ISWAN’s Yacht Crew Help – a Lifeline for Yacht Crew in Need

‘I can’t express how thankful I am for you!!! Thank you for being there and being so supportive [and] fantastic!!! I really appreciate everything you have said and done today… it’s been a very tough one and just having someone to chat with help[ed] massively so you are [an] incredibly important worker… I would have been very emotional and lost without someone to listen this evening…’

-Yacht Crew Help user

Since its launch in November last year, ISWAN’s Yacht Crew Help platform has assisted over 120 seafarers1 in need. Its free, multilingual, confidential helpline is available 24/7, 365 days a year, and offers callers a range of contact methods including live chat, telephone, email, and ring-back; as well as access to industry-relevant online resources and information. Yacht crew of all ages, ranks, and backgrounds have reached out for support and guidance on a range of topics – from employment and contractual issues; to problems with bullying, harassment, and discrimination; to concerns over psychological health and well-being. Some have wished for nothing more than a friendly and non-judgemental ear to talk to about the difficulties of their day.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent global lockdowns, have placed significant pressures on the lives of yacht crew. In a tale of two extreme halves, whilst a closing of the world’s borders means many have faced unemployment, cancelled contracts, and the stress of a lost income; others have experienced indefinitely extended contracts, enforced on-board quarantines, and feelings of isolation and fear incited by a prolonged separation from loved ones at home. For an industry that has traditionally attracted those in search of excitement, experience, and adventure… lockdown has proved tough, with many crew no longer allowed to disembark in port and enjoy much-needed leisure and relaxation time on dry land.

Yacht Crew Help went live on 23rd November 2020, in response to ISWAN’s 2018 research conducted into the welfare needs of superyacht crew, in collaboration with MHG Insurance. The research was informed by a series of crew interviews and diaries; as well as a fifty-question survey, which received responses from over four hundred superyacht crew and industry associates. Just some of the survey’s concerning findings were that:

  • 82% of respondents had experienced low crew morale ‘sometimes’, ‘often’, or ‘always’ whilst working on board yachts
  • 80% of female respondents and 54% of males had suffered from one or more episodes of work-related stress
  • 55% of female respondents and 28% of males had experienced issues accessing mental health care
  • 53% of female respondents and 30% of males had experienced discrimination, harassment, or bullying from yacht owners, crew, and/or guests ‘sometimes’, ‘often’, or ‘always’
  • 45% of respondents had suffered from social isolation or loneliness ‘sometimes’, ‘often’, or ‘always’2

A career in yachting can open doors, and offer adventure-hungry individuals a chance to travel the world, make lifelong friendships, and achieve financial security. This high-gloss veneer undoubtedly appears attractive to green crew, but as with all fast-paced industries there are pressures and challenges which may not be immediately obvious from the outside. The industry stressors of long, hard working days, living and working with colleagues in close quarters, isolation from friends and family at home, and inbuilt job uncertainty; can combine to cause wellbeing challenges for yacht crew. When your job is to deliver perfect ‘service with a smile’, it can be difficult to recognise when someone is not ok. Whilst the industry is a small and tight-knit one, unfortunately too many yacht crew suffer in silence when something is wrong – sometimes with very tragic consequences.

This is where Yacht Crew Help can act as a much-needed lifeline. Whether looking for practical guidance on, for example, employment or contractual issues; or emotional-support to help explore feelings of loneliness or anxiety – yacht crew can reach out 24/7, 365 days a year, and be assured of reaching someone who cares about their experience. Some crew reach out in desperation, after experiencing bullying or abuse on board, or because they are having suicidal thoughts. No matter the reason, all contacts are met in the same confidential, empathetic, and non-judgemental space.

“I want to let you know that I reached out to the Yacht Crew Help line last week and spoke with one of the counsellors. I had a crew member threaten to take their life. The counsellor was very helpful and knew exactly what to do and the correct questions to ask and how to assist me in the situation.

I learnt a lot from this episode and wanted to pass on my very positive experience with the Yacht Crew Help organization. Of course this was very stressful for our crew but we are now moving forward and the patient is safe and getting the help they need.

-Yacht Crew Help user

The Yacht Crew Help team speak over 13 languages, including English, Tagalog, Hindi, Mandarin, Urdu, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, and local/regional dialects. They are trained in active-listening and counselling skills, and are experienced in handling the unique dilemmas faced by those who work at sea. Since many who work in yachting report feeling that their professional lives are often misunderstood by those outside of the industry, having the option to talk to someone, day or night, who truly understands your situation is incredibly valuable and important.

The helpline is confidential, which ensures that every individual who gets in touch is protected and placed at the centre of the service’s care. The helpline team follow up on cases to ensure that issues raised are resolved wherever possible; and individuals who are identified as high-risk or in need of further support may be offered the opportunity to meet with one of ISWAN’s in-house, trained counsellors.

Although the Yacht Crew Help team have handled 165 new cases over the last seven months, and thus helped around 6 yacht crew each week since launch, there is still much to be done with regards to letting people know that the service exists. The ISWAN team have been working closely with a steering committee of industry experts and crew to help raise funds and sponsorship for the platform, distribute marketing materials, and share useful contacts throughout their various networks. To ensure that no yacht crew in need are ever left without vital support in the future, ISWAN needs your help to continue to spread the word far and wide.

If you would like more information on the work of Yacht Crew Help or ISWAN, or to become a sponsor or supporter of the platform, please get in touch with Georgia Allen <georgia.allen@iswan.org.uk> Project Manager.

To make a donation towards the services provided by the platform, please visit https://justgiving.com/campaign/yachtcrewhelp

Yacht crew can find contact details for Yacht Crew Help along with resources and guidance at www.yachtcrewhelp.org.

1 Yacht Crew Help contacts data, as of 17th June 2021

2 ISWAN (2021) The Welfare of Superyacht Crew. Available from: https://www.seafarerswelfare.org/resources/publications/the-welfare-of-superyacht-crew