Why is seafarer happiness slipping?

A survey carried out to determine seafarer happiness has found that overall happiness has  slipped, largely due to issues such as delayed payment of wages, decreased shore leave and stress.

Seafarer happiness has slipped this quarter with the most unhappy seafarers being the ones that work onboard cruise ships and ferries.

The Seafarers Happiness Index report published by The Mission to Seafarers and produced in association with the Shipowners’ Club, surveyed more than 2,000 seafarers across the global maritime industry in a 3 month period. The survey measures how happy seafarers are in various elements of their work and covers seafarers’ mental and physical health, diet, rest, workload, connectivity, training, access to shore leave, as well as relationships at home and onboard. Participants rank their happiness across these areas from one to ten, ten representing a higher level of happiness.

Main findings

The latest report found that on average seafarer happiness has dropped from 6.31/10 to 6.27/10.

Ship type: In terms of ship type, cruise and ferry crews had an average score of 5.3/10 on their general happiness level – 15 per cent less than the global average across all vessel types (6.27/10).

Happiness levels for those working on tankers, bulk carriers and container ships were all close to the global average, coming in at around 6.3/10. Seafarers on dredgers were the most satisfied, according to the data. However, the percentage of respondents serving on this vessel type was relatively low.

Age: The youngest age range proved to be the happiest, with a very high 7.9/10 reported. 25-35-year olds reported a happiness level of 5.8/10 on average, but those between 55 to 65 showed generally high levels of happiness.

Location: Oceania totalled an average of 7.6/ 10 for seafarer happiness. The best represented, the Indian Subcontinent scored 6.24/10 on average with South East Asian seafarers voting around the same mark with 6.2.

Rank: The seafarers surveyed came from a diverse range of ranks and departments, with fairly similar scores across comparable ranks. However, the second engineers ranked much lower (5.5/10) than chief officers. In general, deck department seafarers were more satisfied than the engine department. Catering staff ranked in a low state of happiness at 5.77/10. Cadets were optimistic in their results, scoring an average of 8/10, which is the highest figure ever reached by the index.

Gender balance: Over 93 per cent of respondents were male, which the report states ties in with the overall gender disparity in the industry. Women that shared their verdicts were reportedly marginally less happy than their male counterparts. Women marked around 6.2/10 on average while males were 6.3/10.

Current happiness levels onboard

The key reasons for unhappiness were associated with delayed payment of wages; decreased shore leave; workload stress caused by smaller crews onboard; and a lack of understanding from shore staff with regard to seafarer welfare issues.

Areas where happiness has increased since the last Seafarers Happiness Index survey include:

  • General happiness when at sea
  • Ability to keep fit and healthy onboard
  • Contact with family

Areas where happiness has decreased since the last Seafarers Happiness Index survey include:

  • Work load
  • Training
  • Interaction with other crew
  • Access to shore leave
  • Wages/salary
  • Food on board
  • Onshore welfare facilities

One of the most important issues raised by the survey is that seafarers are not getting adequate shore leave and when they do, the facilities on shore are not living up to their expectations. Shore leave is crucial to seafarer mental wellbeing, giving them time to break from everyday tasks and experience different cultures and environments. Seafarers who do not get this time to break can suffer from mental exhaustion and may put themselves and others at risk as exhaustion is detrimental to safety.

One statement from the survey said: “Shore leave is dead. Never will it be seen again”. Due to numerous audits and inspections, seafarers are often not able to take their shore leave and even if they are, sometimes the distance between the port and town means that it is more hassle for them to go ashore than rest onboard.

In terms of pay, one seafarer reported that: “Day by day the salary of junior officers is decreasing.” According to multiple sources, companies are cutting their budgets and non-payment of wages is an all too common problem. Crew members are experiencing delays and frustrations whilst their families suffered privations at home. Seafarers are worrying about their pay, which is not something that should be a concern in the 21st Century, according to one respondent. The report states that the mechanisms for safeguarding crews often seem to fail when stressed, and there is a need to ensure that seafarers get paid, get home and are looked after.

Interaction with other members of crew has dropped. The survey found that isolation was a word used commonly to express a large majority of seafarers’ feelings. Many crew members said they feel lonely, and while internet access helps them to connect back home, it can also lead to crew shutting themselves off in their cabins. According to the responses, seafarers today see the main problem being a lack of people, too much work pressure and not enough free time. The report states that: “There is so little wriggle room with crewing levels that there is not sufficient space or time for social bonds to develop. This makes it incredibly hard, if not impossible to really interact well.”
Another key concern was related to the frustration and concern seafarers face with office staff on shore. There is a growing sense that crews are merely an extension of the office, and that seafarers are there to answer queries or even do work for shore staff whenever they are asked.

The report also found that there is growing concern around seafarer aban­donment, with many seafarers expressing a sense of vulnerability following a number of recent incidents around the globe. The Mission also received a number of troubling reports of aggression, violence and bullying against female seafarers.


However, one positive result coming from the survey was the improvement to connectivity, which has led to increased happiness among many seafarers. The report states that this is, ‘hopefully to do with the ever-increasing number of deep-sea vessels which now have internet onboard. Something which many respondents stated, “is a big help.”’

Crew onboard vessels with slow or expensive connectivity reported that this made their life incredibly frustrating and voiced their disdain for companies who do not provide what they want. The survey found that seafarers felt that communications with loved ones is essential, even for short time periods, and being at sea without connection to home is not good enough today. Recruitment and retention are likely to be increasing issues if companies do not offer sufficient time and connection speeds for seafarers.

Mental and physical health onboard

Overall, seafarers reported good levels of happiness to keep fit and healthy onboard, which was also highlighted as a factor in driving positive mental health. One area noted for improvement is the availability of gym equipment on some ships and the time for which seafarers have to use it.

Many reported that the workload is so heavy that they do not have time to use the gym.

“As ever, we would like to thank all of the seafarers who have taken the time to share their views with us. Your feedback is essential to us in our aim to create a more transparent industry, where best practice is lauded and shared, and any shortcomings, or indeed harmful incidents, are flagged and addressed accordingly,” said Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index.

“However, we urgently need more data and to hear the stories of more seafarers, including those who have already taken the survey, if we are to build up this good work. To support this, we are building new online capabilities and applications to process the data, and working hard to communicate the results of each survey on a global scale.”

Louise Hall, director – Loss Prevention at the Shipowners’ Club, stated: “As the scale and global reach of the survey continues to grow, we are now able to identify trends in results for particular demographics. In sharing this information, we can help educate operators in implementing initiatives that are most pertinent for their crew.”
This article highlights some of the key findings for seafarer happiness and unhappiness determined by surveys carried out as part of the Seafarers Happiness Index. The full report can be accessed via






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