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Mental Health Matters

Are crew getting the support they need?


“It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men – kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling – are the concomitants of failure in our system. The traits we detest – sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

― John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

A friend of mine, who is a very well respected Captain within the industry, sent me this quote as we are both trying to grapple with the gruelling reports we have received from Crew more recently. Numerous surveys have been conducted over the years where Crew have had the courage to share their harrowing experiences as well as their desperate pleas for help, however we are still seeing the same pattern of behaviour occurring which is very concerning. Before I dive into these pressing concerns it is important to highlight the positive changes we are seeing within our industry. Firstly, Crew are becoming more confident in speaking about personal mental health issues, are seeking education and training around mental health and are more comfortable to ask for help provided they feel safe to do so. In my counselling practice, I have also seen a 50 percent increase in male clients seeking counselling which would suggest that the stigma around men asking for help is being challenged.  Furthermore, we have had the birth of Yacht Crew Help which falls under ISWAN. This is a very much needed service for seafarers as it provides a multilingual, crisis helpline that is available 24/7.

The feedback we are getting from Crew, however, are their needs for support which are not being heard nor met by HoDs and/or their respective shore support company/ies. Now, I do want to make it clear that by no means am I trying to denigrate YMCs or a helpline service, I am rather looking at the evidence that is re-surfacing and use this as an opportunity to build an awareness of what is and what isn’t working so we can look at implementing protective strategies to further protect the welfare of Crew rather than contribute towards it.

Let me begin by highlighting some of these issues that were disclosed in an anonymous survey conducted by PYA on sexual harassment.

In one survey 65.13% of Crew said they didn’t report the sexual harassment that they experienced onboard. Some of the reasons as to why they didn’t report it were as follows:

“My chief stew said it’s the industry and didn’t want to get in trouble and said I’m sensitive and should shake it off”

“I did not know who to report to”

“I still need the job to support my family I’m afraid I’ll be fired instead”

The question to follow was “what happened when you reported it”. The data that was gathered from this question included:

“Nothing”,  “I was fired” or “very little”

‘“It was brushed off by the Captain he just laughed and said it was silly that’s just the way it is and leave it at that”

“The first officer said just because he grabbed your boob doesn’t mean he’s not a hard worker and kept them on board for 5 more months until I got fed up with him sexually harassing every stew so I left”

“I was called up and let go in 3 hours in a foreign country”

“ Everyone who complained or raised the issue was removed from the boat”

“All the crew that reported the issue where were let go by the management company”

“I was told to get over it and let it happen”

Now I have only taken a small sample of the responses to showcase the issues we have here. I say “we” because we all make up the industry whether we are a Crew member or represent the industry in a land-based capacity. If we don’t work together in changing the existing culture then we are only going to stay stuck in this toxic perpetuating cycle of unchallenged assault.


With regards to the cases that were presented to me, the Crew members were under severe stress as a result of a traumatic incident occurring onboard. They requested professional support to see their preferred counsellor and this was turned down by their yacht management company requesting that they use their free service (ISWAN/Yacht Crew Help). Before we signpost Crew we need to be able to practice basic communication skills such as active listening, non judgement and empathy to determine their exact needs. Following this news the Captain’s advice was “can’t you sort it out when you get home?” This represents a massive failure from a leadership perspective. A huge flaw in leadership conduct right there.

On a separate vessel, when a Crew member tragically committed suicide the yacht management company said “we will try and get a counsellor onboard” however this did not eventuate and the Crew members are now showing signs of post-traumatic stress. Our industry is in dire need of quality Crew. If we want to retain Crew and maintain Crew longevity we need to seriously take a look at how we can maintain psychological safety onboard and how can we provide the right support for Crew that will best attend to their needs.

According to a legal professional team at Lexis Nexis they assert that “at common law, an employer is under a duty to take reasonable care of the health and safety of its employees in all the circumstances of the case so as not to expose them to unnecessary risk. This duty of care extends to the employee’s physical and mental health.” I am starting to question whether we are acting with integrity and walking the talk of being the so-called advocates and champions for crew mental health, gender equality, diversity and inclusion.

As industry stakeholders do we want to be a part of virtual signalling or do we want to act with integrity and support the admirable traits that Steinberg so well describes? The onus is on each of us. Let’s work together in making our industry a 7-star industry that we say it is.

Before Crew reach out for help they need to feel that there is a psychological safety net and that their needs will be supported and acted on in the best ways possible rather than falling on deaf ears or being plainly ignored. In addition, regular psycho-education needs to be occurring with regards to inappropriate behaviours, the consequences thereof and the correct reporting procedures. We, as external stakeholders and as industry professionals need to ensure that we and our employees have the relevant training to be able to address Crew issues sensitively, intelligently and professionally. Rather than us assuming what could be a proffered solution for Crew, we need to rather give Crew a voice and walk alongside them. I understand that vessels have to work within a budget, however, if we don’t acknowledge and respond to Crew needs then we become part of the problem and subsequently put their mental health at further risk and add a significant unnecessary expense at the Owner’s door.


If you would like to be involved in being part of the solution please get in touch by contacting Karine, the Director of The Crew Coach at karine@thecrewcoach.com