- Opinion - Exercise: the key to improving crew welfare in 2023?

By SuperyachtNews

Exercise: the key to improving crew welfare in 2023?

Personal trainers, gyms and fitness routines: how working out has a positive impact on seafarer’s wellbeing…

For most of us, January is the month we take a long hard look at ourselves and decide what we need to improve on to achieve a more productive year than the one before. In the superyacht industry, areas that warrant scrutiny include crew conditions and welfare. The restrictive and high-pressured environment that seafarers are confined to whilst working can take a significant toll on both their physical health and mental wellbeing. However, incorporating regular exercise during a busy season or long yard period can improve fitness, while alleviating stress and tension.

Having worked on board a 100m-plus motoryacht for three years as a personal trainer to guests and crew, Tom Jones, co-founder of Salt Lick Fitness, has seen first-hand the difference that exercise can make to crew wellbeing and morale. “Crew need something to focus on that isn’t just the boat so that they can mentally switch off for a while and take some time for themselves,” he explains.

The benefits of exercise for crew were particularly evident to Tom whenever the yacht was in a yard period or on the dock. As he recalls; “We would organise group workouts on the dock twice a week, which became so important for the crew’s mental wellbeing. Working out with the rest of the crew also meant new friendships were formed and the sense of community on board was strengthened. It became something everyone looked forward to and people’s attitudes at work were much improved.”

Image credit:  Ian Armstrong.

Gym Marine Yachts and Interiors has been designing superyacht gyms for nearly 10 years, during which time the company has completed around 100 dedicated crew gyms. Managing Partner Ed Thomas finds working on crew gyms extremely rewarding, since they are used day in, day out, and are really valued by the crew.

“When you’re living in your work environment, you are on duty all day, every day; you can’t even eat a meal without your boss being there,” Ed comments. “As an ex-crewmember, I’ve experienced how a well-designed crew gym acts as a sacred space where crew can go to escape from the institution of the boat, be independent and establish a sense of routine that is on their own terms.”

Cheryl McCann, strategic organiser at maritime union Nautilus International agrees; “It is very important for yachts to provide a gym or space for crew exercise, as exercise is one of the most important things crew can do for their welfare. Under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, guideline B3.1.11 states that consideration should be given to including exercise equipment on vessels – in the yacht sector, this would include commercial yachts and yachts under voluntary MLC compliance.”

Image credit:  Ian Armstrong.

Despite this only being a guideline rather than a mandatory regulation, there is a rising trend of superyachts incorporating dedicated crew gyms as owners and managers recognise the positive impact exercise has on crew welfare, morale, and turnover. According to Gym Marine, most yachts over 50m will have some form of exercise capability for crew, ranging from some equipment stored in the bosun’s locker or lazarette on smaller yachts, to one or more large, dedicated crew gyms on most 100m-plus yachts. The 115m Ahpo, for example, has two crew gyms on board that Gym Marine designed and installed.

While crew gyms are more prevalent than ever, there are certain factors that are commonly overlooked that can impede the effectiveness of the space. As crew gyms are traditionally located on the lower deck, access for installing equipment, ceiling height and space is more restricted. Furthermore, the variety of crew that will be using a gym needs to be considered from the outset.

“As a gym designer, a crew gym is very much like a hotel gym in that it should be designed with a wide range of fitness interests in mind,” adds Ed. “Incorporating multi-functional equipment can offer a variety of exercises within a small footprint, and some floor space should be conserved for stretching or other floor exercises. Cardio equipment integrated with virtual training platforms or fitness apps also enables crew to follow personal training programmes.”

Image credit:  Ian Armstrong.

Storage is always an issue on superyachts, so Gym Marine are often asked to find ways to cram in as many different accessories and increments of weights as possible into small spaces. Solutions include custom racking systems or integrating storage racks into pieces of multi-functional equipment, such as multi-gyms and half power racks, as well as custom equipment with reduced footprint and height.

Of course, not all crew are lucky enough to work on yachts with dedicated crew gyms on board, but this doesn’t mean their ability to exercise should be impeded – with the right equipment and motivation, some form of crew exercise space can be designed to fit around the workings of any boat. As Tom advises; “Smaller yachts with limited space should prioritise equipment that can be stored easily. Just by providing a few kettlebells, dumbbells, resistance bands, skipping ropes and yoga mats, crew will be able to find ways to exercise on board.”

It is a fantastic sign that new builds and refit projects are investing in the space, design, and equipment to enable crew to exercise. With a little creativity, it’s something every superyacht owner can offer the crew, and instilling a culture that both prioritises and encourages mental and physical health can only have positive results for crew wellbeing.

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Exercise: the key to improving crew conditions?


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