BSAFE Mental Health


Published: 1 November 2019

Seafaring can be a very isolating occupation and people may feel lonely. This article looks at how to prevent loneliness and improve onboard welfare using simple means

CONOVAH – Health and Safety Solutions

Anyone working with seafarers will be familiar with the term ‘social isolation’ or loneliness. Seafaring can be a very isolating occupation, being away at sea for many months with a limited number of companions. A Danish study is currently looking into what can increase the feelings of loneliness at sea and what can be done to make the situation better.

Loneliness is a feeling of not having access to the quantity and quality of social company that we want. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Some enjoy being alone and some feel lonely in the company of others. We all know how loneliness feels because this is part of our natural feelings as social human beings and most will have felt loneliness at some point in their lives – perhaps only briefly. When we register the feeling of loneliness most of us will naturally seek the company of others and the feeling goes away.

There are many and complex reasons as to why loneliness can become a problem and this feeling of isolation can have a serious and detrimental effect on your mental and physical health. The longer you feel lonely the more difficult it becomes to seek the company of others. So, it’s very important to keep an eye on yourself and on your colleagues and try to prevent these feelings of loneliness taking hold.

As a seafarer it is important to keep good contact with your family and friends at home. It’s also very important that you don’t neglect the everyday company of other seafarers on board your ship.
Here is some advice about what it takes to be a good leader and a good colleague, and also to help you take good care of yourself when feeling lonely.

If you are a leader – choose to be a good one!

  • Take regular tours round the ship and take the time to have informal chats
  • Take responsibility for crew health, safety and well-being and handling conflict
  • Encourage social activities on board and ensure that regular initiatives are taken
  • Treat everyone on board with respect and dignity and do not tolerate bullying and harassment

Be a good colleague, be proactive and care about yourself and others – ensure that you are part of a great team!

  • Always welcome new crew members on board – it makes a big difference
  • Take initiatives – even small things like having an open door to your cabin or watching a movie in the common areas can have an impact and after a while others may join in
  • Participate in social life on board and don’t wait for others to think of all the good ideas – try and contribute ideas and help with the planning of social events
    Engage and respond to others in a respectful way and if there are any problems, deal with these as soon as possible
  • Reach out to any of your colleagues who seem to be feeling down or who have withdrawn from social life on board
  • If you feel lonely yourself, reach out to others, do something together, e.g. go to the gym or play a game, and try to maintain good links with your colleagues

At all levels healthy relationships are built on:

  • Mutual respect – for yourself and others, even if they are different from you or disagree with your opinions
  • Trust – believe in your colleagues, take the time to listen before you jump to conclusions and ask questions about their intentions if you are in doubt
  • Good communication – ask colleagues for their input and ideas about work, but also ask them about their hobbies, families and lives away from the ship

The Danish study, which is expected to be published later this year, is being led by Connie S. Gehrt from CONOVAH – Health and Safety Solutions. She has been working in the Maritime Industry since 2002, primarily with Health and Safety and holds a Master in Law and a Master in the Psychology of Organisations. The study is financially supported by the Danish Fund, Velliv Foreningen. Once the study is complete we will report back with the recommendations for companies, management on board and seafarers.