Is Social Media a Good Thing for Seafarers?

The following article was initially published in the Isle of Man Maritime Blog by Dick Welsh Director of Isle of Man Ship RegistryI realise I am a Luddite who went to Sea a long time ago, but I am concerned that the modern age of instant communication and social media may not be helping our seafarers.

2013.11.13 - Is social media a good thing for seafarers

I write this from the safety of my office, firmly on dry land in Douglas, Isle of Man, if you’re currently at sea it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this particular topic.

When I was a seafarer, we lived two distinct lives. One was at home where we lived a normal family life, before we got our orders to join the next ship. Once on board we entered another life, where we became part of the ship’s company, working hard and playing hard. I may be looking through rose tinted goggles, but there was an esprit de corps and camaraderie to it all. Offwatch, the ship was a social environment; meals were taken together in the saloon and life revolved around the bar on board where we got to know each other and alcohol was neither rationed nor banned. Contact with home was limited to letters, which may or may not ever reach the ship. Back home, wives took responsibility for bringing up the family and problems were never raised in the precious letters between ship and shore.

Nowadays it is a very different story. It can be a very solitary existence for a seafarer where the bar has all but gone and worse still, it has been replaced by laptops and internet in the privacy of one’s cabin.

This may sound like a good thing. But is it? Interaction with home on a day-to-day basis can remind seafarers of what they are missing and leave them feeling homesick and lonely. It can alert them to problems which they are powerless to resolve and leave them worrying. Facebook interaction for the younger generation can let guys and girls see what their friends are up to at home. Pictures and videos of their loved ones taken in all innocence and posted on-line can be misconstrued and create problems for those on board.

Seafarers today demand the best possible internet access and companies provide it at some considerable cost to attract and retain the right people. But is it a good thing? Or am I just too old to understand? I have no statistics to back up my concerns, but I do wonder whether depression and loneliness are on the increase for seafarers today, and how much of it is down to instant contact with home.

What do you think? Is that a fair assessment?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author - Dick Welsh, Isle of Man The article, reproduced here with the author’s kind permission, was written by Mr. Dick Welsh and was initially published in Isle of Man Maritime Blog. Dick Welsh is the Director of IOM Ship Registry at Isle of Man Government, a Marine and Mechanical Engineer with with over 30 years’ experience in the shipping industry. The Isle of Man Ship Registry stands in the world’s top 15 in terms of tonnage and the Isle of Man Red Ensign is becoming the flag of choice for an increasing number of quality ship owners and operators, attracting new tonnage from blue-chip clients around the globe.

Comments

  1. Is it a good thing Dick? Well, it is what it is and it’s not going away! For all that the seafarers may feel powerless to help the family whilst at sea, I’m pretty sure they’ll feel a lot more connected to them via the internet, especially to the kids. It’s not the same as being at sea, but when I’m away on long haul business trips a quick 10 minute Skype or FaceTime session with the kids does so much to ease the distance that exists between us. So enjoy the fond memories Sir! I’m pretty sure this is the way it’s gonna be!

  2. Ian Brown says:

    Having recently retired after 45 years at sea my experience covered both scenarios outline above. I don’t see why it should be one or the other. My preference would be a return of bars with beer (not spirits) or at least low alcohol beer supervised by the Master with clear Company guidelines as to when and where the bar was open.
    No alcohol to be allowed in cabins.
    Also for crew to have good access to social media regulated by Company software to ban offensive sites.
    Once again with clear guidelines.
    However the Bar culture should also be mixed with social occasions and fun events where possible.
    Ironically having our own PCs does not necessarily mean sitting alone in cabins as we had a very active online network for gaming onboard my last ship involving officers and crew.
    As always it’s about balancing the benefits with the risks.

  3. One of the beautiful things about internet access and communication at sea is that, in 2014, now we *can* help resolve problems at home, and stay (somewhat) present in the lives of our friends and families. We can Skype with our spouses and children, we can wire money to cover emergencies, we can shop online, pay bills, and keep our affairs in order far better than we could just a few short years ago. We can tell them when we’re coming home, arrange to be picked up at the airport or book a hotel in advance if we’re not ready to go home just yet. There is a risk of homesickness, but that’s a sentiment that’s been with sailors since antiquity. Our ability to stay connected with the shore has done far more good than harm, and what harm it has done may well be an early warning sign that the homesick mariner might not be well-suited for a career at sea.

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