with three 6 kg machines and a small drier and a small drying room for overalls.
  • Have a cleaning cubicle on all decks with a water basin and storage for a vacuum cleaner and other cleaning utensils
  • The ship’s laundry should have at least three medium-sized machines – one to be designated as the overall machine. All crew to receive minimum four overalls on joining and these can be washed in the same machine on a daily basis.
  • Use the freed up space from one of the dayrooms for a larger conference room for crew meetings and training. In the future we will have more video conferences and live training.
  • Have one common office for Deck/Engine.
  • Have one separate smaller meeting room in connection to this office for meetings with officials.
  • For entrances – if on main decks the main door should have a cleaning cubicle where dirty shoes/rubber boots can be taken off and washed – preferably stored here as well to avoid dirt getting into the accommodation.
  • Have one common change room equipped with sufficient wash basins and a shower as sometimes the crew will be very dirty from work and this allows a quick wash before going up into the accommodation.
  • Training room to have all the needs for a home gym in a separate room in conjunction with a table tennis room.
  • With some good planning, one can even make space for a one hoop basketball court, which can be swapped for squash and paddle tennis as well.
  • All cabins, offices, day and mess rooms including hospital to have LAN to allow video connectivity to these locations as well as in the hospital for shore support if required.

All the above are things I easily entered into a newbuilding specification – the costly part was the refrigerators and the extra washing machines.

The above is for the accommodation – there is also a magnitude of improvements that can easily be done in the working environment to make it safer, more ergonomically and easier to manage as these areas are also computer-generated and not designed by someone that has spent hours in cramped spaces with limited access.


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  1. Excellent piece, however one recent article on yr website stated “ living conditions on today’s ships as sub-par compared to hospitals and budget motorway accommodation”
    “Flooring, panelling, deck heads, furnishing, all have gone the way of function over form throughout just about every accommodation block sliding out of shipyards the world over these days” Having taken new ship deliveries of a few 40mil$+ ships in Japan, I know that shipyards will not change the position of one nail or screw as it may not be per “ Owners Specifications”. Who made n who approved the specs, that shipyards keep waving, at those who ask?
    Why does it appear as if new delivery owners do not have the power or the inclination to change specifications?
    In order to make a difference to how a ship’s accommodation looks, the entities to target are the IMO, IACS, Class and Flag admins. Twisting their arms might make a difference to Accommodation design. I’d love to say grab their eyeballs, but it’s not needed as they already know what’s going on!
    MLC 2006 already regulates living n working conditions- so here is where the arm twisting should start. Ship’s Accommodation design and standards are certified under MLC 2006 by Class per IACS rules. 90% of worlds cargo carrying tonnage is covered by Class design. Collecting donations or other forms of charity efforts or lobbying other entities are not directly relevant to improving ships’s design. All stakeholders in shipping other than those listed above need to lobby hard and long to see tangible changes on the subject of ship’s accommodation design.
    If we can get cargo interests and charterers onboard then we are talking.

  2. Dear Captain Andrew
    Thanks for the feedback and I do hope for some drive to utilize these rules to make the living standard less institutionalized.
    regarding NB in Japan I had a similar experience for a set of Aframaxes where the yard and broker stopped all communication with us when my 40 page change list was sent on their initial specification. Accommodation was one big issue as much of other technical solutions – mainly as it was based on short trade around Japan and at length between AG and Japan
    After three months they came back (guess not many orders) and opened for a dialogue – in the end we managed to change a lot but that was after three days of Education in their head office how a hips functions according to the owner I represented.
    Simple thing like bunk and sofa both along ship – when I explained that I slept better Across they had no problems to turn the sofa’s – simply they had never heard of this issue.
    The galley store and freezers was designed for 30 days sailing (AG-Japan) when I told them we once in a while was at anchor in West Africa for two-three weeks they understood and accepted to increase the storage – OK it cost some cash to change.
    But in short with good communication and drive even the Japanese specifications can be changed

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