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Enhancing Work-Life Balance in the Maritime Sector: Key Focus of the Marad Symposium

Mariners employed on ocean-faring vessels such as container ships endure extended periods at sea. Maersk Line, a prominent player in the maritime industry, is at the forefront of this sector.

The U.S. Maritime Administration (Marad) extends an invitation to all mariners to engage in a symposium focused on exploring the crucial aspect of work-life balance within the maritime realm on April 16.

While the event will take place in person in Washington, D.C., mariners will have the opportunity to virtually partake in a full day of insightful discussions and presentations.

The symposium will kick off with introductory remarks by Sinclair Oubre, a respected priest and licensed mariner hailing from Beaumont, Texas. Oubre serves as the executive director and port chaplain for the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center.

Distinguished industry leaders, academics, seasoned mariners, and aspiring newcomers will lead panel discussions and interactive sessions aimed at addressing work-life balance challenges and proposing strategies for enhancement. Key topics will encompass career advancement, training opportunities, factors influencing attrition rates in the industry, onboard lifestyle, mariner well-being, and other pertinent subjects. Additionally, a special “fireside chat” session will feature midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, N.Y., offering insights into the future of the maritime sector.

The panelists will include representatives from the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, the human resources director at Maersk Line, advocates promoting diversity in maritime careers, a Military Sealift Command officer, the human resources head at Crowley, the chief of personnel qualifications at the Coast Guard’s Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing, the director of the Women Offshore Foundation supporting women’s progress in the offshore domain, and a counselor/therapist from the California State Maritime Academy specializing in providing mental health support to cadets and serving aboard the academy’s training ship.

The afternoon session will facilitate interactive breakout discussions where mariners can actively participate, sharing their experiences and offering suggestions to enhance work-life equilibrium in the maritime profession.

The issue of work-life balance has emerged as a significant concern within the maritime industry, particularly amidst challenges in attracting and retaining talent in a competitive labor market. Despite the attractive remuneration packages and benefits, the industry faces hurdles in attracting younger individuals due to reservations about the confined, hazardous, and isolating work environment that necessitates prolonged periods away from home.

However, certain sectors within the maritime domain highlight work-life balance as a distinctive feature. For instance, in the inland tug and barge industry, companies emphasize structured shifts, allowing crews to work in rotation, typically with two six-hour watches per day, followed by extended time off after a specified period of service.

Inland mariners often laud this schedule as a significant advantage, affording them quality time with their families or engaging in personal pursuits during their off-duty periods. Notably, crew members on harbor tugs may return home nightly and usually work a single 12-hour shift, as outlined by the American Waterways Operators, a representative body for the towing sector.

Similarly, crew members on passenger vessels and harbor pilots operate on shift-based schedules that enable them to return home daily. In contrast, mariners on ocean-faring vessels like container ships adhere to more extended sea schedules.