There’s no denying that social media is a powerful tool and for many people checking their news feeds, shares and likes becomes a daily routine, a chore almost. But for a seafarer spending weeks or even months away from home, social media can become a real lifeline in every sense of the word.
Whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat is the platform of choice, the benefits of social media for seafarers are undeniable. The ability to stay in touch with friends, family and partners from even the most remote corner of the globe is absolutely an advantage. And it works both ways, giving mariners the opportunity to share a little of their experience with those based on shore.
Social media is also a great informer, enabling those at sea to keep up with the latest football scores, the political intrigue of the day or just some good old fashioned celebrity gossip! It can spark conversations on board with other crew members and play an important role in keeping a seafarer amused in those moments when loneliness or boredom kicks in.
But social media needs to be used with a degree of self control and commonsense. Most of us have been there and, at best, that Facebook status after one too many drinks can be embarrassing. At worst one ill-advised Tweet complaining about your boss or workplace can have a devastating effect on your career. The same rules apply to seafarers as they do for those working in more ‘traditional’ land-based industries.
On a personal level the guidelines that apply when using social media on land still stand. For example, letting the world know you’re going to be at sea for a couple of weeks - whether your home is empty or not - is practically asking to be burgled. And check those posts before hitting ‘send’: do they say anything that might make your current, or a future employer see you in a less than flattering light? These days companies WILL Google you and check your social media accounts before hiring you and most will not look kindly upon rants and intolerance - no matter how ‘humorous’ the intent was. Similarly, social media is not the place to air grievances, whether against a relative, fellow crew members or your boss!
Professionally speaking, you’d be wise to consider the legal implications of what you post, particularly when viewed through the lens of the maritime industry. You might be sure your Tweet wouldn’t land you in hot water in your home country - but can the same be said for the region you’re currently in?
A vessel will naturally feature heavily in a seafarers life on board but you need to ensure you’re not sharing anything that could mean you fall foul of intellectual property laws. Therefore it’s wise to refrain from posting photos and videos of cargo, locations, security, maintenance work or technical manuals. And don't post anything that could show your ship in a negative light - photos of celebrations (even those with non-alcoholic beers) could easily be misconstrued.
Your fellow mariners will probably also play a starring role in your time at sea but do check whether they’re comfortable with you sharing pics or videos of them on social media. Remember that what may seem like a laugh to you, may not sit well with their cultural or religious background and could have implications for them back home.
If in any doubt, read your organisation’s social media policy and follow up with HR if anything isn’t clear. Finally, take an honest look at your social media use - are you spending too much time online and not enough interacting with your shipmates? If so, it might be time to log off - at least for a couple of hours!