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Survey Highlights Lack of Crew Mental Health Support

28 December 2021By Lauren Beck
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Written by

Lauren Beck

Editor Lauren Beck has been with Dockwalk since 2006. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Email her at lauren@dockwalk.com.

Quay Crew and Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS) believe the superyacht industry is heading toward a “mental health crisis.”

Quay Crew, in partnership with MHSS, released the findings from its mental health crew survey, which included input from 1,019 crewmembers of varying ages, experiences, and nationalities. The “Mental Health Onboard: The State of the Superyacht Sector” report found that one in five crewmembers suffer from stress, anxiety, and loneliness on board and one-third maintain they have faced similar issues in the past. As much as 50 percent of survey respondents also admitted considering leaving the industry. (The survey noted that finances were the reason given for staying for 55 percent of those who considered leaving.)

The survey found that mental health concerns were more prevalent in female crew respondents, especially those who work on the interior and in the galley. “The most worrying statistic was the percentage of female crew under the age of 30 who suffered from mental health issues,” Tim Clarke, director of Quay Crew, told Dockwalk. “Depending on the age group, it peaks at 40 percent of female crew are suffering mental health problems right now, whilst on board, which is a scarily high percentage.”

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Another statistic to note, perhaps, is that 74 percent of respondents said they had experienced or were aware of fellow crew who had struggled with mental health aboard.

The survey also found that 62 percent of all respondents said they were unaware “of any policies or practices to address psychological problems.” A very high percentage — approximately 9 out of 10 respondents — have received no mental health training at all, even though 85 percent of the respondents think it would be useful.

“This survey has uncovered some strong statistics that reveal just how common poor mental health is in the industry and how onboard environments often contribute,” Clarke said in the press release.

“This survey has uncovered some strong statistics that reveal just how common poor mental health is in the industry and how onboard environments often contribute,” Clarke said in the press release. “It also confirms our suspicions that very few have access to the support they need, when they need it, especially from those who specialize in mental health.”

Charles Watkins, Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of MHSS, highlighted in the press release that crew retention could become a concern, and, worst case, even a skills shortage if crew begin to leave the industry as a response. “Listening to and understanding the concerns of existing crew is a start, as this gives employers the insights needed to introduce positive changes,” he stated. “Providing mental health support by giving staff access to professional psychologists with maritime experience will also make a huge difference.”

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Clarke believes the issues come down to poor leadership on board. “Something [that] has clearly emerged from the results of the survey is that one of the primary causes of mental health issues amongst crew is poor leadership from captains and HODs,” he told Dockwalk. He highlighted three main causes of poor mental health: fatigue/burnout, poor leadership, and crew politics/tension.

“I think that actually, when you look at [those three], it’s one problem — poor leadership,” he says. “Whilst some yachts are used extremely heavily, many are not. Strong leadership and good recruitment should largely alleviate crew politics and tension on board. So the biggest cause of all these issues is poor leadership, in my opinion.”

“I think HODs and captains who have aspirations to perform to the best of their ability should always be looking to hone their leadership skills,” he says...

Clarke believes all captains and heads of departments should be “actively improving” their skills in this area. “I had an illuminating conversation this week with a very well known, experienced captain who felt there wasn’t a culture of self-improvement once crew became captains,” he says. After all, the captain told Clarke, captains had attained their career goals — reaching “the top of the career tree” — giving them no incentive to develop further.

“I think HODs and captains who have aspirations to perform to the best of their ability should always be looking to hone their leadership skills,” he says, noting that he has had a great deal of positive feedback from captains about The Crew Academy’s Command and Senior Leadership Programme.

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It all comes down to making changes in the industry. “We hope that those with the power to make changes use these findings to introduce policies, practices, and preventative measures that will support the wellbeing of crew,” Clarke said in the press release. “In turn, this will improve longevity, productivity, and promote the superyacht industry as one in which people can enjoy a long and prosperous career.”

“We hope that those with the power to make changes use these findings to introduce policies, practices, and preventative measures that will support the wellbeing of crew,” Clarke said in the press release.

The survey did note a correlation with the amount of leave a crewmember receives and mental health — the “mental health at work rating” improves with the more leave you have. This can be hard for newbie crew, who generally have the least amount of leave or opportunity for rotational work. The survey found 28 percent of them say their mental health has declined on board, and 34 percent have already considered leaving the industry.

But perhaps there is already a glimmer of hope for the future. “The most encouraging aspect of this was the captains who emailed after receiving the report,” Clarke says. “So many realized there was a serious issue and are keen to support their crew more by putting a structure in place [that] offers this.”

For more related content:

Mental Health Awareness: How Does Yacthing Fare?

Mental Health: Skills to Cope

Managing Mental Health in Yachting

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