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Privacy of Crew Members

Can You Really Have Privacy on a Ship?


Privacy of Crew Members

Crew Members Will Find Privacy Wherever They Can.

Courtesy of Commercial Marine Picture Archive

Why is Privacy Important?

The basic human needs are water, food, shelter, and security. Some humanitarian relief groups also add privacy to the traditional hierarchy of needs.

Group living in crowded conditions without privacy is stressful for anyone who has to endure that situation for an extended period of time. For example, during times of natural disaster there is little choice for survivors except to live in what space is available, but even in cultures where close group living is normal; lack of privacy is stressful.

The culture of a vessel is dictated by the Master, but in reality it is a collective of individual personalities. Some people thrive in this tight group, but others show obvious wear from constant uninterrupted contact with their shipmates.

This is best illustrated by military ships. Diaries of sailors in the British Navy of the 1700’s have references to a ‘few stolen moments’ on deck, during a night watch when they were alone. Or the modern example, aboard a US aircraft carrier, of a sailor writing a letter home while tucked into a corner of a hanger bay.

A mariner sometimes values time alone as much as a hot meal.

What are the Legal Requirements?

Until now we have discussed the comfort of privacy, but there are also legal requirements in some cases.

The legal requirements depend on the flag under which the ship is registered. Some requirements come into force only in territorial waters or while in port. In some cases the ship’s administrators have a set policy for these issues. The best practice is to apply the same standards to all crew members throughout the voyage as part of clearly communicated vessel policies.

In general a sailor should be able to:
  • Consider medical information private. This covers medical records brought on board by the employer or employee. Also any information discovered by the medical staff should be kept private. The exception is any condition or finding that puts the crew in danger. In that situation the Master should be informed and a decision about disclosure made.

  • Consider communication with legal counsel private. This includes private attorneys and legal consultants for labor and regulatory groups. It also covers all forms of communication, in person, written, telephone, or email.

  • Consider personal communication private. Unless there is a reason to believe a person is attempting to cause immediate danger to ship or crew, personal communications should be private. This involves all forms of communication including electronic means.

Some companies feel any message transmitted with company owned equipment is reviewable by company officials. This might be the letter of the law in some cases but policies like these cause distrust among employees.

How Can You Have Privacy On board a Ship?

Most modern vessels have private cabins for ship’s officers, and the Master always has private accommodations. The rest of the crew usually has no private space.

Crew members should be given opportunities for privacy during off duty times.

Private Space for Persons

Small areas of partitioned space within a larger common area can be made available by sign up sheet or other similar system. This allows crew members to have time to read or write without the distraction of other recreation activities.

Any area that is not being used regularly is a potential temporary private space, unused offices, meeting rooms, and habitable storage areas can all be used if a clear policy is in place for the appropriate use of the space and the time it will be made available.

Private Space for Communication

All members of the crew should be given access to common communication resources in a place that is separate from other common areas. Individuals should feel secure while communicating and not have concerns about being overheard or otherwise compromised while using telephone or email systems. If this is not normally possible, a procedure for special requests can be made part of ship policy.

Private Space for Property

In cabin storage is practical for most private items. A locker or closet with a combination lock that allows the combination to be set by the user is preferred.

A method of common access, like a master key or combination should only be used in cases of crime or violation of ship policy, and then only under supervision of the Master and accused crew member.

Special Considerations for Privacy

  • Some crew members may require privacy or special accommodation during times of religious worship. This should be considered in the ship’s policy and discussed with each individual crew member who makes such a request.

  • Immediately following a life threatening event. Piracy or weather related traumas can induce shock and do need to be medically treated. For a period of time after a traumatic event a person can become hyper-sensitized to normal stimuli. Reasonable actions like conversation or quick movements can seem threatening and induce further trauma.

  • During conflict between crew members it may be necessary to separate individuals completely from the rest of the crew without imposing forced confinement. These neutral areas are essential in diffusing situations before they become more serious.

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