Not only is there clearly no access to a hospital or clinic when you’re in the middle of an ocean, but life at sea can be fraught with health risks. Infections may spread easily through the captive environment onboard, while the seafarers’ lifestyle can lead to poor diet, lack of exercise, and vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections.
The International Committee on Seafarers’ Welfare has been addressing some of these problems in several information and advice materials as part of a project called the Seafarers’ Health Information Project (SHIP), sponsored by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust.
Here are some of the tips detailed in the SHIP information materials.
WATCH YOUR WEIGHT
Obesity exposes a seafarer to a host of nasty illnesses including, in particular, diseases of the heart and arteries.
These diseases end many seafaring careers early and are the number one
killer of seafarers while at sea.
Set a healthy target weight and stick to it. If you find you have already put on weight, make efforts to lose it, slowly and steadily.
- Sit-ups, press-ups and stretching routines can be done in your cabin.
- Weights: improvise with small cans of food or bottles of water.
- Exercise with another crew member and set goals.
- Take brisk aerobic exercise (such as walking and, when you get the chance, cycling and swimming) for at least 30 minutes three times per week.
- When in port visit seafarers’ sports centres whenever possible.
- Use the stairs whenever you can.
- Organise competitions on board, for example table tennis.
- Where possible, make carbohydrates the main part of your meal – eat wholemeal, wholegrain, brown or high fibre products as they contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals.
- Avoid fattening butters, too much fried food (eg chips, poppadams) or putting too much fat – such as butter, cheesy sauces and mayonnaise – on your meals.
- Eat at least five portions of different fruits and vegetables each day.
- Also include, in moderation, protein-rich and dairy foods such as meat and poultry, beans, nuts, milk, yogurts and cheese.
- Beware fatty, salty or sugary snacks such as crisps, chocolate and sweets. These are high in calories and can make you put on weight quickly.
CHECK FOODS ONBOARD
- Use the FIFO principle for storing: first in first out.
- Cold room temperature should be 2-8c.
- Destroy spoiled fruit and veg immediately.
- Never allow raw meat to come into contact with ready to eat food.
- Deep freezers should operate at -18c or below.
- Clean and replace towels frequently or use disposables.
- Food handlers: pay special attention to hair, hands and nail hygiene.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES
Anyone who is having unprotected sex can get a sexually transmitted disease from an infected partner.
HIV infection may be a particular risk for seafarers, who spend months away from home.
- If you have sex while in port, always make sure you wear a condom.
- If you get symptoms of any sexually transmitted infection, get seen at a clinic, or by a doctor as soon as you can, and refrain from further sexual relations until your symptoms have been treated.