How a phone call can make all the difference to crew wellbeing

30 January 2018

Guest blog: Caitlin Vaughan, Project Manager, ISWAN

  • maritime

  • broadband
  • voice

With the Christmas festive season seeing 1,000,000 voice minutes clocked up by seafarers via Inmarsat’s ChatCard satellite phone card service, Caitlin Vaughan, Project Manager from ISWAN looks at why being able to call home is so important for crew welfare at sea, especially during the many religious festivals celebrated by the world’s multicultural seafarers.

One of our main programmes at ISWAN (International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network) is SeafarerHelp – the 24 hour, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families. We deal with a range of issues affecting seafarers every day of the year, such as helping a seafarer to talk through a personal problem or assisting with unpaid wages. Whatever the issue, we do everything we can to find help.

We know first-hand how important access to communication on board is to seafarers. Over the years we’ve seen an increase in the number of seafarers contacting us and changes in the ways they have chosen to get in touch. For example, in 2011 telephone was the top contact method for seafarers contacting SeafarerHelp, but in 2018, a seafarer is much more likely to reach us via email, live web chat or Facebook messenger. Of course, seafarers don’t always communicate with us from their ship, but improvements to communications on board, such as ChatCard, Inmarsat’s pre-paid satellite phone cards, must have played some part in the changes we’ve seen.

While it’s great that services like SeafarerHelp are more easily reached by seafarers on board today, contact with family is the main priority for seafarers. Long periods away from home with limited opportunities to leave the ship – which is a seafarer’s home as well as their place of work for many months – are challenges that could be relieved at least in part by regular communication with loved ones.

Staying in touch

Communication on board can also be invaluable to seafarers who, for instance, can’t be present for the birth of their child, or for the younger generations of seafarers who have grown up with the internet and want the same levels of communication access at sea. Now that we see an increase in the availability of Skype and video calling on board and access to high-speed broadband services like Fleet Xpress, seafarers don’t have to wait until they have shore leave to see their new born baby for the first time.

It’s therefore not surprising that if contact with home is vital to seafarers generally, it is even more important during festive periods and holidays that are traditionally celebrated with family. We recently asked Allan, a seafarer from the Philippines, about how important access to communications on board was to him during Christmas last year. He emphasised the difference it can make:

“This day [and] age, it’s really very important to have a regular communication to our loved ones…we came from a Christian country who celebrates Christmas heartfeltly…it’s the season where we really love to be with them…but due to our work, even the farthest distance gap can now be replaced with Livestream video, calls and chat. It’s a big relief that this type of communication is now available and if we can’t be physically be with [our families], at least we can talk to them online or over the phone.”

Cultural celebrations

Even though it’s quite common for crews to plan festive activities on board and celebrate together, festivals such as Christmas, Diwali or Eid can be very difficult times to be away from home. In 2016, we were contacted by seafarers from 99 different nationalities which gives some indication of the vast number of different cultures and religions they represent.

It’s not unusual for there to be multicultural crews where they may be only one person on board from his or her country, or the only one who celebrates a particular festival. This can feel very isolating on an average day, but especially so if there’s no one close by to share celebrations with. A simple phone call with a family member will go a long way to alleviate some of the homesickness a seafarer might experience in this situation.

Access to crew communications during significant days isn’t just beneficial for seafarers on an individual level but for everyone on board. Connecting regularly with loved ones can have a very positive effect on our mental wellbeing which can mean that seafarers who are able to talk to family back home may be more likely to feel well psychologically and, as a consequence, feel in a better place to connect well with their fellow crew and participate fully in on board celebrations.

Inmarsat is proud to support ISWAN’s International Seafarers’ Welfare Awards recognising individuals and organisations that have made a difference to crew welfare.

About the author

Caitlin Vaughan joined ISWAN as Project Manager in 2014 and is responsible for running a variety of projects and events which aim to make a positive impact on the lives of seafarers.  Most recently this has included the development of new health resources for seafarers and organising events to explore solutions to prominent issues affecting seafarers. Caitlin has previously worked in Project Management in the not-for-profit sector and holds an MA in International Relations.