Home » Free Time

Free Time

Home / DAY IN THE LIFE / Free Time

Carving Out Calm: Free Time in the Merchant Navy

Life at sea on a merchant navy vessel can be an enriching experience, offering travel to diverse locations and the satisfaction of contributing to global trade.  However, long stretches at sea, demanding work schedules, and the isolation that comes with being away from loved ones can also take a toll.  This is where free time becomes a vital element in the daily routine of merchant navy personnel. It’s a precious window for relaxation, recreation, and personal pursuits, contributing significantly to maintaining morale and well-being onboard.

The Elusive Off-Duty Hours: Understanding Work Schedules

The amount of free time available to merchant navy personnel can vary depending on their specific role and the ship’s schedule.  Unlike typical land-based jobs with fixed working hours, work at sea often follows a watch system.  Here’s a breakdown of some common schedules:

  • Deck and Engine Officers:  These officers typically work a four-on, eight-off watch system.  This means they stand watch for four hours, followed by eight hours of rest, and the cycle repeats.  This schedule allows for some free time during the off-watch period, but it’s important to remember that officers might be called upon for additional duties or emergencies during their rest time.
  • Ratings (Deck and Engine Crew):  Ratings often work fixed eight-hour shifts, followed by a period of rest. However, overtime might be required depending on operational needs.
  • Port Calls:  During port calls, some free time might be available for crew members to explore the local area, although this can be limited due to turnaround times and customs clearance procedures.

From Reading to Recreation: How Crew Members Spend Their Free Time

While the amount of free time varies, merchant navy personnel find creative ways to unwind and recharge during their off-duty hours. Here are some common ways crew members spend their free time:

  • Catching Up on Sleep:  Priority is often given to catching up on sleep, especially after long shifts or periods of challenging weather.  Adequate sleep is crucial for maintaining physical and mental well-being during demanding work cycles.
  • Reading and Personal Development:  Many crew members use their free time to read books, magazines, or online content.  This can be anything from relaxing fiction to learning a new language or professional development materials.
  • Movies and Entertainment:  Movies, TV shows, and video games are popular options for relaxation and entertainment.  Many ships have onboard entertainment systems, and crew members can also bring their own devices loaded with their preferred content.
  • Keeping in Touch with Loved Ones:  Staying connected with family and friends back home is crucial for maintaining morale.  Free time is often used for phone calls, video chats, and email communication.
  • Socialization and Camaraderie:  Crew members often build strong bonds onboard.  Free time might be spent socializing with colleagues, playing games together, or simply enjoying shared meals and conversations.
  • Fitness and Exercise:  As discussed previously, maintaining physical fitness is essential in the merchant navy.  Crew members might utilize their free time for gym workouts, running on deck (weather permitting), or other forms of exercise.

Hobbies and Personal Pursuits:  Free time allows crew members to indulge in their hobbies and personal interests.  Whether it’s music, photography, writing, or learning a new skill, these activities provide a sense of accomplishment and a welcome distraction from the daily routines at sea.

The Importance of Maintaining Morale: Why Free Time Matters

Free time onboard is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Here’s why it plays a crucial role in the well-being of merchant navy personnel:

Combating Stress and Loneliness:  Being away from loved ones for extended periods can lead to feelings of stress and loneliness. Engaging in activities they enjoy during free time helps crew members relax, de-stress, and maintain a positive outlook.


Boosting Mental Well-being:  Leisure activities allow crew members to take a break from the demands of their work and focus on their personal interests. This can significantly improve their mental well-being and overall sense of happiness.


Fostering a Sense of Community: Spending free time socializing with colleagues helps build strong bonds and a sense of camaraderie onboard. This positive social connection is essential for maintaining a harmonious working environment.


Building Resilience and Adaptability: Managing free time effectively helps crew members develop skills in time management, self-discipline, and resourcefulness. This fosters resilience and the ability to adapt to the unique challenges of life at sea.

Challenges and Solutions: Making the Most of Limited Free Time

Planning and Scheduling: Allocate specific times for activities you want to do, whether it’s catching up on sleep, reading a book, or exercising. Sticking to a schedule helps ensure you make the most of your limited free time.


Prioritization: Not all activities are created equal. Prioritize activities that contribute most to your well-being, whether it’s socializing with colleagues, catching up on sleep, or pursuing a cherished hobby.


Time Management Techniques: Utilize time management techniques like setting reminders and creating to-do lists for your free time. This helps you stay focused and avoid procrastination.


Saying No: It’s okay to politely decline additional tasks or social activities if you need some time for yourself. Prioritizing your mental and physical well-being is crucial.


Embrace Downtime: Don’t feel pressured to constantly fill your free time with activities. Sometimes, simply relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet can be the most beneficial use of your off-duty hours.

Beyond Free Time:  Initiatives for Crew Well-being

The importance of crew well-being is increasingly recognized within the merchant navy industry.  Here are some initiatives that can enhance free time experiences for personnel:

  • Improved Onboard Facilities: Investing in well-equipped gyms, recreation rooms, and libraries can provide crew members with more options for spending their free time productively.

  • Access to Technology: Reliable internet connectivity allows crew members to stay connected with loved ones, access online entertainment options, and pursue educational opportunities.

  • Mental Health Awareness Programs: Providing access to mental health professionals or onboard counselors can help crew members cope with stress and loneliness effectively.

  • Shore Leave Activities: Shipping companies can collaborate with port authorities to offer organized shore leave activities, allowing crew members to explore local attractions during limited port call times.

Free time in the merchant navy is more than just leisure; it’s an investment in the well-being of crew members. By prioritizing free time, creating a supportive environment for relaxation and personal pursuits, and implementing initiatives that enhance off-duty experiences, shipping companies can foster a thriving and resilient crew that’s better equipped to navigate the demands of life at sea. 

After all, a happy and well-rested crew is not just good for morale; it’s essential for ensuring the safe and efficient operation of merchant navy vessels, keeping global trade flowing smoothly.  So, the next time you see a merchant ship on the horizon, remember the unseen heroes onboard who rely on their precious free time to maintain their well-being and keep the world connected.

Subscribe to Merchant Navy Info Daily Newsletter

Scroll to Top