Seafarers say shore leave serves as respite of life at sea

According to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index Quarter 3 2023, shore leave serves as a valuable respite from the challenges of life at sea, a precious chance to relax and rejuvenate away from the confined routine on ship. 

Time and time again, it was stressed that seafarers truly cherish the fleeting opportunities to explore new ports and to see new cultures. This is about going to sea as a real career with benefits, not just a relentless slog.

It was also stressed that time ashore fosters camaraderie among crewmates. Sharing meals, touring sights and having enjoyable experiences strengthens the bonds that sustain crews during voyages. There is much made of the difficulties in generating positive social bonds on board, and that is perhaps because so few seafarers now have a chance to relax and get to know each other away from the demands of the ship.

Time alongside is getting ever shorter it seems, and quick turnarounds severely limit shore leave opportunities. There is barely time to leave the port before returning. The reality of work is also a barrier, as when alongside, crews are often asked to manage surveys, inspections and visitors.

This rush impedes relaxation and the reality is that with the costs and stresses of getting ashore most simply do not bother. Unless it is a familiar port which can be navigated and exited quickly, and where seafarers know where they are going, then usually they will not feel compelled to visit.

There were many responses about how strict security regulations often prohibit access entirely. There are many ports which are adept at building barriers to shore leave, as they appear to see it as a problem for them, rather than an opportunity for seafarers. This must change if we are to see progress.

There was a marked increase in general happiness levels of those seafarers who have access to shore leave, versus those who do not. This underscores the significance of shore leave in the lives of seafarers.

The erosion of shore leave, possibly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to services ashore becoming less empathetic and less tailored to the needs of seafarers. Many seafarers have encountered issues with medical and dental treatment due to a lack of understanding from onshore providers. 

This erosion of support has left seafarers feeling like they are treated poorly and misunderstood. One commented, “I had to have a tooth removed because the dentist was unable to provide a treatment plan I could take away with me.”

It seems there has been an evaporation of support structure ashore. Seafarers feel they are “treated like freaks” when they try to access services ashore. It seems there is a significant gap in awareness of the demands and challenges of maritime life.

Photo credit: iStock/ Dikuch

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