UKSA and The Seafarers’ Charity teamed up on May 17 to host the first industry crew welfare round table.
The event brought together more than 20 key players from across the superyacht sector to discuss the existing issues with crew welfare and what can be done to set a new standard across the industry. Chaired by British sailor and UKSA mental health ambassador Dee Caffari MBE, key topics of discussion included the efficacy of reporting measures and support systems currently in place, why problems on board can often slip under the radar, and ways in which crew could be better supported.
In the room were representatives from Nautilus International, RMT, Viking Crew, Edmiston, The Seafarers’ Charity, Quay Crew, UKSA, ISWAN, Mental Health Support Solutions, Seacat Services, and Mission to Seafarers.
The inaugural round table follows a 2021 mental health report by Quay Crew and Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS) exposed shortcomings in the industry with 62 percent of survey respondents reporting being unaware “of any policies or practices to address psychological problems." Other findings indicated that 9 out of 10 respondents had received no mental health training at all, while 85 percent thought such training would be useful.
With no standard of welfare practice in the superyacht industry, many vessels are not equipped to offer the correct support to their crew, often leaving crewmembers unsure where to turn in instances of poor mental health and wellbeing or other grievances on board. What has emerged in the last few years is a chasm between welfare provision in the private yachting sector compared to its commercial and shoreside counterparts with calls for more to be done.
The round table addressed issues such as fear of losing your job, poor leadership, weak onboarding processes, and additional costs associated with welfare provision on board, while outlining potential solutions, including mandatory training, performance and welfare appraisals, better signposting, and looking at positive case studies.
Mandating courses in leadership, mental health awareness, and mental health first aiding, or add-ons to existing compulsory training, was a key area of discussion.
“When it comes to compliance, there is no movement," said Orry Crews, DPA at Edmiston. "When we first go to sea, there are mandatory minimum courses and qualifications. I wonder whether elements of mental health awareness and mental health first aiding could be combined into a mandatory course.” He uses the Personal Safety & Social Responsibilities (PSSR) module which was last updated in 2010 as an example. "Years ago, people were having a similar conversation and that became ratified and it's now a mandatory course under STCW," Crews added.
While the room agreed that mandatory courses would be a natural first step, there was a general consensus that a wider cultural shift was needed. Simon Grainge, chief executive of ISWAN, said it shouldn't just be about "laws and procedures" but about "attitude and behaviors". “What we're talking about is culture change at a very deep, profound level and that's not an easy thing to achieve — and it certainly doesn't happen overnight.”
This encompasses a shift in attitude from yacht management companies and recruitment companies in their practices, but most importantly, a shift in attitudes in those on board and adapting the way a vessel is run to create a safer and more harmonious environment. “It’s something deep and ingrained and cultural that we're going to need to shift and every part of the industry is going to have to play a part in improving the culture when it comes to these matters," said Martyn Gray, executive officer at Nautilus.
Many agreed that the necessary cultural shift starts with those at the top. "If you’re going to get the best out of your crew, the people who are responsible for the leadership need to understand how to get the best out of people,” said Grainge.
The role of management companies and recruiters was brought into the conversation on several occasions throughout the round table discussion. Tim Clarke, director of Quay Crew, suggested that improving the onboarding process and introducing regular performance appraisals that incorporate mental health and wellness could be just one solution to check in with crew. “All it needs is a bit of motivation and an element of dictating from someone like a management company who could implement this and build it into their SOPs on a yacht,” he said. “It is low-hanging fruit in terms of being part of a solution.”
There was also discussion on the need to reframe the cost of crew welfare to owners as an investment in the vessel. “There are often commercial pressures to save money. However, if the owner feels it is in their interest, it reduces the cost object,” added Clarke. “We’ve got to position [the cost of welfare] as something that’s going to benefit the owner experience and reduce costs over time.”
Meanwhile, a number of those in the room pointed to a lack of positive stories from the industry and examples of yachts that do offer welfare provision. “I believe success stories are a great way of encouraging people to talk about bad things,” said Steve Morgan, regional director for Europe at Mission to Seafarers.
He also took the opportunity to point out that not all welfare issues are a result of bad practice. “It is a difficult industry. It is hard work and there are people who are young and away from home for the first time. One of the things I am keen to do is to provide welfare to people who aren’t having issues with their captains but who are just finding it hard.”
Ben Willows, chief executive officer at UKSA, summarized the heart of the discussion, which was that change must come from across the whole sector. “There is no one golden bullet. There is a whole raft of areas that can influence a focus and change of culture on crew welfare and the superyacht sector. And some will be much more responsive than others,” he said.
The round table concluded with thoughts of hosting a secondary session to include other perspectives with the involvement of more yacht management companies, protection and indemnity insurers, and flag states.
Attendees: Alexander Dimitrevich Mental Health Support Solutions, Amy Sweeting UKSA, Ben Willows UKSA, Cheryl McCann Nautilus, Chris Frisby UKSA, Craig Burton RYA, Dee Caffari UKSA, Deborah Layde The Seafarers’ Charity, Holly Overton Boat International Media, Jonathan Havard RMT, Ken Hickling Viking, Kim Fry UKSA, Martyn Gray Nautilus, Orry Crews Edmiston, Robert Cook Seacat Services, Simon Grainge ISWAN, Stephen Morgan Mission to Seafarers, Tim Clarke Quay Crew, Tina Barnes The Seafarers’ Charity, Vikki Muir Trinity House.
Finally, I think it would also be useful to include ISWAN's name in full - International Seafarers' Welfare and Assistance Network and include a link to their YachtCrew Help website - Yacht Crew Help | Where professional crew go for support