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know me project

Seafarer communications

Earlier in 2013, Spinnaker was approached by Damien Stantchev of Edinburgh Napier University, who told us about a seafarer communication survey that the university was carrying out.

The project, based in Scotland but tapping into Damien’s contacts in Greece, is called the KNOW-ME project, and predominantly aims to examine the growing shortage of maritime professionals; particularly qualified merchant marine officers.

The communication survey brought up some interesting results. The demographic was 82% male, mostly in the 26-35 age bracket. Due to the project's strong links with Greece, 40% were Greek but also included Australian, American, Indian and British seafarers also. The majority were junior officers, and oil and product tankers were the most common vessel type in this survey.

Damien wanted to look specifically at seafarer retention, and the reasons that people abandon seagoing professions. Some of these reasons include separation from family, excessive workload, piracy threats, unsafe conditions, social isolation, lack of shore leave and the absence of welfare facilities on board ships.

Social isolation on board ships was a recurring theme throughout the survey results. The crucial factor of communication can be between one seafarer and another while on board, from ship to shore – whether that's to head office, maritime authorities, or family – and between ships. All need decent communication systems in place.

This is a retention factor for seafarers; they are living in what is essentially an isolated community, so the technology available for communications must be adequate and inexpensive. This way, particularly with social media, seafarers keep engages not only with friends and family but shore operations as well. Communication in this way was characterised with 87.9% of respondents classing it "extremely important".

83.6% of respondents said that good onboard communications play a crucial role in wellbeing, particularly when it comes to communicating with family. 85% of respondents are active social media users, and 50% of them predominantly use Facebook as their main source of social media activity.

In the report summary, Damien states "While seafarers appear to be satisfied from their choice to join the profession, when they are asked for eventual reasons that would lead them to abandon it, they state as more important the inadequate communication with family & friends.

"While 63.6% of them plan to continue working onboard, the rest of them are seeking alternative careers, mostly within the maritime industry.

"The cost of communication is high, if one takes into account that more than 40% of the respondents spend more than 10% of their salary on communication fees."

It does make one wonder what the next step is for seafarer communications. With seafarers on board using their pay to communicate back home, surely there's a technology solution out there waiting to happen. We know that one of the hardest things about being at sea is being away from one's family, friends and home. Sadly it looks as though even in 2013, this is something still very much a problem.

With thanks to Damien and the KNOW-ME project. Find out more at

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