Due to long separation from their social environment, the high job demands and the long-lasting unity of occupational and leisure time area at sea compensation time and sufficient recreation possibilities on board are important for the seafarers’ well-being on board. In recent years, ship terminals have been relocated away from city centers and the cargo handling becomes automated and more efficiently resulting in short port stay (7). Nowadays, it is often difficult to have an access to places ashore for relaxation, amusement, friendship and/ or exercise. Thus it is a challenge for the shipping companies, the ship-masters as well as the seafarers themselves to organize the leisure time possibilities, especially the physical activities, social events and other sources of recreation such as library and films. In the ports, welfare facilities and services should be provided by public authorities, ship owners’ and seafarers’ organizations concerned under collective agreements or other agreed arrangements and voluntary organizations (Maritime Labour Convention 2006).
The often restricted leisure time facilities on vessels lead to a lack of exercise and a un- healthy lifestyle. High nicotine or alcohol consumptions are common and may be interpreted as a consequence of missing leisure time facilities aboard and the seamen’ work-related stress (8,9,10).
The International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare recognized the importance of unhealthy lifestyle factors among seafarers and launches the project FIT ON BOARD as one of the topics of the already mentioned Seafarers’ Health Information Program, sponsored by the ITF Seafarers' Trust. For health promotion at sea a manual of onboard exercises (Fit on board; ICSW) was drawn out to help the ship management to promote fitness activities on board. This manual which is available for each seaman at no charge provides worthwhile information for example about several exercises for training with a Dyna band or risks during exercise performance (e.g. in patients with hypertension or joint lesions, by wrong breathing technique).
The benefit of fitness training on board
The benefits of regular fitness training to improve or maintain the physical condition are well established. Regular, vigorous exercises contribute to a general sense of physical, psychological and social well-being. They evoke the feeling of increased energy by developing stamina and higher muscle tone and may reduce the individual risk of cardio-vascular disease. Otherwise, unused muscles become flabby with a consecutively increased risk for accidents or injuries. Especially during long, tedious voyages, seafarers are often subjected to monotone job-related activities leading to an under-challenge of some of their muscles.
Vigorous physical activity may also increase alertness on the job and promotes good sleep. Additionally, it seems that fitness training combined with other times cues such as exposure to light or timing of meals may help to shift circadian rhythm forward or backward to a new work schedule (11,12). This can be beneficial for seamen if they have to sleep earlier, e.g. in case of an east-west voyage (13).
Sport does not only improve health but, due to social interaction, it also encourages team-building. This gain high importance on vessels since isolation often occurs among heterogeneous crews due to communication problems.
Fitness program on board
The crew should be encouraged to spend at least 40 minutes every day with physical activities. A specific fitness plan and the level of exertion depend on the individual condition which can be assessed by measuring the heart rate at rest (Guidelines for Fitness onboard Merchant Ships, ICSW). In general, the exercise should raise the heart rate to three-quarters of the seafarer’s maximum heart rate (calculated by deducing the individual age from 220). Over-training should be avoided because fitness training (in contrast to power training) aims to maintain an aerobic endurance and to gradually improve strength and flexibility. During exertion each of the large muscle groups should be trained.
At the beginning of a fitness training the inexperienced seafarers should define their individual goals and develop a concrete fitness plan (preferably under supervision of a professional trainer) about kind, frequency and duration of training sessions, also to ensure a control and continuity of their physical exercises. The training goals have to be realistic and challenging but achievable (to avoid frustration). Further, the goals should be measurable (e.g. by change in heart rate or weight) since training success as a strong motivator to continue the program becomes apparent. Also the fitness program should be divided into short-term goals to have realistic expectations and an early success.
To prevent injuries during exercise each training session should be started with 10-15 minutes of warming-up with rhythmic movements and slow, continuous stretches. After a subsequent training unit for at least 20 minutes (taking into account the individual target area for heart rate) the fitness program should be finished with cooling-down with reduced exertion for a few minutes.
As vigorous exercise is a high strain the body needs subsequent appropriate rest periods to compensate for the effort. The fitness activities may also not be complicated to prepare and should be linked with breaks and meals. Since the recreation time in seafaring is often limited, especially on board of feeder-ships with national shipping routes, the time for physical activity needs to be organized and has to fit in with the daily work schedules onboard.
For successful implementation of fitness on board a positive attitude of the shipping company towards fitness training is necessary and becomes apparent e.g. by providing well-equipped fitness rooms. Although several shipping companies have already improved the shipboard exercise possibilities in the last years there are still a lot of vessels without sufficient or suitable accommodation. A well-equipped fitness room or gym should contain cardio-training equipment such as treadmills, steppers, rowing machines or bicycles. Also weight benches or balls are often used in fitness rooms. For measuring the fitness success a balance, weight scales, heart rate monitors, stopwatches and measuring tapes should be available. Thus, seafarers can repeatedly record their personal biometric or exercise parameters to control the development in the course of time. Also music, positive pictures, sufficient lighting and a view outside the exercise room may raise the motivation for fitness activities. The ICSW offers for example 3 different posters which encourage seafarers to do sports.
If no exercise rooms are available on board the seafarers have to improvise; they can do e.g. sit-ups, press-ups and stretching exercises or use available Fitness Packs (for example containing a pedometer, a stress ball and a Dyna band). It is possible to exercise anywhere onboard, even in the own cabin. Also the seafarer should be encouraged to walk on board and to use the staircases instead of the elevator. But the seamen have to be aware that the deck and floors are not sprung at all so that they are at risk to damage their ankles and calves if no cushioned support is used during the exercises.
It is often demanding to motivate seafarers to do enough sports. Many of them may be convicted that their job-associated physical exertions are sufficient enough to maintain a good and balanced physical condition. But this is likely not true for the majority of the crew. Motivation for sports requires that the seamen enjoy the physical activities on board. This may be achieved as a joint group process. Especially the captain and the officers should take part in the fitness program by example. It is beneficial if the ship’s master encourages shipboard exercise and sport events. Also it is advantageous to link the sport events to a company policy on health and sport in order to highlight the importance of these activities.
Exercise in groups is often more enjoyable and the seamen can stimulate each other. Further, seafarers can help each other with muscle building exercises. Organized sport events or competitions on the ships highly motivate for exercises as the seamen or groups of them can pit their strength each other. Especially the offer of incentives and prices for participation and organization of competitions carried out on several vessels raise the motivation to do sports. The publication of the sport events and results enhances the motivation and stimulates for higher level of exertion. Besides the health promotion, such competitions may enhance team spirit on the ships.
During their stay in the ports several seafarers visit the seafarer’s welfare facilities for exercise competitions (e.g. in football, baseball, table tennis). Also the International Sport for Seafarers (ISS) organizes sport events in ports (“Sports of the Seven Seas”; www.seafarerssport.org).
Library - films
According to the ILO Recommendation No. 173 television, radio, video and library should be provided on board ship. The video films should be available for recreational propose as well as for vocational training. Some shipping companies have made arrangements with port welfare services to make copies (of newspapers from the seafarer’s home country, libraries or video films) available on board of their ships on a regular basis. Also ship visitors and port welfare centers are able to supply local newspapers and magazines. By support of ICSW members newspapers from the home countries of many nationalities can be also organized for distribution at port welfare centers. Additionally, on-site in the welfare centers seafarers can find possibilities to exchange books and videos.
By means of modern information technology seamen should be able to access overseas news via satellite television or on the internet (provided that these techniques are available onboard). However, some seafarers still complain to have unsatisfactory possibilities to be informed on board about news of their own culture or politics because of a lack of information sources.
To assess the relevance of media on board the ICSW asked seafarers of 112 ships in 4 different ports about shipboard presence and use of video, DVD and PC (14). This survey revealed that common video recorders were found in 83% of the ships; they were installed in common places or in the cabins of the officers and crew members. About 70% of seafarers used the video recorders on a daily basis to watch movies as well as for training and infotainment. Common computers were on board of 79% of the ships, predominantly used among officers for work. Half of the investigated ships were equipped with common DVD recorders which may gradually replace the video recorder on board. The sending and receiving of personal emails were possible on 67% of the ships, and on 50% privacy of message was guaranteed.
Newspaper and magazines for general information purposes are increasingly replaced by electronic newsletter. The majority of crew members received health information during safety training, booklets and leaflets. According to the mentioned survey several information vehicles should be used to reach seafarers; very effective seems to be messages in movies and electronic newsletters.