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The impact of social interaction on board

March 20, 2024
MV BERTHOLD K 02 Hook of Holland 01 06 2021
Crew taking part in the onboard SIM trials in 2021

A survey of the shipping companies who participated in ISWAN’s Social Interaction Matters (SIM) Project research has revealed the project’s positive impact.

The SIM Project seeks to better understand social interaction on board and its numerous benefits for crew mental and physical health, safety and teamwork.

Following the first two research phases of the SIM Project and the subsequent publication of the findings, along with dissemination of guidance and recommendations for the maritime sector, we surveyed the ten shipping companies who participated in the second research phase to determine the project’s impact and identify its strengths. Through compelling testimonies from the respondents, we discovered that not only had organisational thinking and attitudes improved, but the SIM Project had also helped to inform company strategy, policy and process.

We are pleased to share with you here some of these incredibly insightful and positive responses.

We asked: ‘How has the SIM Project research informed attitudes, thinking, and discussion within your organisation or networks?’. The responses showed that increased engagement with social activities on board had been beneficial in a number of ways:

‘It helps crew [to] more actively participate in every activity, and on the process, we build good relationship among the crew member[s], boost camaraderie and improve safety culture.’

‘It has re-affirmed the importance of crew harmony within the bigger picture of vessel performance and effectiveness.’

‘[We] were able to use [the] project as a point of reference to reinforce that health, wellbeing and social interaction is supported by evidence.’

A volunteer Social Ambassador was appointed on board each vessel. Throughout the duration of the SIM Project, they helped to promote social activities on board to cultivate a safe and relaxed environment in which to have fun, whilst encouraging maximum engagement of all crew members.

We asked the companies involved: ‘What new activities, programmes and/or roles has your organisation established as a result of the SIM Project, and what has been invested in these?’:

‘Company [now] adopts mental wellness programs … [M]ain goal is to help onboard Wellness Ambassador to identify behaviours of ships crews in handling various situation while maintaining social interactions throughout their contact.’

‘The creation of the Sea Ambassador and the Shore Ambassador roles are the main offshoots of this programme.’

The responses we received show the importance of having a dedicated person to encourage crew to engage in enjoyable activities together where they may not otherwise have convened. Throughout the project, this strengthened positive relationships on board, increased strong teamwork and safety culture, and helped people get to know and look out for one another.

On board, the culture is often closely centred around work and the technical aspects of sailing. This can undermine the fact that crew also have to live in the same space day in and out, often for very long periods of time. Rest and recreation time should be equally valued given the significant impact it has on crew wellbeing and its positive influence on other aspects of being a seafarer, such as safety, motivation and productivity.

With this in mind, we asked: ‘How has the SIM Project informed your organisation’s strategy, policy and processes?’. One company told us:

‘It has caused us to re-look at our strategy of improving bonding on board by creating opportunities for interaction. Earlier a lot of emphasis was being placed on getting the hardware and processes right, now we are looking more closely at people and their interaction together onboard.’

Far too often, work and rest time on board is not distinctly separated and recreation is undervalued. The SIM Project research has conclusively identified that the value gained from social interaction helps people to mentally reset and get to know one another better outside of work, which builds familiarity and trust. This in turn has positive outcomes for the crew and vessel’s safety, and their mental and physical health.

When we asked: ‘What other impact has the SIM Project had?’, the responses clearly showed the benefits for both crew and companies:

‘The SIM project has helped in gathering data and providing insights into challenges faced by crew onboard and means to counter these challenges and assist our crew to be mentally happy and healthy. Also, office management gets an insight into the initiatives required and undertaken to achieve a healthy crew.’

‘With this program, it help[ed] us cope with [the] daily stress of being away from our family. It promotes cooperation and teamwork amongst [us] and most significantly it enabled us [to be] socially aware that there is more fun than being confined in each cabin during our free time.’

‘There was a positive effect onboard. The crew’s morale improved on a certain level due [to] different social activities created onboard. Mental wellbeing state of the crew were healthy. Even [in] difficult times during pandemic the crew are willing to extend onboard. They don’t get tired.’

Positive insights such as these highlight clear lessons learnt and tangible actions from the SIM Project. Considering these alongside the wealth of data collected during the projects’ phase 2 trials, we have concluded that it is essential to continue the SIM Project as a long-term initiative to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of seafarers worldwide. The project partners unequivocally recognise the value of the project’s recommendations and are striving to implement them on board their own vessels to improve the quality of social interaction and rest time. However, there is still work to be done to have the need for considered change recognised at all levels and across all maritime industries.

The previous phases of the SIM Project gained overwhelming support from the shipping industry. Now, further funding has been awarded by the Trinity House Maritime Charity Department for Transport Fund for ISWAN to expand the research to include superyachts and cruise ships. We will also develop the guidance and recommendations to become a long-term, cross-sector educational tool.

ISWAN will announce the SIM Project’s technology and research partners soon. Regular project updates will be posted on ISWAN’s website here and on ISWAN’s social media, and readers can subscribe to the SIM Project mailing list for direct updates here.

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