Shore leave is dead for seafarers

According to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index for Q1 2021, the desire to get ashore has dropped over the past few years, with many seafarers saying the costs, hassles and knock-on effects of time off the ship are not worth it. It had become the norm for seafarers to simply try to get through their trips and look forward to getting home rather than the benefits of shore calls. This has been drastically exacerbated by COVID-19.

Shore leave was once a fundamental staple of what it was to be a seafarer. Popular culture was once shaped by crews ashore in far-flung lands. The lure of signing up and seeing the world meant that going to sea and getting ashore was an important part of seafaring.

Now, even asking seafarers their thoughts on shore leave has opened up criticism and a range of negative responses.

“Why do you even ask anymore?” ran one response, which echoed others. “Shore leave is not even part of my life any more”, “I can’t get ashore and would not want to if I could”, “Even before COVID, shore leave just doesn’t happen”, ran many more. 

Among the more hard-hitting responses, there was cynicism too, “You are ignorant to think this is part of the lifestyle of seafaring. It’s laughable really. It hasn’t changed in me being at sea for 15 years and it won’t.”

It is obvious that in a pandemic, shore leave will be nonexistent. The question is whether it can ever make a comeback and in what form? Even before COVID-19 restrictions, costs, frequent inspections and rigid demands in port all made the likelihood of getting shore unlikely.

“There are simply not enough people to get the work done, and we cannot cope if people are off ashore” was the honest reflection of one senior officer. 

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