28 Apr


Coronavirus - Your questions answered: How can I support my crew?

28 Apr, 2020

My ship's staff is getting agitated regarding the wellbeing of their family and the delay in signing-off. I am worried about how I will handle the situation if something goes wrong.
Can you please give some advice on how to handle this in a positive way? We are having long lunch sessions talking to everyone but in the end everything comes down to frustration with delays in sign-off.

There is no shortage of stress in seafaring. Coupling an already stressful environment with the new realities of delayed sign-offs and constant worries about family wellbeing, stress, anxiety and agitation are compounded and must be addressed in a proactive and positive way. The biggest thing you have going for you in these uncertain times is your relationships. It may sound silly, but relationships are the best tool in your armoury to get through these trying times. Your relationship with yourself, with every crew member and with all the different groups on board your vessel can do wonders to bring much needed calm.

Here are a few ideas on how to help and inspire your crew right now:

1. Start with yourself

Firstly, take care of yourself. This may sound a selfish starting point, but positivity starts at home. Before tending to the rest of your crew, ask yourself how you are doing and what strategies you have in place to handle the current situation in your life. Your mind-set is crucial to how the crew will experience life on board. If you’re sulking and down in the dumps, the crew will follow. A positive attitude can bring assurance and calm in a very uncertain time. Being positive does not mean denying all things negative and bad. Instead, negative things are approached as a learning opportunity. So despite the circumstances you make a conscious decision to take a positive approach and choices. Take time for yourself and connect with friends and family outside of your work environment. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the worries, anxiety and demands of fellow crew members. Take a short break and focus on your own needs – it will be hugely beneficial to your crew. You might also find our free relaxation podcast helpful to finding some calm from the storm: https://www.sailors-society.org/assets/site/WellnessatSea_Relaxation_podcast.mp3

2. Connect with your crew in groups

Get the crew together socially every day and remember that facts minimise fear. Make sure that the sources you rely on for news and information are accurate. Sites such as the World Health Organization https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/ and IMO http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx may be useful.

  • Communicate that you are all in this together: Reiterating that everyone on board is important can’t be stressed enough. No matter whether you’re the Captain or the oiler, you are all in the same situation.
  • Be open: If you are the link between the company and your vessel, make sure that you are open and honest about the situation. Crew members must feel that they can trust you. Trust your crew enough to share information with them and truthfully explain to them why you may not be allowed to share certain information.
  • Be genuine and humble: Have the courage to share your own fears and feelings with your crew in a genuine and humble way. Knowing that you are also ‘human’ goes a long way to build relationships.
  • Connect with different interest groups: Group your crew according to interests and ask them to meet you to talk about their experiences. For example:
    • Ask all the deckhands to meet you for coffee. Reaching out to lower ranks and making them feel appreciated goes a long way in building positive morale. Ask about their fears and feelings.
    • Meet the different nationalities in groups. We all have cultural coping mechanisms. Meet with members of each nationality and ask them for positive ideas and solutions from their cultures. Don’t judge their suggestions but motivate them to use their ideas to handle stress. Ask them what the situation is in their country and have empathy.
    • Ask everyone with children to meet in the mess room. Ask how their children are doing and what initiatives they are taking to connect with them. Also ask about their fears and feelings for those back home.

3. How about organising a moaning or venting session for your whole crew?

Tensions are running high so creating a space where everyone can speak freely and vent their concerns is a good way to de-escalate tension. Although this is a serious situation, mix it up with some fun by also moaning about what they miss from home, how bad their favourite sports team are playing, and so on. It would be best to draw up a ‘moaning agenda’ beforehand so that you are well-prepared. Make sure that all levels of the crew are involved and keep it casual. Make notes of specific things that you can perhaps address later.

4. Identify a common goal

As a group, decide on a challenge or goal outside of work - this could be a fitness or mental challenge. Teach everyone to play chess or another game and organise a tournament or a cook-off where every nationality gets a turn. Or organise something simple like a BBQ to bring you all together.

5. Identify leaders for activities

There is a wealth of different expertise in any crew. Some may like physical exercise while others may practice meditation. Ask different ‘experts’ to organise some crew sessions to demonstrate and introduce the things they like. Make a point of asking lower ranks to lead sessions. Motivate those who like the same things to keep on meeting to practice their common interest.

6. Interact with individuals

Individuals thrive in an environment that is knowledgeable, non-judgmental, mindful, and encouraging. Time is precious and you probably have a thousand things to do, but by giving every individual crew member a few minutes of your time you will lift their spirit and reiterate their worth. Try to make an appointment with everyone on your crew. See it as their time. It is not about you and your ideas and struggles. It is a time where they can freely talk in a non-judgemental space.

Aim to ask:

1) about their fears and feelings

2) what are the things they are most worried about?

3) what are the things that they are most looking forward to?

4) ask if there is anything you can do to make things easier for them

And remember:

· Stay present. It is their time. Leave your email and phone for a moment and tell the person knocking on the door to come back later

· Let them know they are not alone

· Validate their efforts on-board and thank them for how they are contributing

· Don’t deny what they are feeling

· Do not confuse sympathy with empathy

I hope this goes some way to helping. Have courage and confidence in yourself to lead you and your crew through this crisis. And please remember that we are always here to offer a helping hand.

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