Seafaring is one of the oldest professions — a career that provides the opportunity to travel the world and be a part of an industry that keeps the wheels of global trade turning, with approximately 1.9 million seafarers employed across the globe.
But like any career, seafaring has downsides and can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
So, what are the fundamental causes of concern, and how can we mitigate the risks?
Maintaining good mental health
As part of the job, seafarers spend months away from home to ensure the maritime industry can support almost every aspect of our economy.
However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions left several ships and their crews stranded at sea. The coronavirus outbreak and strict quarantine measures meant seafarers struggled to sign off from ships and faced extended periods on board. Although the easing of restrictions means the number of seafarers stranded on board has decreased, the ramifications of the crew change crisis has had lasting effects.
With extensive working hours, infrequent shore leave and a lack of rest time, seafarers are left fatigued and burnt out, often with building stress, anxiety and isolation from their families. This mental exhaustion can lead to poor decision-making — making life at sea even more dangerous.
What can be done to help?
The UK’s maritime minister, Robert Courts, has announced £2.4 million in government funding to support initiatives like alleviating seafarers’ mental health issues.
Alongside this, introducing healthy eating, enjoyable physical activity and limited alcohol consumption could improve the mental health of those out at sea. It would also be beneficial to increase connectivity and internet bandwidth at sea (so that seafarers can talk more frequently with loved ones) and create an internal social network to build a robust, interactive community for those on board to have a safe space of communication.
Prioritising physical health
Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. Life at sea is often associated with physical risks, but what does that really mean, and how can we protect seafarers?
Over four years, it was found that just over six out of every 1,000 seafarers were affected by occupational injuries or diseases. Through the vibrations, electromagnetic waves of vessel appliances, motors, loud engines, sound signals and wind noise, seafarers can experience a number of injuries and illnesses. Over time, this can result in circulatory diseases, auditory nerve disorders and heart problems.
The sea itself can also be a dangerous place. As waterways constantly change, navigators must keep their wits about them for potential hazards. Not only that, but the on-board practices to navigate these waters can also cause physical harm. According to the European Harbour Masters’ Committee, 95% of seafarers’ injuries are caused by ropes and wires, with 60% happening during mooring.
Securing safety at sea
Things are looking up, though. Automatic mooring terminals now have the potential to enhance mooring safety by reducing mooring time and human involvement, with many harbours starting to implement this technology.
Plus, emerging solutions such as data buoys and monitoring control systems are rapidly changing and improving how ships navigate waters and ports. For example, data systems can provide live data on wind speed and direction, which can then be shared with any incoming vessels to ensure maximum safety in the harbour area.
Marine aids to navigation, such as buoys and lights, are also essential to mark safe lines of passage and help mariners determine their position to land. Effective navigation lights and buoys enable safe and efficient decision-making and minimise navigational risk and preventable accidents, whilst mooring buoys offer a practical alternative to anchors that can be used to secure vessels and prevent them from drifting.
Hydrosphere is the UK and Ireland’s leading supplier of aids to navigation, providing high-quality, reliable and cost-effective solutions to improve the safety of seafarers and all those working in the maritime industry. We aim to raise awareness of the importance of seafarers’ health and safety, working to ensure the sea is a safer place with aids to navigation. To find out more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1420 520374.