Talking Point: Mentoring in Maritime

April 14, 2020
Mentoring photo 2

Talking Point is a series of thought pieces written by experts in the maritime industry, offering insights into different topics affecting seafarers. In the second piece of the series, we hear from Dr Kate Pike, Associate Professor Emeritus at Solent University, Southampton and Director of Field-Research, who looks at the benefits of mentoring for seafarers and how to implement a successful mentoring initiative.

Informal Mentoring has arguably been part of the maritime tradition for many years, with older sailors instructing the young cadets in their new skills and providing a sounding board for advice when needed.

The increase of multi-cultural crews and a move towards more transient work forces, saw a dip in informal mentoring and mental health awareness. However, supported by new research and mentoring initiatives, it is clear that both mentoring, and the well-being of crew and shore staff is now firmly back on the agenda. The Mentoring Seafarers Project conducted by Solent University (2019a)1 highlights the importance of the diverse role that mentoring can play within the maritime industry. These days, with smaller crew sizes, the dangers of social isolation, shorter port calls and the onerous administrative burdens placed on senior management at sea, support for those working within the industry is more important than ever.

Mentoring benefits

The Mentoring Seafarers Project demonstrated the many benefits of mentoring, centred around the provision of psychological help in building confidence and competence. The research found that mentoring improves mental health, the safety culture, training efficiency and personal development. It also confirmed and developed some of the findings by the Nautical Institute (2012)2 where mentoring is found to be a low-cost initiative which promotes and supports:

  • Happier and more confident staff
  • Good practice and the company culture
  • Improvements in safety performance
  • On-going training and deeper learning
  • The multi-cultural crew environment
  • Sustainability of crew well-being
  • The retention of staff
© Atle Sachs


An additional benefit raised by the Mentoring Seafarers Project was the support it offers women within shipping. With the International Maritime Organization’s theme for 2019 focusing on ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’, the need to raise awareness and improve job attractiveness and retention of women within the industry, has been given more attention. The value of mentoring and its role in supporting women at sea and within other areas of the industry, was demonstrated by the GEM study (2016)3. This research emphasised the significance of experienced role models and the support for personal and professional development. Having a mentor (female or male) can provide a point of contact that can help newer and younger crew deal with being away from home for long periods of time and with issues such as isolation and harrassement.

New understanding of the benefits of mentoring have led to recently established initiatives that focus on women within the industry. These include, among others, the ‘Magenta Project mentoring programme’ (2019) which links women aspiring to be sailors to mentors from the global sailing community; and ‘Women Off-shore Mentorship’, established July 2017, which is a virtual peer mentoring programme. These mentoring initiatives, alongside other supporting networks and forums, such as WISTA4, ISWAN5, and the Women’s Task Force initiated by the UK government, demonstrate best practice in their mission to make women, and other minorities within the industry, feel safer and supported in their work.

Barriers to learning and mentoring

In order to understand how mentoring can be developed within maritime, Solent’s research identified key barriers to learning and mentoring by asking employers and managers about the issues, as they saw them. The responses centred on the importance of ensuring good leadership and management to underpin an on-board culture that promoted safety and investment in crew support through mentoring. Lack of confidence in leadership, poor communications, time pressures, bureaucracy, and the need for support from the company or sponsor, were evidenced as barriers to implementing mentoring (see figure below).

Employers and Manager’s survey - Barriers to mentoring and learning: Top 5 responses

Addressing these barriers are vital to success.

Crew stability

The on board culture is primarily established by those in senior roles who direct the leadership and management style on board and have influence over the working culture and environment. With crewing costs being a major part of the ship operation’s budget, investment in staff can have positive implications for retention within the industry. Crew stability, where people return to the ship for more than one voyage (instead of working one contract and moving to another vessel) promotes investment in people and realises a return over time. This is apparent in terms of lower recruitment costs, shorter hand-over times and the greater sense of well being and ownership that crew feel when valued. Mentoring is particularly beneficial within a stable crew environment and should be part of the investment made by shipping companies (Pike et. al, 2019b)6.

Implementing mentoring best practice

The success of mentoring initiatives depend on continual improvement and the understanding that mentoring works best alongside good training and with a long-view taken on skills and personal development. The Honourable Company of Master Mariners'7 well established, formal mentoring scheme, highlights best practice in these areas. Sharing best practice is valuable in helping companies determine a programme that is suitable for them. The research suggests that clear leadership, and a supportive company culture, are key to the success of mentoring initiatives.

Recommendations for implementing mentoring include ensuring that there are no participation costs to the mentee, and that being a mentor should always be a voluntary service. It is important that the mentors themselves are adequately trained and supported by their relevant shipping company. Mentoring schemes must be consistently communicated to raise awareness to all those who could benefit from participating in them.

Mentoring should be available to support career development for all roles and ranks at sea and onshore. The investment of time in people development increases productivity and effectiveness. Mentoring can be a long-term investment which ideally works best within a stable crew environment where mentor and mentee relationships have time to develop and flourish.


It is clear, that mentoring offers many low-cost benefits to seafarers and others within the shipping industry. However, to be truly effective, much work needs to be undertaken in terms of leadership training, improved communication and collaboration between the ship and shore, and in the promotion of a more stable working environment.

An interviewee from the Mentoring Seafarers Project summed up the value of mentoring and the self-perpetuating benefits of investing in people.

“….. I asked him what the best part of his job is. And he said, it’s getting a mentee basically and training them up and watching someone achieve their potential. And it’s like, that’s the kind of leadership that is invaluable, and lifts the whole industry up really. Because then you have ….. that mentee who will then become a mentor for someone, and that's the way we change things.”

(Interview 11)

For more information, please contact Dr Kate Pike, Director of Field-Research: /

Dr Kate Pike is an Associate Professor Emeritus at Solent University, Southampton and Director of Field-Research, a company specialising in maritime research. Kate has an extensive range of interdisciplinary research experience, with expertise and project leadership in the marine and maritime fields, including shipping, sustainability, coastal and marine protected areas. Kate’s maritime research focuses on the human side of shipping, particularly seafarer’s welfare, gender issues, management and leadership, crewing strategies, sustainability and safety culture. Kate has recently led the Gender Empowerment and Multi-cultural Crew (GEM) Project, the Mentoring Seafarers Project and the Effective Crew Project.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on this subject and would like to discuss them with us, please get in touch at

Pike, K., S. Honebon and S. Harland. June 2019. Mentoring Seafarers: A report for the ITF Seafarers’ Trust.
2 Le Goubin, A.L., 2012. Mentoring at Sea: The 10 Minute Challenge. London: The Nautical Institute.
3 The Gender Empowerment and Multi-cultural Crew (GEM) Project, 2016. A one year research… …study conducted by Solent University and funded by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust.
4 WISTA – Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association.
5 ISWAN – International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network.
6 Pike, K., E. Broadhurst, N. Butt, C. Wincott, K. Passman and R. Neale, 2019. The Effective Crew Project: A report for the Lloyds Register Foundation and the TK Foundation. September 2019.
7 The Honourable Company of Master Mariners (HCMM) run a formal, and often distance mentoring scheme to its members throughout the various stages of their career. The scheme was established to improve retention within the industry and support new seafarers through their career journey to Master.

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