Study: Digital Access Reduces Seafarers’ Emotional Stress

WaterIllustration. Image Courtesy: Pexels under CC0 Creative Commons license

Reliable connectivity aboard ships, even limited, helps reduce some of the emotional stresses that seafarers who spend a longer period of time at sea experience.

A new report looking at crew connectivity on ships has revealed the emotional and operational impact on professional seafarers who are often away for up to six months at a time with limited opportunities to interact digitally with friends and family.

International maritime charity Sailors’ Society and the global mobile satellite company Inmarsat have worked with researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, to examine the effect on seafarers who have limited or non-existent digital access.

Researchers for this latest study, “Navigating Everyday Connectivities at Sea”, used an immersive study approach on board two container ships for 10 days, one with on board Wi-Fi capabilities and one without.

The research also showed that where there were weekly limits of connectivity, this forced seafarers to ration their allowance to certain periods or to prioritise contact with friends. Restricting usage also meant that domestic issues could not be resolved immediately or in real time, adding to personal stress or anxiety.

In addition, one of the report’s key findings was how connectivity is becoming a significant factor in recruitment particularly for those entering the industry. Young people are viewing an ability to get online as a significant deciding factor as to whether they commit to a career at sea.

One of the historic arguments from ship owners for not providing on-board connectivity has been that it disrupts work and rest patterns. However, this latest research shows that, in fact, not having reliable on-board internet impacts such patterns.

“Digital connectivity at sea has been one of the major talking points of the decade in the maritime industry, which has been slow to adopt technology enabling improvements in connectivity across the world’s commercial fleet,” said Dr Rikke Bjerg Jenson, one of the principal researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London.

“While several studies have used surveys to try to establish the rate of these improvements and their wide-ranging implications, none – to our knowledge – has taken observations of crew behaviour and conversations with seafarers as their starting point.”

“In terms of future sustainability, the industry needs to consider the significant expectations of the next wave of talent into the industry who will see access to online as a major factor in their career decisions,” Drew Brandy, Senior Vice President, Maritime Market Strategy at Inmarsat, concluded.

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