Personnel Consultant: Families Of Mariners Are ‘In Industry,’ Too

Jo Ann Campbell (nee Salyers) is an independent consultant and owner of Salyers Solutions LLC with 45 years in the safety, training and risk management areas of the maritime industry.

Jo Ann Campbell
Jo Ann Campbell

By Jo Ann Campbell

Whenever I speak to families of mariners, the first question I ask is how much time they’ve been in the maritime industry. At first, I see puzzled faces. They think I am confused and speaking to the wrong group.  Once I explain why I asked the question, they all agree that their spouses’ unique schedules make their work part of their lifestyle too. So, in essence, they’re also in this industry.

When we look at all areas of the maritime industry–brown water, blue water, ferries, live-on vessels, dinner bucket vessels and even shoreside maritime workers–there are definitely unique challenges. I always speak about this industry as being a “lifestyle” and not a “job.”

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But to take this a step further, this lifestyle–working different hours, shiftwork and being away from home – doesn’t only affect the person working in the industry but also their families. So it makes sense that there needs to be a balance between the lifestyle at home and at work for the mariner and his or her family.

Some companies have taken hold of this concept by involving the spouses or partners of their mariners in sessions to examine the challenges between these two lifestyles to make the transition from vessel to home and home to vessel easier with a focus on having optimum quality time at home.

A common experience the families have is the “transition time” each of their mariners need when they arrive home after their time on the boats.  During this time, they sleep and “decompress.” On average, it takes two to six days, depending on how long they were on the vessel, for most of them to shake off the fatigue they feel working their hitch.

I show families some of the same information that I present to mariners during a Coast Guard Crew Endurance Management (CEMS) awareness session. The most important part concerns the science of sleep, which explains why their spouses/partners are so fatigued, mentally more than physically, when they come home from their hitch and why decompression time is needed. I also focus on why it’s important for them to be well-rested to return to work with a higher endurance level. This can make the difference in the days of decompression time that are needed when they get home.

A mariner’s home time isn’t really a vacation for them. Coming home from being away at work involves “catching up” with the family and friends, helping with the kids and household responsibilities, getting some of those “honey-dos” off the list and, hopefully, getting some rest.

The following are some of the comments and suggestions I receive from the spouses/partners after holding these sessions on how they could help their mariners have more quality time while at home:

When Coming Home:

“I make sure I have everything in order before my husband gets home. That way when he gets home, he isn’t worried about all that needs to get done. He can just relax and rest, physically and mentally.”

“Do not have any plans for a few days.”

“Don’t confront partner with problems as soon as they come home.”

“Explain to everyone (friends and family) that this is your life, and they need to adjust, too.”

“When my husband first comes home, I give him an entire day to sleep. I take the baby out of the house for a day and let him have the entire day to himself.”

“I make sure that my husband has time, at home, to himself for the first few days to regroup.”

“Don’t make appointments for him soon after getting off the boat.”

While At Home:

“I have begun cooking healthier meals.”

“Respect rest time.”

“Discourage smoking in the middle of the night.”

“My husband wears my eye mask when sleeping during the day to block the light.”

“Give my husband more down time, healthier snacks and less caffeine.”

“Have fresh fruit and veggies at every meal for the enzymes needed to properly digest your food.”

“If possible take a few days away from everyone and phones.”

“Every month go somewhere alone together and just chill.”

“More healthy foods and more sleep.”

“Have a home routine and stick to it.”

“Better knowledge of upcoming schedule, which is done by having a good communication between the office and the mariner.”

Before Leaving For Work:

“Allow him to have free time before going back.”

“Make ending days more relaxing, and try not to do all things in the last day or two.”

While He Is On The Vessel:

“Try not to worry him with unimportant things he can’t change when he’s on the boat.”

“I am capable of taking care of things at home while he’s gone, and if I need help, my family helps me.”

Some employers offer an Employee Assistance Program. When families, especially children, are having a hard time with one parent being gone so much, spouses shouldn’t hesitate to seek therapy. At different ages this can be a very hard process for children to deal with.

I know that “stuff happens,” and all of these ideas may not be practical all of the time but, if families as well as the mariners and their employers are educated about how to make improvements to this unique lifestyle, everyone benefits.

For more information, contact Salyer Solutions LLC at 504-236-4962 or joann@salyerssolutions.com.