PYA Welfare Group Discusses Bullying, Harassment, and Complaint Procedures

20 March 2023 By Aileen Mack
person comforting person next to them by putting hand on shoulder

Associate Editor Aileen Mack joined Dockwalk in July 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. If she’s not at a concert or coffee shop, she is lost in a book, movie or a YouTube rabbit hole. Email Aileen at

The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) created its Welfare Group to support and help ensure crew well-being is safeguarded. Prior to the first webinar on January 31, it has been building relationships with flag states and plans to address common industry issues, including mental well-being, safety issues, and complaint procedures.

Members of the PYA Welfare Group include Sandra Jordaan of The Yacht Purser; Karine Rayson of The Crew Coach; Dominique Smit of Virtual Pursers; Pursers Samantha Morris, Chandré Robinson, and Helen Oakley; and PYA Director for Interior Training and founder of Purser Trainer Angela Wallace.

Rayson emphasizes two forms of bullying: overt, which tends to be more obvious and outward; and covert, which is more subtle, such as micromanaging, withholding information, or removing whole areas of work responsibility.

“When you are working in a psychologically unsafe environment or if you feel like you are walking on eggshells or in a volatile environment, that will create a lot of stress for you,” Rayson says. “And stress can lead to the onset of anxiety and depression.”

The most common reactions to onset stress are flight, fright, and freeze, and how you respond can depend on how you perceive the threat, Rayson says. You might feel lonely, sad, trapped, or not good enough. Some countries have laws to protect against bullying and cyberbullying.

The group emphasizes knowing your rights. “Read your contract so you know what you’re signing,” Smit says. The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) provides a broad perspective to seafarer’s rights, including your employment terms and health and safety.

All commercial vessels are MLC-compliant, but for pleasure vessels, it’s optional. If the vessel isn’t MLC-compliant, the flag state is the ultimate authority, and the flag state and the vessel’s owning company must have a policy and procedure on board available to seafarers to investigate complaints. Smit also advises reading up on the Declaration of Maritime Labour Compliance (DLMC) and the IMO’s International Safety Management (ISM) Code. The ISM applies to all vessels of 500GT and above.

“In one capacity or another, you should have some sort of policy or code that identifies bullying and harassment on board and that there is a pathway to deal with that,” Smit says.

For bullying and harassment, Jordaan recommends keeping a diary with dates, times, a description of the situation, how you felt, and any witnesses. You can request serious bullying be added to the logbook; potentially criminal actions need to be reported ashore, and the diary can be used as evidence.

“You always want to try to resolve things at the lowest possible level that you can,” she says. If you feel comfortable, set a boundary and let that person know how their actions make you feel. “Sometimes people are just unaware,” she adds.

Following the HOD, the captain is the next person to go to. If the captain is the one doing the bullying or harassment, then crew should go to the DPA or the MLC employer/person they signed their SEA with. Going up the chain of command, there should be a designated timeframe for a solution or resolution.

The final person to go to is the flag state’s shipping master. The PYA Welfare Group is communicating with shipping masters and management companies to try to help resolve issues on board and provide better information to crew. One of the reasons for the group is so crew can speak to them if they don’t feel comfortable with any other avenues or if they need assistance on what direction to take.
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