The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published today by The Mission to Seafarers, reveals average seafarer happiness levels in the last quarter of 2022 reached 7.69/10, up from 7.3 with levels rising across almost all categories, reflecting the sustained upward trend seen throughout the year.
The results of the survey show that even the historically most problematic areas, such as shore leave and access to welfare ashore, are recovering. Crew members continued to express their relief at the return of freedom of movement, as well as their increased sense of certainty and stability. The survey was undertaken with the support of the Standard Club and Idwal.
The only area in which there was a decline in satisfaction was connectivity. Quality and cost are still concerns and there is a growing demand for free or inexpensive access as enjoyed by colleagues ashore. Many seafarers believe such access would improve social life at sea with responses like: "we gathered to watch live World Cup football and the atmosphere on board was fantastic."
It was also noticeable that a significant number of seafarers appeared to have switched employer or trading patterns to be closer to home in case of travel restrictions. In addition, there was a growing number of responses from seafarers from non-traditional maritime labour markets, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
A year in Review: 2022 – From Low to High
In 2022, seafarers’ happiness has steadily increased from its lowest point in Q1 2022 to something of a high-water mark at the end of the year. Q1 2022 saw the lowest level ever recorded with an overall average of 5.85, reflecting the negative impact of the COVID pandemic on seafarers. Other issues such as conflict and contracts also contributed to the low morale and deflated mood among seafarers. Many seafarers felt that their welfare was not being properly addressed and that their work conditions were becoming increasingly difficult.
However, in Q2 2022, there was a significant increase in satisfaction levels, rising from 5.85 to 7.21/10. This was encouraging as it suggested that the worst may be behind us, and as the world began to reopen, this had a positive impact on seafarer sentiment. Additionally, when seafarers were more certain about their return time, they were able to deal more effectively with difficulties at sea.
Q3 2022 saw further improvement, with the overall average climbing to 7.3/10. This was due to improvements in shore leave, access to welfare facilities and initiatives, as well as companies investing in their people on board. These actions made life better at sea, and the sentiment expressed by seafarers reflected this.
Life onboard – workload, social cohesion and training
Although the Seafarers Happiness Index data shows positive progress, there are still persistent issues that need to be addressed, such as workload, mental health impacts, and the stresses of a difficult job. There are also concerns about the negative impact on mental health and well-being of too few people aboard ships. The industry is taking steps towards change, with initiatives such as the Sustainable Shipping Initiative Code of Conduct, which aims to go beyond the minimum standards of compliance.
Despite the negative impact of COVID-19 and tensions between Russian and Ukrainian seafarers, there have been clear signs of recovery throughout the year and onboard interactions are once again the most important factor in seafarer satisfaction. However, there are still concerns about isolation among seafarers and a lack of social cohesion on board.
Training for seafarers has improved over the years, but there are mixed responses from seafarers about its effectiveness. To improve, training should be incorporated into the shipboard schedule and not viewed as a chore. Concerns were also raised over the lack of communication and involvement of seafarers in discussions and plans for future fuels training.
By the end of the year, the satisfaction of seafarers had reached a high point, and the sentiment among seafarers had significantly improved. This has raised expectations that the systems supporting seafarer welfare will continue to deliver improvements into 2023 and we can only hope that this is the case.
The Idwal Grade
Since Q2 2022, Idwal, global leaders in vessel inspections and one of the lead sponsors of the Seafarers Happiness Index, has been exploring the welfare conditions of seafarers. As part of this approach, they introduced a new inspection method of 12 objective-based questions.
The results of these inspections show a clear correlation between the overall condition of the vessel and crew welfare conditions on board. Further analysis of different vessel types, classification societies, and flag states also support this trend. This highlights the importance of the vessel standard in improving seafarer welfare and the positive symbiotic relationship between seafarer happiness and enhanced welfare standards.
Ben Bailey, Director of Programme at The Mission to Seafarers, said: “We were pleased and relieved to see increased happiness levels onboard throughout the year, and our reports show significant positive progress. While there remain complexities and challenges in the industry, The Mission to Seafarers continues to highlight the importance of fair treatment, reasonable pay, compassion, and understanding in fostering a positive outlook for seafarers.
“However, there are still complex issues that need to be addressed such as abandonment, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, and arbitrary decisions about immigration. We will continue to work closely with shipping companies and managers ashore to shape positive change and to hear more stories and experiences from seafarers through our surveys. We are also mindful of a potential recruitment and retention crisis in 2023 if the trend of seafarers moving from deep sea to short-sea or inland waterways continues.”
Thom Herbert, Idwal Crew Welfare Advocate and Senior Marine Surveyor, said: "Idwal is proud to have been a major supporter of the Seafarers Happiness Index in 2022, and to have played a key role in delivering new clarity to the debate on seafarer welfare. Our research approach, which involved surveying the welfare conditions on board vessels through our global surveyor network, has provided valuable data and empirical evidence to highlight the interrelationship between better standards of welfare and the quality of ships themselves. This combination of sentiment, systems, and standards allows for a deeper comprehension of the actions taken, their effects, and the human implications. We believe that this understanding of the value of good welfare, both morally and financially, will be invaluable to the shipping industry as a whole."
Yves Vandenborn, Director of Loss Prevention at Standard Club, added: “Standard Club is heartened to find seafarer’s happiness levels have risen for the third consecutive time this year; the SHI Quarter 4 2022 survey report shows. It is great to hear that industry-wide efforts to improve quality of life onboard for seafarers are continuing to pay off, and the impact is being felt by those out at sea. As strides have been made against the backdrop of the global pandemic and Russia/ Ukraine conflict, it is important to keep up this progress and ensure seafarer’s voices are being heard. There remains a lot that can be done. Standard Club continues to champion seafarer wellbeing and encourage the improvement of working conditions at sea. It is essential to safe and efficient shipping.”