Rest & Recreation: Seafarers' Time Off and Mental Wellbeing

23 February 2023

The shipping industry plays a crucial role in the global economy, transporting goods and raw materials across the world's oceans. Seafarers are at the heart of this industry, working tirelessly to ensure that cargo is delivered safely and on time.

While much attention is paid to the technical and logistical aspects of shipping, it's also important to consider the human side of the industry. Seafarers face a unique set of challenges, including long periods away from home, isolation, and limited opportunities for leisure and recreation. This article will explore how seafarers spend their free time on board and the challenges they face in taking time off. It will also examine the importance of supporting seafarers' mental health and wellbeing and strategies for promoting a healthy work environment. By better understanding the experiences of seafarers, we can work to create a more supportive and sustainable shipping industry.

How Seafarers Spend Their Free Time Onboard

Seafarers work long hours and spend extended periods away from their families and loved ones. As a result, it's important for them to have some time to unwind and recharge their batteries. Downtime is essential for seafarers' mental and physical wellbeing, and it's also a regulatory requirement under the Maritime Labour Convention. Thanks to the MLC, since 2006, working longer than 14 hours in a single day or 72 hours in a single week is no longer allowed.

Common activities during free time

Seafarers have various ways to relax during their free time on board. Here are some common activities that seafarers engage in to pass the time:

Reading and writing

Many seafarers enjoy reading books, newspapers, or magazines during their free time. Ships are, by law, required to have a library on board. Writing letters or journaling is also a way for them to keep in touch with their loved ones and express their thoughts and feelings.

Watching movies and TV shows

Ships are equipped with TVs and media players loaded with movies and TV shows.

Playing games

Playing games such as cards, chess, video games or karaoke is a way for seafarers to socialise with their colleagues and pass the time.

Exercising and sports

Exercise is an essential part of maintaining good physical and mental health. Many seafarers engage in physical activities such as running, jogging, or weightlifting. Every ship has a gymnasium, and some ships even have facilities for basketball, ping pong, or other sports.

Socialising with fellow crew members

Seafarers spend extended periods of time in close quarters with their colleagues, and socialising is a way for them to build relationships and alleviate feelings of isolation.

Challenges in finding ways to relax on board

While there are various activities that seafarers can engage in during their free time, there are also challenges in finding ways to relax on board. Some of these challenges include limited space and resources, long working hours, and the need to be available for emergencies at all times. Additionally, seafarers may have to contend with constant noise and vibration, and often extreme weather conditions that can make it difficult to rest and relax.

Vacation Time for Seafarers

Seafarers work on a rotational basis, typically serving on board for several months at a time before being given a period of leave, known as off-rotation time. During this time, seafarers are free to return home or take a break before returning to their duties on board. Off-rotation time is an important aspect of a seafarer's life as it provides a much-needed break from the demanding and often stressful work environment of the ship. Some modern companies offer generous off-rotation time for their crews, in time-for-time arrangements (ex. 3 months on, 3 months off).

NOTE: For more info on how seafarers are paid, check out our article on Seafarer Salaries.

Vacation time is crucial for seafarers to maintain their mental and physical wellbeing. It allows them to rest, recharge and reconnect with their loved ones. It also enables seafarers to pursue personal interests and hobbies that they may not have the time for while on board. This time off is essential to ensure that seafarers can return to their duties on board with a renewed sense of energy and focus.

Types of vacation time for seafarers

Seafarers have access to different types of vacation time, which may vary depending on their contract and employer. Some of the most common types of vacation time for seafarers include:

Annual leave

Annual leave is a type of paid time off that seafarers are entitled to after completing a certain period of service on board. The amount of annual leave varies depending on the seafarer's contract and may be affected by the length of their rotation. For seafarers who are permanently employed, annual leave is taken normally, as is the case with a shore-joFor those who work on a contract-basis, annual leave is accounted for in their wages and time off work is not paid for at all.

Shore leave

Shore leave is a period of time where seafarers are allowed to leave the ship and go ashore. This time off allows seafarers to explore new places, participate in cultural activities and connect with people outside of their work environment. However, shore leave may be limited due to security concerns or other restrictions imposed by the port. Seafarers have experienced a significant decrease in shore leave since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a considerable impact on their mental health. Seafarers typically receive their regular wages during shore leave periods, even if the ship remains docked at port for an extended duration, which is uncommon in current times.

Supporting Seafarers' Wellbeing Onboard

Seafaring can be a challenging profession that can lead to physical and mental stress. Long hours, isolation, and harsh working conditions can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. It is essential to address these concerns to ensure the wellbeing of seafarers.

The pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on seafarers' wellbeing. Shipping companies have had to implement strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus on board, which has resulted in reduced shore leave and limited access to port facilities. Seafarers have also faced challenges in returning home due to travel restrictions and quarantine measures. The prolonged isolation and uncertainty associated with the pandemic have exacerbated existing mental health challenges and created new ones for seafarers. It is more important than ever to prioritize the wellbeing of seafarers during these challenging times and provide them with the necessary support to maintain their physical and mental health.


Piracy is also a significant concern for seafarers, as it poses a serious threat to their physical safety and emotional wellbeing. Piracy attacks can be traumatic experiences that may leave lasting emotional scars on seafarers. The fear of being attacked or taken hostage can lead to high levels of anxiety and stress, which can impact a seafarer's mental health. Seafarers who have experienced piracy attacks may struggle with symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Moreover, piracy attacks can also have a long-lasting impact on the shipping industry by deterring seafarers from working in high-risk areas, leading to labour shortages and increased operational costs. To mitigate the impact of piracy on seafarer mental health, shipping companies can provide training, security measures and support to help seafarers prepare for and cope with the aftermath of piracy attacks.

Diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion play an important role in supporting the mental wellbeing of seafarers. The shipping industry is becoming increasingly diverse, with seafarers from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds working together on board. The shipping industry is also making progress in promoting gender diversity and inclusivity, with initiatives aimed at encouraging more women to take on hands-on roles on ships. Shipping companies can promote a culture of inclusion and respect by providing training and support for crew members on topics such as cultural awareness, sensitivity, and communication. By valuing and respecting diversity, companies can create a positive work environment that supports the mental wellbeing of all seafarers.

Strategies for promoting wellbeing onboard

Seafarers have access to mental health services, including counselling and therapy, to help them manage stress and anxiety. Some shipping companies offer mental health support through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide confidential counselling services to their employees.

Providing healthy food options and exercise equipment

A balanced diet and regular exercise are important for maintaining physical and mental health. Shipping companies can increase their expenditure on provisions, to be able to provide healthy food options to their crews. A range of exercise equipment and an onboard swimming pool can also help seafarers train and relax.

Want to find out more about how food is prepared onboard? Read our article about the unsung heroes of the galley department.

Addressing Social Isolation for Seafarers through Technology and Social Activities

Seafarers often experience social isolation due to being away from their families and loved ones for extended periods. Shipping companies can address this issue by offering free or affordable access to modern internet technology and organising social activities onboard, such as barbeques. These measures can significantly improve seafarers' mental wellbeing and help them stay connected with their loved ones while at sea.

Find out more about how internet on ships is being revolutionised by LEO Satellites and Starlink.

Recognising and addressing stressors in the work environment

It is important to recognise and address stressors in the work environment that can impact the wellbeing of seafarers. This may include issues such as workload, equipment malfunction, and conflicts with fellow crew members or supervisors. Shipping companies can work to identify these stressors and implement measures to address them.


In conclusion, seafarers play a critical role in the shipping industry, and it is important to recognise and support their wellbeing both on and off board. During their free time on board, seafarers engage in various activities to relax, such as reading, watching movies, exercising, and socialising with fellow crew members. However, the limited space on board and the challenges of being away from family and friends can make it difficult to find ways to unwind. Similarly, while vacation time provides an opportunity for seafarers to recharge and reconnect with loved ones, it also comes with its own set of challenges, including limited time off, restricted access to shore leave, and travel restrictions.

Overall, supporting the wellbeing of seafarers is not only beneficial to the seafarers themselves, but also to the shipping industry as a whole. By connecting seafarers with companies that prioritise their wellbeing and offer favourable work conditions, professional networks such as Liveseas can play an important role in promoting seafarer wellbeing.