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TOPIC: Seafaring and Family life

Seafaring and Family life 22 Jul 2015 09:50 #4430

  • madhubanti
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Regular contact and communication has been found to be important to prevent the breakdown of couple relationships. However, many seafarers work in international waters with few, if any visits to ports in their home countries.

Thus for seafarers and their partners opportunities for face-to-face contact during voyages may be considerably limited. In these situations contact with home can be dependent on access to communication services and technologies.

This forum thread will explore the importance of communication to seafaring families, considering couples’ use of various means of communication and the related benefits and potential problems associated with ship-shore contact.

Means of communication
Seafarers and their partners reports utilising a wide range of forms of communication,from conventional letters, to satellite and mobile phone calls and email. Advances in communication technology are heralded as quite life-changing for both seafarers and their partners.

Increasing access to email (and even internet access in few ships) and to cheaper international phone calls via cell-net phones served to expand opportunities for communication significantly. Those working coastal routes could often telephone home using shore-based mobile networks, at dramatically lower costs than satellite phone calls.

Weekly telephone communication is not uncommon for the families of seafarers with the seafarer on board. Regular verbal contact is important as it fulfilled emotional needs and help couples maintain an emotional closeness during their separation. As one seafarer put it:

• It’s so much easier when you speak to people, believe you me, you can get all the Christmas cards in the world but when you talk to somebody it’s personal contact. It’s as close as you can get to it if you’re away. (Senior Officer)
• If I know there’s a phone call I’ll try and be at home whatever to get his phone calls cos I know how much it means to him and how much it means to me just to hear him.(Wife of Junior Officer)

Telephone communication is also valued for its practical implications, allowing seafarers to take part in, and respond to household and family decisions such as queries over house insurance and decisions relating to children’s well-being. As one seafarer explained:

I can get information a lot quicker, I can give information a lot quicker, ‘why haven’t you done this?’ ‘Haven’t you done that yet?. ‘No I will tomorrow’. ‘Take the car in for a service’, you know! Simple things like that, so you keep in touch with what’s going on at home. (Senior Officer)
The advent of email is also seen as a significant improvement in the lives of seafarers. This relates to the cost, the immediacy and the sense it was a more informal form of communication than traditional letters. The following quotes are illustrative of the enthusiasm both seafarers and their partners towards email:
• Yes, that’s a good concept now, with the onset of email being so much available, I find that excellent, because in the past you know you had to write a letter and you couldn’t always guarantee that when you sent that letter it got home, at least this way, emailing, what you receive in reply isn’t history anymore, you know. (Senior Officer)
• Yeah that’s just the best invention ever really for us. Again it’s not formal writing it’s more short chats, I feel the email you do just tend to go on and really just type away.(Wife of Junior Officer)
• It is absolutely wonderful because whereas before I’d say ‘Oh bloody hell the girls - they’ve pissed me off!’ or something like that…. Now he can say ‘well what have they done now?’ Whereas before I’d have had to bottle it all up and you might put it down on paper but when you do that it isn’t anything like the day that you’ve gone through. Maybe by the time he’s come back you’ve got it all resolved but it’s better to be able to share it there and then. (Wife of Senior Officer) Email and telephone correspondence allow seafarers to keep up with small day-to- day events that might not be reported in a letter or mentioned on their return home. The frequency and content of email and telephone conversations is reported to be vital in managing the transition from home to work and work to home and in linking the two domains so that movement between the two is less problematic. • [I am] constantly in touch with her by email, so it’s like I’m away but I’m not away you know. (Senior Officer) • And, it [email] does help that period when you come home because you do know what’s going on. (Senior Officer) In addition to regular mail, in the absence of email and cell phone facilities, satellite phone calls continued to be appreciated by seafarers and their partners. Whilst acknowledged as expensive, for those seafarers working deep sea and without access to email, the satellite phone could provide a vital link with home. As one seafarer recalled: I used to have like 5 minutes every week on a Sunday to my wife on a Sat. phone.Which 5 minutes it sounds crap don’t it, sounds lousy, sounds like what’s 5 minutes?[….] 5 minutes was like priceless, it was like a diamond 5 minutes ‘everything alright?’ ‘Fine’. ‘Kids OK?’ ‘Yeah great’.‘House not on fire?’ ‘No.’ ‘Fine, ta ra bye’, bang that was it. […] that was like the best tenner I spent that week. So yeah you’ve got that kind of thing which can sort of bridge a gap you know, put a bridge across things. (Senior Officer) Problems Whilst in general opportunities to communicate were viewed very positively, such communication could also be problematic - seafarers talk about coping with the life aboard and separated from their families by ‘switching off from home’ and more frequent communication disallowed this. In particular seafarers may talk about the frustration and angst they felt hearing about difficulties at home, that, whilst at sea, they were powerless to address. As seafarers commented: • [Email is] a wonderful way, but it does mean that you know about problems at home all the time. It’s harder to switch off to it. (Senior Officer) • You have to switch yourself off sometimes. That’s a conscious thing. I mean while it’s easy to switch yourself off, conversely it’s easier nowadays to have communications with home through the satellite telephone, even your mobile phone if you’re around the coast, and that can switch you back on again, if you’re not careful. (Senior Officer) • I can’t get to sleep. Mind just wracks, just thinking just goes into over drive doesn’t it about home and stuff like that. Thinking about things you actually talked about and I think it’s just thinking more of home and then it wears off and wears off, that never wears off thinking of home but it peaks after you just come off the phone, and then wonder how everybody is and then it goes down a bit until you get into your work.(Junior Officer) Similarly, a small number of both seafarers and wives may tell that, telephone communication in particular, could be emotionally upsetting due to the fact that it made them miss their partner all the more. In addition, perhaps due to their very importance and value to couples, much anticipated calls were susceptible misunderstanding and disappointment. As one wife explained: To be honest I don’t really like the phone calls. Sometimes I come off the phone and I feel loads better and happy that I talked to him. Sometimes I come off and think I wish he hadn’t phoned, I think it can really unsettle me. […] He’ll go, ‘you don’t sound very enthusiastic’ and I think ‘oh no! I wanted to speak to him so much and now he’s rang it’s just like we’ve fallen out or been a bit niggly with each other’. Yet other times he can ring it’s like really nice, it’s not hard work, where at other times it can be and I don’t like that. (Wife of Junior Officer) However, these problems do not appear to outweigh the benefits and value of regular communication between couples. Cost of communication Access to telecommunication can vary according to rank and indeed use of such facilities will be variable simply due to the constraints of cost. One may find couples who are were fortunate in that the seafarers held senior ranks and had access to shipboard telecommunication facilities (such as email) and salaries that allowed the financial costs associated with communication to be less than prohibitive. However this may not be the case for seafarers of different ranks and nationalities. However cost is still relevant and satellite phone calls often restricts to special occasions (such as festivals or birthdays) or emergencies. As one seafarer’s wife explained the circumstances when she and her husband would use the ship’s the satellite phone: If it’s been a bad day or Christmas or something special but apart from that no. Cos it is very expensive, and once you’re on the phone you can’t just stay on a few minutes you know. Phone and talk, talk. If you’ve not heard from him for little while, you know to phone for a few minutes it’s very hard to say ‘right OK, better get off the phone’,you just can’t do that so of course there’s that. (Wife of Junior Officer) Whilst couples often disregard the expense of communication in order to have some contact with each other, the financial costs nevertheless often restricts length or frequency of communication. Access to cheaper (or free) communication is frequently mentioned as a means of improving the welfare of seafaring families and reducing the negative effects of a seafaring lifestyle on family life.[email] is absolutely wonderful because whereas before I’d say ‘Oh bloody hell the girls - they’ve pissed me off!’ or something like that…. Now he can say ‘well what have they done now?’ Whereas before I’d have had to bottle it all up and you might put it down on paper but when you do that it isn’t anything like the day that you’ve gone through. Maybe by the time he’s come back you’ve got it all resolved but it’s better to be able to share it there and then. (Wife of Senior Officer)

Email and telephone correspondence allow seafarers to keep up with small day-to- day events that might not be reported in a letter or mentioned on their return home. The frequency and content of email and telephone conversations is reported to be vital in managing the transition from home to work and work to home and in linking the two domains so that movement between the two is less problematic.
constantly in touch with her by email, so it’s like I’m away but I’m not away you know. (Senior Officer)
• And, it does help that period when you come home because you do know what’s going on. (Senior Officer) In addition to regular mail, in the absence of email and cell phone facilities, satellite phone calls continued to be appreciated by seafarers and their partners. Whilst acknowledged as expensive, for those seafarers working deep sea and without access to email, the satellite phone could provide a vital link with home. As one seafarer recalled: I used to have like 5 minutes every week on a Sunday to my wife on a Sat. phone.Which 5 minutes it sounds crap don’t it, sounds lousy, sounds like what’s 5 minutes?[….] 5 minutes was like priceless, it was like a diamond 5 minutes ‘everything alright?’ ‘Fine’. ‘Kids OK?’ ‘Yeah great’.‘House not on fire?’ ‘No.’ ‘Fine, ta ra bye’, bang that was it. […] that was like the best tenner I spent that week. So yeah you’ve got that kind of thing which can sort of bridge a gap you know, put a bridge across things. (Senior Officer) Problems Whilst in general opportunities to communicate were viewed very positively, such communication could also be problematic - seafarers talk about coping with the life aboard and separated from their families by ‘switching off from home’ and more frequent communication disallowed this. In particular seafarers may talk about the frustration and angst they felt hearing about difficulties at home, that, whilst at sea, they were powerless to address. As seafarers commented: • [Email is] a wonderful way, but it does mean that you know about problems at home all the time. It’s harder to switch off to it. (Senior Officer) • You have to switch yourself off sometimes. That’s a conscious thing. I mean while it’s easy to switch yourself off, conversely it’s easier nowadays to have communications with home through the satellite telephone, even your mobile phone if you’re around the coast, and that can switch you back on again, if you’re not careful. (Senior Officer) • I can’t get to sleep. Mind just wracks, just thinking just goes into over drive doesn’t it about home and stuff like that. Thinking about things you actually talked about and I think it’s just thinking more of home and then it wears off and wears off, that never wears off thinking of home but it peaks after you just come off the phone, and then wonder how everybody is and then it goes down a bit until you get into your work.(Junior Officer) Similarly, a small number of both seafarers and wives may tell that, telephone communication in particular, could be emotionally upsetting due to the fact that it made them miss their partner all the more. In addition, perhaps due to their very importance and value to couples, much anticipated calls were susceptible misunderstanding and disappointment. As one wife explained: To be honest I don’t really like the phone calls. Sometimes I come off the phone and I feel loads better and happy that I talked to him. Sometimes I come off and think I wish he hadn’t phoned, I think it can really unsettle me. […] He’ll go, ‘you don’t sound very enthusiastic’ and I think ‘oh no! I wanted to speak to him so much and now he’s rang it’s just like we’ve fallen out or been a bit niggly with each other’. Yet other times he can ring it’s like really nice, it’s not hard work, where at other times it can be and I don’t like that. (Wife of Junior Officer) However, these problems do not appear to outweigh the benefits and value of regular communication between couples. Cost of communication Access to telecommunication can vary according to rank and indeed use of such facilities will be variable simply due to the constraints of cost. One may find couples who are were fortunate in that the seafarers held senior ranks and had access to shipboard telecommunication facilities (such as email) and salaries that allowed the financial costs associated with communication to be less than prohibitive. However this may not be the case for seafarers of different ranks and nationalities. However cost is still relevant and satellite phone calls often restricts to special occasions (such as festivals or birthdays) or emergencies. As one seafarer’s wife explained the circumstances when she and her husband would use the ship’s the satellite phone: If it’s been a bad day or Christmas or something special but apart from that no. Cos it is very expensive, and once you’re on the phone you can’t just stay on a few minutes you know. Phone and talk, talk. If you’ve not heard from him for little while, you know to phone for a few minutes it’s very hard to say ‘right OK, better get off the phone’,you just can’t do that so of course there’s that. (Wife of Junior Officer) Whilst couples often disregard the expense of communication in order to have some contact with each other, the financial costs nevertheless often restricts length or frequency of communication. Access to cheaper (or free) communication is frequently mentioned as a means of improving the welfare of seafaring families and reducing the negative effects of a seafaring lifestyle on family life.[email] does help that period when you come home because you do know what’s going on. (Senior Officer)


In addition to regular mail, in the absence of email and cell phone facilities, satellite phone calls continued to be appreciated by seafarers and their partners. Whilst acknowledged as expensive, for those seafarers working deep sea and without access to email, the satellite phone could provide a vital link with home. As one seafarer recalled:

I used to have like 5 minutes every week on a Sunday to my wife on a Sat. phone.Which 5 minutes it sounds crap don’t it, sounds lousy, sounds like what’s 5 minutes?[….] 5 minutes was like priceless, it was like a diamond 5 minutes ‘everything alright?’ ‘Fine’. ‘Kids OK?’ ‘Yeah great’.‘House not on fire?’ ‘No.’ ‘Fine, ta ra bye’, bang that was it. […] that was like the best tenner I spent that week. So yeah you’ve got that kind of thing which can sort of bridge a gap you know, put a bridge across things. (Senior Officer)

Problems
Whilst in general opportunities to communicate were viewed very positively, such communication could also be problematic - seafarers talk about coping with the life aboard and separated from their families by ‘switching off from home’ and more frequent communication disallowed this.

In particular seafarers may talk about the frustration and angst they felt hearing about difficulties at home, that, whilst at sea, they were powerless to address. As seafarers commented:
• a wonderful way, but it does mean that you know about problems at home all the time. It’s harder to switch off to it. (Senior Officer) • You have to switch yourself off sometimes. That’s a conscious thing. I mean while it’s easy to switch yourself off, conversely it’s easier nowadays to have communications with home through the satellite telephone, even your mobile phone if you’re around the coast, and that can switch you back on again, if you’re not careful. (Senior Officer) • I can’t get to sleep. Mind just wracks, just thinking just goes into over drive doesn’t it about home and stuff like that. Thinking about things you actually talked about and I think it’s just thinking more of home and then it wears off and wears off, that never wears off thinking of home but it peaks after you just come off the phone, and then wonder how everybody is and then it goes down a bit until you get into your work.(Junior Officer) Similarly, a small number of both seafarers and wives may tell that, telephone communication in particular, could be emotionally upsetting due to the fact that it made them miss their partner all the more. In addition, perhaps due to their very importance and value to couples, much anticipated calls were susceptible misunderstanding and disappointment. As one wife explained: To be honest I don’t really like the phone calls. Sometimes I come off the phone and I feel loads better and happy that I talked to him. Sometimes I come off and think I wish he hadn’t phoned, I think it can really unsettle me. […] He’ll go, ‘you don’t sound very enthusiastic’ and I think ‘oh no! I wanted to speak to him so much and now he’s rang it’s just like we’ve fallen out or been a bit niggly with each other’. Yet other times he can ring it’s like really nice, it’s not hard work, where at other times it can be and I don’t like that. (Wife of Junior Officer) However, these problems do not appear to outweigh the benefits and value of regular communication between couples. Cost of communication Access to telecommunication can vary according to rank and indeed use of such facilities will be variable simply due to the constraints of cost. One may find couples who are were fortunate in that the seafarers held senior ranks and had access to shipboard telecommunication facilities (such as email) and salaries that allowed the financial costs associated with communication to be less than prohibitive. However this may not be the case for seafarers of different ranks and nationalities. However cost is still relevant and satellite phone calls often restricts to special occasions (such as festivals or birthdays) or emergencies. As one seafarer’s wife explained the circumstances when she and her husband would use the ship’s the satellite phone: If it’s been a bad day or Christmas or something special but apart from that no. Cos it is very expensive, and once you’re on the phone you can’t just stay on a few minutes you know. Phone and talk, talk. If you’ve not heard from him for little while, you know to phone for a few minutes it’s very hard to say ‘right OK, better get off the phone’,you just can’t do that so of course there’s that. (Wife of Junior Officer) Whilst couples often disregard the expense of communication in order to have some contact with each other, the financial costs nevertheless often restricts length or frequency of communication. Access to cheaper (or free) communication is frequently mentioned as a means of improving the welfare of seafaring families and reducing the negative effects of a seafaring lifestyle on family life.[Email is] a wonderful way, but it does mean that you know about problems at home all the time. It’s harder to switch off to it. (Senior Officer)
• You have to switch yourself off sometimes. That’s a conscious thing. I mean while it’s easy to switch yourself off, conversely it’s easier nowadays to have communications with home through the satellite telephone, even your mobile phone if you’re around the coast, and that can switch you back on again, if you’re not careful. (Senior Officer)
• I can’t get to sleep. Mind just wracks, just thinking just goes into over drive doesn’t it about home and stuff like that. Thinking about things you actually talked about and I think it’s just thinking more of home and then it wears off and wears off, that never wears off thinking of home but it peaks after you just come off the phone, and then wonder how everybody is and then it goes down a bit until you get into your work.(Junior Officer)

Similarly, a small number of both seafarers and wives may tell that, telephone communication in particular, could be emotionally upsetting due to the fact that it made them miss their partner all the more. In addition, perhaps due to their very importance and value to couples, much anticipated calls were susceptible misunderstanding and disappointment. As one wife explained:

To be honest I don’t really like the phone calls. Sometimes I come off the phone and I feel loads better and happy that I talked to him. Sometimes I come off and think I wish he hadn’t phoned, I think it can really unsettle me. […] He’ll go, ‘you don’t sound very enthusiastic’ and I think ‘oh no! I wanted to speak to him so much and now he’s rang it’s just like we’ve fallen out or been a bit niggly with each other’. Yet other times he can ring it’s like really nice, it’s not hard work, where at other times it can be and I don’t like that. (Wife of Junior Officer)

However, these problems do not appear to outweigh the benefits and value of regular communication between couples.

Cost of communication

Access to telecommunication can vary according to rank and indeed use of such facilities will be variable simply due to the constraints of cost. One may find couples who are were fortunate in that the seafarers held senior ranks and had access to shipboard telecommunication facilities (such as email) and salaries that allowed the financial costs associated with communication to be less than prohibitive.

However this may not be the case for seafarers of different ranks and nationalities. However cost is still relevant and satellite phone calls often restricts to special occasions (such as festivals or birthdays) or emergencies. As one seafarer’s wife explained the circumstances when she and her husband would use the ship’s the satellite phone:

If it’s been a bad day or Christmas or something special but apart from that no. Cos it is very expensive, and once you’re on the phone you can’t just stay on a few minutes you know. Phone and talk, talk. If you’ve not heard from him for little while, you know to phone for a few minutes it’s very hard to say ‘right OK, better get off the phone’,you just can’t do that so of course there’s that. (Wife of Junior Officer)


Whilst couples often disregard the expense of communication in order to have some contact with each other, the financial costs nevertheless often restricts length or frequency of communication. Access to cheaper (or free) communication is frequently mentioned as a means of improving the welfare of seafaring families and reducing the negative effects of a seafaring lifestyle on family life.
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Seafaring and Family life - Issue of Social Isolation in the carrier of Seafaring 16 Nov 2015 10:59 #4435

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An important issue that we have often heard being repeated by seafarers is the sense of social isolation that they feel in all walks of life. As a padre in charge of a Seaman’s Mission remarked:

“A seafarer is a peculiar animal. He is a stranger when he comes ashore and is the odd man out in almost any situation. We cater for the loneliness of the seafarer - that might sum the whole thing up. When you come home you stick out like a sore thumb - the world has gone on without you and it is not going to stop to fit you into it. Often this is part of the loneliness of seafarers. A man goes to sea; he begins to look forward to coming home. He begins to wish his time away at sea, that’s a dangerous thing for a man to do. He is in danger of losing his soul, I would say - his sense of being. He comes ashore and its fiesta time for him and nobody else. All too often the leave you look forward to falls flat on its face.”

Here we will consider the impact of the seafarers’ work pattern on their social isolation and integration both on board and ashore. It will go on to explore the experiences of seafarers’ wives, considering their friendship and support networks and the effect of an intermittent partner on their own social participation and inclusion. Finally we will consider the significance of the couple relationship as a source of social, emotional and practical support.

Social Isolation aboard Ship

Historically seafarers have been known to have a workplace culture which promotes relationships with strong sense of solidarity: the very term ‘comradeship’ is said to originate in the Spanish word ‘camaradas’, referring to the shared sleeping ‘chamber’ of the Spanish mariners of the sixteenth century who survived their epic voyages, if at all, thanks to the mutual aid of their fellows.

However, reduced crewing levels, fast turn-around times, increased automation and increased working hours have resulted in much diminished onboard relationships and have led to subsequent concerns about social isolation whilst at sea.

In the context of an occupation where individuals are isolated from outside social networks, often for significant periods of time, such work-based relationships may be of considerable importance.

Good social relationships with other crew members are, of course, important contributory factors to a seafarer’s experience of that particular tour of duty. Seafarers are not only dependent on their colleagues for the successful running of the workplace and work-related task completion, but they are also reliant on them for company and companionship during leisure hours.

However the consequences of such relationships may also be more wide reaching than whether a trip is relatively pleasurable. Social networks have been found to be important to emotional and physical health. Indeed, strong family relationships and close social bonds can be very protective of health and social support can be an important coping resource for people experiencing stressful life events.

But while speaking with the seafarers we have come across little evidence to suggest that close relationships existed aboard ships or that ship board relationships are sufficiently strong enough to be maintained beyond the tour of duty. When talking about their relationships with the other seafarers aboard ship it is clear those are usually seen as confined to working rather than close personal relationships.

During a conversation with a Junior Officer he said, “These are just people you happen to...nine out of ten you wouldn’t speak to them in the street or even have a drink with them, well a lot of them.”

Another Junior Officer explains, “It’s not, you know them but you don’t really know them. Know what I’m getting at? You don’t know, you’re just having a onboard. . - Like work colleagues innit and that’s the only interests you have basically, and that’s it. You have nothing doing with them out of your work basically it’s like any job innit? Unless there’s a couple that are really on the same wavelength as yourself.”

Sometimes relationships of more depth develop, usually when seafarers sail with the same people for more than one trip, thus allowing the time and continuity for closer relationships to be established and maintained.

Occasionally seafarers will report ‘hitting it off’ with someone they were sailing with, however instances of this appeared few and far between. Crewing strategies, which often resulted in seafarers routinely sailing on different vessels with different crews, and reduced crewing levels, reflected in single person tasking, all appear to impede and restrict the development on onboard friendships and social relationships.

Several seafarers tell about the isolation that they feel which characterises their trips. This is perhaps felt most acutely by captains who felt that their position and responsibilities necessitated social distance and prohibited close social relationships with other crewmembers. As one Captain commented, “You can’t afford to have any kind of relationship that will affect your position, even though it’s a small ship you’ve still got to have some semblance of authority.”

The inadequacy of such relationships may be particularly stark at times of emotional stress and crisis. Research has shown that being at sea when there is illness in the family is associated with increased levels of occupational stress.

Indeed, it is common experience of having to deal with an emotionally traumatic event whilst physically separated from the home and family. Some such events may be considered to be a ‘normal’ part of the lifecycle. Stressful life events reported by seafarers included occurrences such as the death of a parent, the life threatening illness of a spouse, marital breakdown and divorce, and death of a child.

In such times of crisis it is usual to utilise existing social networks for support. Such support resources may be crucial to effective coping.

However such resources are not readily accessible to seafarers. It is true that many companies will endeavour to repatriate seafarers in family emergencies however once the initial ‘crisis’ has passed seafarers may be expected to return to work, whilst their needs for emotional support may be on-going. At such times contact with home may be vital. However, communication home may be variable, dependent on company, ship and route and may often be limited due to.

In these situations seafarers may be reliant on their fellow crewmembers for social support. The data from this study shows that the ship may be at best unreceptive and at worst hostile to such emotional needs.

Seafarers’ accounts suggested that seafarers could experience their tours of duty as emotionally isolated and in the event of emotional stress, problems were internalised as seafarers attempted to cope with personal difficulties alone. As one seafarer with many years sea experience commented:
“I’ve never heard anybody, you know, talking about, particularly personal, emotional problems no, not really, I don’t think it’s . . .it’s not something you expect to happen on ship life. I think we all tend to be pretty isolated. Individually I mean - on the ships.”

Whilst personal problems and emotional ‘stressors’ may be internalised, their consequences could still be manifest, as one seafarer recalled, “Another guy actually comes to mind he’s another engineer, he was just really obnoxious and nasty to everyone for quite a while and then we sort of found out that, he got violent one night with the second mate after a night on the piss in a port, but we found afterwards that was because his missus was sort of carrying on behind his back you know, and he didn’t talk about it at all until, ‘that bitch I’ve divorced her’ that sort of thing. So yeah, but I mean that was the way that guy reacted you know he didn’t tell anyone at all he was just like sort of miserable and sort of horrible.”

Personal problems did not appear to be an accepted part of shipboard discourse. Shipboard culture seemed to reflect the belief that one’s problems should be kept to oneself. Unwelcome disclosure could occasionally be met with impatience, indifference, discomfort and occasionally hostility, as the following quotes illustrate:

• You occasionally get these people who have two beers and you sometimes find that quite embarrassing, especially the problem concerns his wife and his wife is due to come out to the ship.

• I think the depression is something you just tend to hold onto yourself, you don’t talk about it, I mean if you’ve got a problem with your marriage you don’t want to be telling everybody and then they’re going to get fed up with hearing about it. I mean because you do get people who are kind of, I remember years ago a guy got divorced and he used to go on and on about it, in the end people used to say ‘shut up will you!’. And if he’d be talking about something he’d say ‘so and so’ and you’d say ‘you’re only saying that because you just got divorced yourself’, and you know, you got fed up with hearing about it.

Such periods of relationship breakdowns are examples of emotional stress and a time when one may wish to draw on others for support and comfort. However the response to a ‘Dear John’ letter was a situation cited by some British officers as an example of shipboard reaction to the emotional problems of colleagues, “One guy in port came in the bar ‘just had a letter from my wife she’s filed for divorce moving out the house’. So at sea you know, you just mention it and just put it on the dart board, that’s what everybody does, you know put it on the dart board and everybody throws a dart at it - ‘A Dear John’.

Seafarers attribute the avoidance of ‘emotional talk’ or deep conversation to concerns about confidentiality, or not wishing to ‘bring anyone else down’.

Captains do tell about the responsibility and social distance necessitated by their position, prohibiting emotional disclosure (No Kinship in Kingship). However the pressures of managing emotional problems without access to social support networks may have severe consequences: two of the fifteen seafarers in a study had contemplated suicide whilst on board due to relationship problems and three reported feeling sufficiently concerned about their psychological well-being to seek professional help once ashore.

Research suggests that male friendships are often devoid of emotional disclosures and empathetic support and more usually based more on leisure activities. Thus the tendency of the seafarers to contain their emotional needs and react with discomfort to the emotional disclosures of others may be simply a reflection of male culture as a whole, rather than specific to seafaring culture.

Seafarers are in the unusual situation of being confined to the shipboard social environment, (often for long periods), with little access to other social groups and relationship networks. Thus whereas an individual in a shore-based occupation may receive little support from work friends or colleagues in times of emotional stress or upheaval, they may still have access to alternative social networks of friends, relatives or partners who will meet such needs. Away on a tour of duty, seafarers do not have this opportunity. Whilst the mental health of seafarers is drastically under-researched, the significant proportion of deaths at sea that are attributable to suicide suggests that concerns about seafarers’ emotional well-being and isolation from social support networks whilst at sea may not be unfounded.

Seafarers’ Social Isolation at Home

Whilst occupational factors may make it difficult for seafarers to develop and maintain relationships with fellow seafarers whilst at sea, seafarers also spend significant periods ashore and thus, theoretically, have the opportunity to establish shore-based friendships and relationships which may, to some extent, compensate for the inadequacy of those aboard ship.

However, in addition to transient and work-centred shipboard relationships, the data suggests that seafarers might also have limited shore-side relationships. This is perhaps not surprising given that the main cause of decline in friendship relationships can be attributed to the geographical separation.

Indeed majority of seafarers feel it is very difficult to maintain friendships when their occupation necessitated them being absent from home for long periods. As one seafarer explained, “I’ve never been here so you know, I don’t . . . I couldn’t say that I was very close friends with anybody particularly, we have plenty of friends and you know we’ve got chums. But, you know with a seafaring life you are here today and gone tomorrow. You are not a sort of permanent character in the, in the scenario”. (Senior Officer)

The only seafarer who reported in the study of having a group of close friends was based in a small community where he had lived for over 20 years and was able to maintain telephone contact with his friends whilst away due to a considerable company subsidy on ship-shore telephone communication.

Another seafarer reported maintaining a close relationship with his best friend from school. Other seafarers talked about shore-side acquaintances with whom they might go out for a drink, but did not feel these could be described as friends with whom they were close.

One may say that several seafarers relied on their wife’s social networks as a basis of friendship and social contacts. The importance of a partner in order to integrate life at sea and shore-based social and family networks is not a new phenomenon. Fricke in his research with seafarers in the 1970’s notes how ‘. . . the wife provides the vicarious link with society ashore for the married officer through the provision of home and a network of friends. The reliance on female partners to maintain extended support networks is not restricted to seafaring families. However due to their limited opportunities to form and maintain relationships both at sea, in the workplace and also ashore, for seafarers, such dependency may be amplified.

As such friendship networks are not self-selected; they may not always be satisfactory. As two seafarers commented:

• We tend not to go out so much and mix with other people. If you do mix with people they’ll be your wife’s friends and you may not particularly like their husbands, so you know. (Senior Officer)

• I know the husbands through the wives she knows, and I’m not close, not as close as she is to her crew who work in the town and all that so. But yes […] I wouldn’t say a great many friends. (Junior Officer)

Such social isolation is also reflected in seafarers’ choice of leisure activities whilst ashore. The majority of seafarers have activities that are centred almost wholly around couple and immediate family relationships and home-based activities.

Where many seafarers have different hobbies, these again, were almost exclusively those that could be pursued alone: cycling, exploring the internet, golf, fishing and motor cycling being typical

Seafarers do report low use of clubs available to them in the community. This is attributed to the reduced value for money: seafarers were reluctant to pay annual membership fees for something they may only be able to utilise for six months of the year or less. Reluctance to become involved in group activities and organisations outside the home also reflects seafarers’ perceptions of their partner’s and family’s intolerance to their intermittent absences. Separated from their families for long periods, some seafarers express difficulties justifying and negotiating their absence to pursue their own interests. As one seafarer commented, “Family life takes so much of your time, I’d love to go and play golf. But I can’t justify the time away.”

Do you think it’s harder for seafarers to go and play golf than, say, an office worker?

Oh yeah.

Why do you think that is?

Because his wife’s said to him, ‘look you spend half your life away, you’re not spending the other half on the golf course’. (Senior Officer)

This would be reiterated by some of the accounts of seafarers’ partners. As one seafarer’s wife explained, “We always spend a lot of time together when he’s home and I think if he’d have been the type that sort of go off out - I mean when he first started the job yeah he use to come home and all his mates would phone him up ‘oh you coming down the pub?’, ‘yeah alright I’ll be down’, I used to say to him ‘what about me? I haven’t seen you for 3-4 months, you go off out with your mates’ and then one day he said ‘you’re right I married you, I’m not married to them’.”

Seafarers also feel that their inability to attend clubs regularly prohibited their participation whilst ashore. Those who do attend clubs may talk about the frustration associated with their sporadic attendance:

• It’s the same now again. I get depressed and I’m going to go shore side and give up the sea because, it’s like I do a lot of scuba diving and I used to play a lot of Squash and you can’t get involved in clubs either. You know you come home, I’m involved with 2diving clubs but you come home you do your bit and then you go away and they’re arranging diving sort of weekends and a week away here, and you can’t get involved because you’re away. And because your only home for 6 weeks that’s only 6 club nights, that’s very difficult you know. So now and again I go through depressed stage when I’m giving it all up and coming home to work. (Senior Officer)

• I’ve often wanted to take up a martial art, always but never, perhaps I could have done, I feel you need to be in a position to attend a course weekly and you can’t do that at sea so that’s always been a drawback. (Senior Officer)

Thus, seafarers’ accounts suggested that just as they may be socially isolated at sea, so seafarers may also find themselves isolated whilst at home.

Their intermittent absence prevents the development and maintenance of close friendship relationships and hinders their involvement in community-based clubs and activities which require continuous attendance and participation over time. Just as seafarers learn to become self-sufficient whilst at sea, so too, they learn to pursue solo and family-based activities whilst ashore.

Such an absence of social support networks and community engagement is likely to affect seafarers’ quality of life and may also impact on their health status. Many studies have found evidence to support the positive association between social support systems and levels of well-being. Indeed it is argued that ‘social capital’, that is, social support and engagement in activities and the resultant social cohesion, is an important factor in promoting health and preventing disease. In the absence of such
‘Social Capital’ seafarer’s health may be particularly vulnerable.

Social Isolation of Seafarers’ Partners

The seafarers’ partners are not subject to the same intermittent absence from home as their husbands, unless of course, they decide to sail with their husbands on a regular basis. It may be reasonable to assume that their opportunities for the development and maintenance of friendships and social networks are similar to that of women in non-seafaring relationships.

But, when asked about their leisure activities, similar to their partners, seafarers’ wives may talk about home and family-based activities and those that could be pursued alone, such as gardening, watching television and reading.

Three of the women in the study, reported belonging to clubs which were for their own pleasure or benefit, (aerobics, dance class and gym). These women were similar in that they did not have any dependent children living at home. Participation in paid employment can be mentioned by many women as an important opportunity for social contact and as a means to avoid loneliness and isolation One of the wives explained, “I work at the school and the girls I work with they’re all friends and we go out and I’m quite involved with the school I help in the school and that sort of thing so, I suppose I think if I wasn’t working I’d be very lonely yeah.” (Wife of Senior Officer)

One factor that appears to have a considerable impact on women’s experience of social isolation while their husband is away was the presence of children in the home. Many women in society find their social lives outside the home restricted and confined by the needs and demands of their children.

Seafarers’ wives are often temporary ‘single parents’, taking on childcare responsibilities without a partner present to ease and share the associated tasks and demands. In some cases, the need to care for children without a partner at home appeared to severely restrict women’s opportunities to socialise outside the home and many women would talk about the particularly acute sense of loneliness and isolation they feel when their children are very young.

Whilst very young children and babies could leave women feeling very lonely and ‘tied’ to the home, as children grew older this effect appears to be reversed. School, and sometimes church/social circle-based, activities with the children provides a source of social contact and a means of being introduced to and developing further friendship networks.

Indeed, several of the women are involved in voluntary activities outside the home and these activities are almost exclusively child-centred, for example, assisting in ‘Rainbows’ or ‘Brownies’, acting as teaching assistants or helping out in school-based activities and events.

Older women and those whose children had left home are sometimes involved in church-based or other voluntary activities. All these activities had the benefit of integrating women into the community and allowing them social contact and opportunities for establishing social networks and friendships.

There are a number of factors that appeared to impact on women’s choices to become involved in social activities outside the home. For those women with dependent children, the financial costs associated with childcare often influenced women’s decisions on their social life while their partner is away.

As two women commented:
• You’re not going out a lot because you’ve got the children and you need baby sitters and everything. (Wife of Senior Officer)
• It costs a lot of money to enjoy by yourself. (Wife of Senior Officer)

As is reflected in the general population, women often do not feel their own leisure time to be sufficiently important to justify the cost of paid childcare. In some cases, it appeared that women felt that putting their own needs before their children’s conflicted with their own ideologies about what it is to be a ‘good mother’.

Those women with close extended family in geographical proximately may fare better than those who do not have family close by, as they are able to use extended family networks as a resource and support network, providing a place to go for company and a means of unpaid childcare. Those women who could drive or have access to a car, also appears to be less likely to feel socially isolated than those who are reliant on public transport to get around.

In addition to the costs of childcare, their temporally ‘single status’ whilst their husband is away appeared to make some women reluctant to socialise outside the home and family. Previous research with American military wives identified problems as women were married yet without husbands, leaving them unable to fit in with either married couples or single friends.

“Women without partners are not always welcomed in social situations”. Indeed this is reflected by the accounts of seafarers’ wives, some of whom talked about the discomfort they felt in social situations they attended without their husbands, fearing the unwanted attention of men who may perceive them as ‘single’ (and therefore ‘available’), being seen as ‘sexual predators by partnered women and feeling ‘the odd one out’ when they socialised alone with other couples. One seafarer’s wife described how she felt attending a social event without her husband, “I went to somebody’s wedding reception which was one of the mothers up at school, and the whole crowd of the mothers and fathers went to this wedding reception and [my husband] was away so I thought ‘well I’m still gonna go’ and I didn’t care about whether I was on my own because there was a whole crowd going together. But I sort of feel, how can I put it, that the other women will say ‘oh look at her on her own, don’t want her talking to my husband’ sort of thing, do you know what I mean? (Wife of Senior Officer)

However, despite such restrictions on external social activities, relationships may be sustained in the private arena of the home. Research with women has highlighted the importance of female friendship, which may be close and involve disclosure, empathy and confiding.

The seafarers’ partners, when asked about their social networks and sources of social, practical and emotional support. In response to questions about practical assistance whilst their husband was at sea (for example, with household problems such as plumbing failure), most women reported friends or extended family to whom they could turn for help and advice. Many women also felt able to deal with such problems alone. This is particularly the case for those women whose husbands had been in the merchant navy for a number of years. However when asked about emotional support what was perhaps particularly striking for several of the women was the apparent lack of any social support they felt they could draw on in times of emotional need: just under half of the seafarers’ wives reported that they would turn to no-one and rely on themselves only. The following quote illustrates the belief in self-sufficiency of many seafarers’ wives:

What about if you felt emotionally you know just down? You know, you talked about feeling lonely, who would you tend to turn to then?

Well I wouldn’t because I’m that sort of person, it’s like pull yourself together I think. I think in a way you’re sort of admitting to it, instead of being positive and getting on with it. (Wife of Senior Officer)

This is unusual as the literature suggests that women’s friendships are important and usually contain a high level of confiding. Women do talk about having friends, but these do not often appear to go beyond a surface level and support from extended family appears to be largely limited to practical (as opposed to emotional) support. It is difficult to determine the reasons for this apparent absence of close, confiding relationships for many seafarers’ wives. However, it is possible that this absence may be the result of their lifestyle as part of a seafaring family. Many seafarers’ wives, particularly those with young children, reported feeling exhausted managing the home and family while their partner was away at sea. In this context, they may have felt unwilling to deal with the extra efforts associated with maintaining close friendship networks. The intermittent presence of the husband in the home could also have impacted on the ability and desire to pursue close friendships.

Previous research has found that the wives of unemployed men find their husband’s constant presence in the home as detrimental to close friendships, their husbands both resenting friends visiting the household and also resenting them leaving the home to visit friends. Thus the relatively long leave periods where seafarers are home based may impede the continuation of friendships. Furthermore, women themselves may also be reluctant to develop friendships that may put unwanted demands on their time when their husband is home.

After long separations, such time together can be regarded as very precious. As one seafarers’ wife explained, “When we moved we really conscious of not getting too friendly with neighbours, it’s just the time is not your own. It’s very precious when I do get him home and you wanna make the most of it so you don’t want people intruding on your [time together]”. (Wife of Senior Officer)

A further possible explanation of women’s apparent lack of close friendships related to their sense of being ‘set apart’ from women married to shore-based workers. Being married to a seafarer necessitated a certain lifestyle and brought with it specific problems which women sometimes felt were difficult for others to understand. As two wives explained:

• Nobody understands what you’re going through and how you feel, and you feel like an odd ball, you know, you don’t fit in to the rest of the community because your husband doesn’t work 9 till 5 and you can’t go down the pub every Friday night and do that sort of thing. You haven’t got a normal life, well what they call a normal life style. (Wife of Senior Officer)
• I am actually upset even though I don’t sit and cry about it, I do actually get upset about [him] being away and being on my own I do get lonely. But I think that they just see me as ‘oh [she] just gets on with it’. But I’ve only myself to blame because that’s the way I suppose I want them to be, but then sometimes I think I wish they could just see it as it really was. (Wife of Junior Officer)

The data from the studies done suggests that the disappearance of the link between occupation and community (including the disappearance of traditional ‘sailor towns’) had negative repercussions, withdrawing an important source of social support in the form of ‘the neighbourhood’.

Modern day seafarer’s women lives in geographically disparate regions, and only few of which would have a strong seafaring community. Although few women may be say that they are aware of other seafarer’s wives in their area, but fewer would report to having a close friendship with another seafarer’s wife living locally.

Several women may talk about how much they would welcome the opportunity to meet with other seafarers’ partners who would have an understanding of the unique way of life necessitated by being married to a seafarer. Having a close confiding relationship either with a friend or with a partner has been found to be strongly inversely linked to the presence of affective disorders thus the absence of such relationships for seafarers wives may have a detrimental effect, not just on women’s general well-being, but also on their emotional health.

Intensity of Couple Relationship

In contemporary society it is suggested that needs for emotional intimacy and support are satisfied by couple relationships. Indeed, it is often argued that ‘the increasing complexity of modern life leads individuals of both sexes to place greater emphasis on intimate and loving relationships as a ‘haven in a heartless world’’.

Upon entering a committed couple relationship outside sources of support and intimacy are disregarded. The data from the studies suggests that the combination of factors that impede the development and maintenance of seafarers’ friendships both at sea and ashore may lead to an increased dependency on their wife or partner for intimacy and emotional support.

If you ask them about who they would turn to if they felt down, nearly all seafarers would said they would turn to their partner. In over half of the cases their wife is the only person they felt they could turn to. This is often regardless of the nature of the problem (professional or personal) and whether the problem occurred whilst at sea or at home ashore. The following quotes illustrate the importance of seafarers’ partners as a source of support to their husbands:

• I had always assumed that part of the reason for being married is that you have that someone to talk to. I think if you have emotional problems or some kind of thing that is bothering between the two of you that’s what you’re there for. I don’t think you would turn to anybody else. If you haven’t got a wife or a husband then maybe you do have to think of someone to talk to but otherwise I don’t really see. (Senior Officer)
• I’d talk to her, that’s why I get £4000 phone bills. Yeah there’s nothing my wife don’t know. I can talk to her about anything, I mean physically [sic] anything, I mean if you can’t talk to your partner who you gonna talk to anyway? (Senior Officer)
• Well if you have problems you sort of discuss them with your missus. (Senior Officer)
• If something was worrying me, say something is wrong, I get on the phone I would, that would make it a lot easier. I would get on the phone straight away. (Senior Officer)
• No it’s hard cos sometimes I’ve felt really stressed out at times and she’ll just be really supportive on the phone and you know she’s got her problems at home but she won’t let me worry about it. You know if there are problems she won’t tell me about them. And then I’ll phone up and give her all my problems as well, [she’s] very supportive.(Junior Officer)

Where seafarers turn to individuals other than their partner this would be either another family member (mother or brother) or long-standing friends. However, dependence on their partner for social and emotional support is considerable and often exclusive.

The accounts of women will show that this support involved a conscious effort on their part. Indeed, it appears that women engaged in considerable amounts of ‘emotion work’ in order to protect their partner’s wellbeing. They are the recipients of their partners’ problems both when they were ashore and at sea, providing emotional support and comfort for personal and professional problems alike. Women also make considerable efforts to protect their partners from news or events that might induce negative emotions or feelings. This ‘emotional labour’ manifested itself in women’s discussions about communication with their partner whilst he was away at sea.

Women are anxious not to give their partners cause for concern, particularly whilst they were away and hence often relatively powerless to help. As the wife of a Senior Officer said, “He’ll have enough worries too handle without a moaning wife at home or the little wife that can’t cope”.

In order to protect their partner from unnecessary distress, women often manage information whilst their husbands are away. For example, one woman talked about a time when their home had been broken into whilst her partner was at sea. She waited until all the consequences had been addressed and the crisis had passed before she contacted her husband to let him know what had happened. She recalled, “So I got everything sorted so it was fine, you have to tell [him], it’s not something you can keep from him for 4 months but it’s always I feel there’s no point in panicking him. There’s nothing he can do about it so deal with it and then tell him ‘it’s all sorted, everything’s fine’, and that’s OK.”

The imbalance of emotion work in relationships is well documented. Where as a man, almost exclusively, turns to their female partner for emotional support, this form of support do not appear to be expected in return from women. When been asked about who they would turn to when they felt emotionally low, less than a quarter of the seafarers’ wives said that they would turn to their husband

Such emotional labour was not apparent in the case of the husband. As noted earlier, seafarers’ wives are often socially isolated, but in many cases they do not feel that they could turn to their husband for support. However seafarers’ are very dependent on their partners to provide emotional support and maintain social networks. Such dependence could leave seafarers particularly vulnerable should the relationship breakdown.
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Seafaring and Family life 07 Jul 2016 03:00 #4578

  • DR. CHANDRAN PEECHULLI
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It is a professional sacrifice owing to mobility of service which carries professional sacrifice and risks who make the WORLD TRADE active.
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