Working on board away from your loved ones is tough at the best of times, but the holidays can be a particularly challenging time of year for seafarers. ISWAN’s free, confidential helplines SeafarerHelp and Yacht Crew Help are available 24/7 over the holidays to support anyone who is struggling. We have changed the names of the individuals in this article to protect their privacy.
Kamal contacted SeafarerHelp a few days before Christmas when he was feeling lonely. He was missing his young daughter and would be working on a tough shift pattern of six hours on, six hours off over the holidays. Kamal told our SeafarerHelp officer that he couldn’t feel the joy of Christmas.
At a time of year when many of us look forward to spending time with our loved ones, many seafarers and their families face spending this time apart. Having someone to talk to can make a big difference, and ISWAN’s helplines offer a safe space for seafarers to talk through their thoughts and feelings when they feel they can’t share them with crewmates, family or their employer. After speaking to our helpline officer, Kamal told us: ‘I am glad that I had this conversation’.
Verónica contacted us when she found out she would not be able to disembark as planned to return home to her family for Christmas. She said she had never reached out for help like this before but she was feeling shocked, sad and tearful. Our helpline team talked through Verónica’s situation with her and shared some self-help resources to help her find ways to cope. We stayed in touch and when we later followed up with her, she was back with her family and feeling much happier. We will be here for any seafarer for however long they need our support.
Our helplines are not just for those working at sea – we are here to support their families too. Lydia, whose husband was away working at sea, called SeafarerHelp after recently losing her father. She had not spoken to her husband for several weeks and was unsure if he would be back with her and their children for Christmas, but she was struggling to cope. We listened to Lydia and helped her feel better by talking about her projects for Christmas with her children. Sometimes a listening ear to hear our struggles can be enough to lighten the load.
Rachel started a live chat with Yacht Crew Help when she was feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. She had been working six days a week for months and was missing her wife, and she had now been told that she would be on watch on Christmas Day. Our team listened to Rachel as she talked through her worries and helped her to reach a calmer place. She told us she knew that if she wanted things to change, it would have to come from her, ‘but thanks for letting me get it off my chest’. We stayed in touch with Rachel until the New Year, when she reached a decision that it would be best for her mental wellbeing to leave the boat. She said that she would continue using the audio relaxation exercise we had shared with her and had started an online self-help course. We want to help any seafarer who calls us to reach a place where they feel empowered to take the next steps – whatever they may be.
ISWAN’s helplines do not just offer emotional support – we can also offer practical assistance. We put one captain in touch with a local seafarers’ centre so he could buy decorations at a time when COVID-19 restrictions made shopping more complicated, and we did the same for a seafarer who needed a Christmas tree for his ship. Another seafarer asked us for help with buying Christmas gifts for his crew – again, our handy network of welfare contacts in port meant we could put him in touch with someone who could help. Some festive decorations and unexpected gifts can give a welcome boost to a hardworking crew – the power of something so simple should not be underestimated.
If you need help or support over the holidays – perhaps you are feeling homesick, low or unhappy or you know someone who is – ISWAN’s free, confidential, multilingual helplines SeafarerHelp (www.seafarerhelp.org) and Yacht Crew Help (www.yachtcrewhelp.org) are available 24/7.