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Webinar addresses alarming impact of mental health on yacht crew

21 March 2024

In a webinar hosted by The Seafarers' Charity on 20 March, industry leaders including Nautilus International head of organising Martyn Gray, addressed the concerning rise in mental health issues among yacht crew and discussed potential solutions.

A survey presented at the webinar revealed that 54% of individuals in the yachting industry suffer from mental health issues such as low mood, anxiety, and body dysmorphia, highlighting the sector's overlooked challenges.

Melanie White, a former stewardess turned mental health advocate, shared her experiences of facing immense team pressure and harassment from a difficult captain. Ms White said: 'You live with these people all the time; bullying culture onboard never leaves you'. White's book 'Behind Ocean Lines' aims to destigmatise mental health struggles and encourage open dialogue. Alongside Emma Ross, she co-founded Seize the Mind, providing mental first aid training for seafarers.

Similarly, Kelly Gordon, another industry insider, shared her journey of battling mental health issues, including a suicide attempt. Gordon emphasises the crucial role of leadership in creating a supportive work environment onboard. She advocates for clearer job descriptions and increased leadership training opportunities to address the underlying issues contributing to crew welfare concerns. Ms Gordon said that every morning she and her crew take thirty minutes to sit down as a team and have a 'laugh and a chat'.

Martyn Gray, presenting data from ISWAN and Nautilus, highlighted the prevalence of unpaid wages, assault, bullying, and unfair disciplinary actions within the industry. Mr Gray stressed the need for concerted efforts to address these issues, including the establishment of welfare hubs and promoting mental health awareness among crew members; 'Dealing with this is key to resolving retention and recruitment challenges,' he said.

Chris Frisby of UK Sailing Academy (UKSA) highlighted the importance of providing young people entering the industry with adequate support and training. Despite efforts, challenges remain regarding accountability and regulation enforcement, as discussed by Simon Grainge, chief executive at ISWAN and various webinar attendees.

Looking forward, there is growing recognition of the need for a global governing body to establish industry standards. Webinar attendee Emma Gillette's question on this matter underscored the call for greater accountability and transparency. While progress has been made, fostering a culture of openness and support remains crucial for creating a safer and healthier environment in the yachting industry.