Future life at sea: is the ship half full or half empty?

Jan 15, 2019

By Doug Stevenson, Director of SCI's Center for Seafarers’ Rights

Autonomous ships and security remain hot topics in maritime circles. While important, let’s not forget how seafarers fit into the mix. The maritime industry continuously evolves, and autonomous ships may soon appear on the horizon. Autonomous ships are not, however, going to replace seafarers anytime soon. Emerging shipping technologies, including complex vessel designs, propulsion systems, and operations will require more highly skilled seafarers who choose life at sea over competing shoreside options.

The need to attract skilled men and women for seagoing careers also counts as a maritime security concern.  Maritime security continuously addresses threats to the uninterrupted flow of commerce. Recruiting and retaining sufficient men and women with special skills to operate increasingly complicated vessels remains one of the biggest threats to the uninterrupted flow of maritime commerce that makes our way of life possible. In other words, we need to make seagoing careers more attractive options for skilled men and women.

Together, we can make seagoing careers more attractive. For example, we can provide free internet access to seafarers at sea. Today’s born-digital seafarers consider internet access to be a human right. Having access to family and friends through the internet while on long sea deployments, however, can be both a blessing and curse. Yet the benefits of keeping in seafarers in the loop back home and thereby reducing the stress of transitioning between home life and sea life far outweigh any distractions they might cause. 

Seafarers bring their humanity to work with them, including, family stressors, economic challenges, and other realities that pre-exist anything that happens in the 24/7 workplace.

Keeping seafarers connected to home by phone and social media alleviates the stresses of juggling homelife and sealife.  Emerging technologies are not limited to ship design and operation. They also must be used to make seagoing careers more attractive.