On board activities

Leisure activities on board

Social life on board a cargo vessel is very important from my point of view because it can offer seafarers a certain degree of amusement, closer to the ‘normality’ they are all used to when they are ashore. After a hard day of work, between two ports or during long passages, seafarers have the time to enjoy a few hours of leisure activities in the common spaces, like Recreation Rooms, in big or small groups. Even if these leisure activities are nothing more than a few hours spent in the company of your fellow seamen while watching a movie and sharing a glass of wine after dinner is certainly the sort of activity you wait for all day long, in order to relax and see the more optimistic side of life.

In spite of what most people might thing, working on a vessel does not prevent people from having fun and enjoy a nice time, doing the things they like most. It is true that being on a vessel limits a lot the means and possibilities of spending a pleasure time, apart from visiting the ports under way or surfing the internet wherever/whenever it is available.

Only few people choose to cut any contact with the others members of the crew outside working hours and hide themselves behind the closed doors of their cabins. They say that they can cope better with their life at sea if they spend more time alone and by cutting the contact with the others members of the crew they can disconnect from their work and think more about their life ashore, about their families and loved ones. I do not know if loneliness is the answer when you have to deal with homesickness and I do not think that time passes faster if you choose to spend it alone, counting the days and the hours from the calendar. This attitude can work for short periods of time, but I am sure that too much loneliness can become dangerous and harmful for a healthy and stabile person, especially when he deals with stressful situation – fatigue, overwork, bad weather and long periods of time away from home. I know this because I experienced it from the other side of the barricades when I was at home waiting for my husband to come back from the sea. I used to lock myself in my room for days, listening to music and dreaming about his return, watching the hours pass by and praying for them to pass faster and faster, without even care that my life was passing along. After a while I understood the importance of living my life to the full and being grateful for every hour of sunshine, for every minute of light, for every second of happiness. I chose to live and enjoy my life when I was alone because it was the only solution to a healthy living and to a happy reunion few months later.

Very few of the seafarers chose this life for the fun and adventure it brings along. The majority of them would rather be elsewhere than on a vessel – among 20 or more people belonging to different nationalities – and would prefer playing and having fun with their kids at home than spending few hours in a group of fellow seamen, trying to ‘kill’ the time and relax a bit after work. But, life is not always as pleasant as we would like it to be and some sacrifices are required in order to live and offer our loved ones a decent life. Husbands and fathers, sons and daughters must leave their wives, children and parents behind and spend few months at sea, far from their homes and known environments, sometimes putting their lives at risk, but struggling to survive and reach the end of their contract and the safety return to their families.

After working 9-10 hours daily (sometimes more than this), seafarers feel the need to relax, forget about their work and put aside their worries. In most cases, if the vessel has a very strict and tight schedule – with many ports – or if there are lots of jobs to be done during a short period of time and people are very tired at the end of the day, the least they can do is gather in the Recreation Room, in front of the TV, for an hour or so.

If they are luckier than this and the vessel’s schedule is more flexible and relaxed, they can enjoy more free time every day.

The most common leisure activity aboard a cargo vessel is watching TV.  Most of the seafarers choose to spend an average of two hours everyday in the Recreation Room watching TV together with their companions. As TV channels are almost impossible to catch when at sea, the only available possibility remains a good stock of movies/videos belonging to the ship’s video library or to the seamen’s private collections. On board you can watch the newest movies available on the market or you can remember the old times by watching evergreen films with your favourite actors or some of the best action movies which you deliberately choose to watch over and over again. They might not get any closer to the idea of a masterpiece, but certain movies are always watched on board, more like a tradition, and, as they do not require any effort from the watchers’ side, they have the power to relax the body and prepare it for a good night sleep. In this category, you will find action movies with heroes who save the world or try to make it a better place, the American type heroes with super powers who can fight the ‘bad guys’ and bring peace on Earth. I have to admit that I will never waste any precious minute of my time watching a movie like this when I am at home, but I enjoy watching them on the vessel, especially when I am accompanied by some other members of the crew and everybody makes small comments or even recites whole lines by heart, improving the ‘quality’ of the movie, by adding a little more fun to it, even it doesn’t belong to the ‘comedy’ genre. Most of the seafarers prefer spending time in front of the TV in the company of their fellow friends especially during long passages when the stress and the fatigue are at a lower level.

Another leisure activity very popular especially among Filipinos on board cargo vessels is karaoke. Regarded as a very relaxing way of having fun and pass the time, karaoke is mostly a week-end activity but people also tend to rely on it whenever they need to mark the occasion of  a birthday, any other kind of celebration or just a usually Saturday night. With very good voices or even not at all, Filipinos love singing their favourite songs and they are doing it with passion and all their hearts. No matter how good their English skills are, they prefer singing in English and most of them seem like mastering the art of English language when they are singing. They often sing songs in their own language, but they are very fond of rock ballads, evergreen songs from the ’60 and ’70 and very rare they sing song in other languages than English and Tagalog. I do not have a good voice, but I enjoy listening to karaoke every time I have the chance – outside barbeque parties, inside parties or gatherings.

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Some crew members play different instruments – guitars, keyboards, drums – and they can even make up a whole band and spice up the parties even more.

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On most vessels seafarers have the possibility to use the gym and the swimming pool, but not many of them choose to do so. The swimming pool is always very small and may look like a kid’s bathtub, but it is very relaxing and fun to swim in all kind of tropical waters around the world – as the swimming pool is filled only with sea water. People who are more like the sport type and do a lot of physical exercises when they are at home choose to continue their training on board as well and visit the gym at least 3 times a week in order to stay fit and healthy. The gym may not be equipped to the highest standards, but it surely offers everything people need in order to get trained, work their bodies and test their limits.

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Another activity which can require a certain degree of physical effort is playing ping pong. Playing ping pong is always fun and relaxing and it can become even demanding and competitive when more people are familiar with this sport and are happy to get involved in short/long games especially after dinner and during the week-end. Sometimes, the stakes get higher as seafarers are willing to take part in ping pong competitions which can last 2-3 days (evenings) and involve (sometimes) 10-12 persons. With almost half of the crew taking part in the competition and the other half watching the games from the audience, taking sides and cheering for their favourites , a competition of this kind can help people relax and enjoy a nice time together, taking their minds away from the stress of the day, easing their homesickness and changing a little the routine of their everyday activities.

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Apart from watching TV, playing ping pong or singing karaoke, another leisure activity on board is reading. 20 or 30 years ago, before the hi-tech era, reading used to be the most popular leisure activity on board vessels. Every seafarer used to bring a number of books in his luggage (at least 4-5)  and, during a 6-7 month voyage, books were exchanged among the crew members and reading was one of the greatest pleasures of seaman life. Nowadays, as reading is getting less and less popular among people living and working ashore, it becomes less popular on board as well. Only few people choose to spend their free time reading while on board, although  they have a great display of books to choose from and even a simpler and less heavy solution available – the e-readers. There are also books available in the libraries of most vessels and there are many opportunities of borrowing books from ashore – from the Seafarers’ clubs around the world. Many clubs offer seafarers the possibility to take books on board their vessels with the only request of returning them after reading – in the same club or another one, anywhere else in the world.

IF– Library on board HS Beethoven

IF– Library in the Seafarers’ Centre, Port Everglades, USA

IF– Library in the Seafarers’ Centre, Brisbane, Australia –

With the e-readers (where hundreds of books can be stored) and the libraries from Seafarers’ Mission, seamen do not have to carry books in their luggage anymore, but they can still enjoy this relaxing activity on board. They can choose a place in the Recreation Room and emerge themselves in the action of a good story, being away from the others, but not totally apart or they can enjoy reading the book outside, in a beautiful and peaceful environment, on deck, close to the bow or on the upper wing.

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If they are not in the mood for singing karaoke or playing ping pong and if they are totally tired of watching movies, seafarers can always find various ways of entertaining themselves for a few hours after work if they prefer spending their precious time in the company of their colleagues.

Some other widely popular leisure activity on board is playing different kind of games like chess, backgammon, rummy, mahjong, cards, video games or darts.

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People working on cargo vessels are different and they can react differently and cope differently with similar situations. They can have different hobbies and spend their free time in multiple ways when they are at home, but they have to adjust when they are on board and spend their free hours in any way they find proper and with the available options.

A safe and friendly working environment can offer the best fundamentals for a pleased and committed seafarer and a healthy social life on board can help him stay in touch with his fellow seafarers, socialize, stay alert, entertain the body and the mind and even diminish a little the homesickness. Good and reliable partners in games can also mean good and reliable partners at work where everybody depends on everybody else to stay safe and perform their duties in the most professional way.

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