What is Wellness?

What is wellness?

By Andrew Cowderoy, CEO & Founder, ZS Wellness

We, ZS Wellness, take a holistic approach to wellness, especially wellness at sea. We believe that wellness will start to bridge the divides between both the  wellness and shipping industries; and, the age old  divided between management teams and crew at sea.  

With the Wellness at Sea conference this year and wellness trends around the world, shipping has started to take far more interest in the topic and some companies have excelled in helping their crew.  We, ZS Wellness, define wellness as "the state of being in good health",  but what does it really mean?

Whilst shipping is an international industry, London is its ancestral home, being home to the IMO, the Baltic Exchange, leading shipbrokers and one of the most prevalent flag states, the red ensign and the MCA. The shipping and wellness industries are not too dissimilar in the fact they are both very  international and in recent years the wellness industry has been booming in the ancestral home of shipping which puts us in a fantastic position to learn from from this wealth of knowledge, which is being delivered through ZS Wellness. 


Physical Wellness

We look at the human body,  both fitness and medical health.  For crew that go to sea they are required to pass an ENG-1 (or similar), medical check, the medical is a bench mark to check of medical health, competency; are crew going to be able to carry out the job?, are they going to get ill at sea? are they "healthy"?  Interestingly crew's shore-based counter parts have in management, in most cases, have no such check despite thier roles have similar levels of responsibilities, especially those in the roles of ship managers and DPA's (designated persons ashore).  Whilst medicals checks can provide a benchmark we can break wellness down into more detail.


Physical Fitness

Photo: Andrew Cowderoy CEO & Founder, training.

Photo: Andrew Cowderoy CEO & Founder, training.

The human body is designed to move, to be active;  if we are not active, if we could be putting our future health, life in jeopardy.  By simply adding more movement, fitness, into our daily life's we can help prevent a number of life altering conditions, those conditions whilst affecting the individual, could lead to major incidences at sea.  

The medicals ensure that crew can carry out the tasks in hand at sea, to a basic level of competency, when we talk about fitness, we talk about are we fit for life, are we in a healthy and fit state.  By helping ensure personal physical fitness, we surpass the basic level of an medical check, rather than crew / company worrying about whether or not one will pass a medical, by maintaining or improving physical fitness in a safe and easy way, there is no worry of whether crew are fit for sea, whether there will be any medical emergencies.   

Can physical fitness affect:

  • Risk and Safety,
  • Medical health and fitness,
  • Mental wellness,
  • Fuel
  • Diet,
  • Sleep,
  • Stress,
  • Attention on bridge,
  • Attention in engine room.
  • And more.


Nutrition, healthy eating,  is a major part of how our wellness can be affected, there both mental and physical attributes surrounding the topic of nutrition.  Physically, if we are eating an unhealthy diet, we could be at risk of increasing both external and internal (visceral) fat, which can have serious, career ending consequences. That more often than not crew are not necessarily aware of.  It is not only and of career that could be a consequence of this, we could also be looking at substantial increase of risk to ship operations. 

Diet is word that is often misconstrued and can have major negative connotation's, however, the true definition of the word is  "The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats".  In our experiance, it is unfortunate that the diet at sea is less than adequate, with an decrease in rates at sea, companies tend to look for ways to cut cost and the stores, supply's, onboard are often amongst the first to be affected.  Opting for the cheaper option which both at sea and on land lack nutritional benefit and often are extremely unhealthy.  In a shore based environment, we are blessed with options, and there is little excuse for not having a nutritionally beneficial diet, however, at sea, crew do not have this basic luxury, it is the responsibility of owners and managers to help provide the ability for crew to maintain a healthy diet.    A poor diet, without any physical fitness, can lead to an increase in body fat, and increase in BMI and can lead to decrease in mental wellness.   "You can't out train a bad diet" - unknown. 

Body Fat

The MCA uses a scale called the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is a bench mark to health, however, it can be very misleading.  BMI is calculated using height, age and weight spitting out a number, however, we have seen first hand how some one can have a high BMI whilst only having 12% body fat, which is why its is important to both review each case individually but also take secondary measurements such as weights circumference.

     The MCA in MSN 139 (M) MARITIME LABOUR CONVENTION, 2006 Medical Certification state:

    • If one has a BMI 35  one should "Temporarily unfit for sea until reached target weight" 
    • If one has a BMI of  between 30 and 35 and attributable solely to physique with broad shoulders/large muscle bulk with main muscles clearly defined and not obscured by subcutaneous fat. OR (b) if capability and exercise test performance average or better, BMI steady and no co-morbidity. They are deemed  Fit for sea!
    • (a) if BMI increasing or above 35, OR (b) if capability or exercise test on borderline between average and poor; OR (c) recommendations made at last examination not complied with, but able safely to perform essential duties AND no increased risk from co-morbidity. Time restricted Fit for sea.

    The British Heart Foundation BHF considers individuals as:

    • Underweight: BMI Below 18.5
    • Ideal / Healthy: BMI between 18.5 - 24.9
    • Overweight: BMI between 25 - 29.9
    • Very over weight / Obese:  BMI 30 or above

    The difference between the MCA and The BHF is staggering and scary, especially when we dive deeper into the risk of having an increase of body fat, increased BMI,  (which will be covered in our future blogs).  There are substantial risks that can affect both crew individually, on larger scale their colleagues at sea and the vessel; and increase the risk to owners and managers.   There are simple, sustainable, steps that can be taken to help reduce these risk and improve all round physical wellness can include:

    • Increase of physical fitness,
    • Healthy food options,
    • Nutritional coaching/education for crew,
    • Training for cooks
    Photo taken by Andrew Cowderoy, during his Cadetship, 2012.

    Photo taken by Andrew Cowderoy, during his Cadetship, 2012.

    Mental Wellness

    It is greatly unfortunate that we have seen an substatiol increase in suicides at sea.  Mental wellness is a foundation, the route cause of so much and yet we do so little.   Life at sea can now be an extremely lonely place, where there is an increased risk of depressions and other mental health issues.  Shipping in most instances is still a very traditional especially life at sea, where, despite it being multi curatorial and gender,  it is still very much "a man's man" world, where men don't talk, don't talk about what is worrying them, upsetting them, often it is the case where men are told to simply "man up and deal with it".  

    What can affect mental wellness?  

    • What we eat and drink;
    • Levels of excercise;
    • Social interaction;
    • Religious believes;
    • Connectivity;
    • Stress levels; 
    • Social media;

    Connectivity, over the last five years there has been a substantial increase in international connectivity, when our crew go to sea, in most cases, that same level of connectivity is taken away from them.   Interestingly, by increasing levels of physical activity, the body starts to produce what is known as the "feel good" hormone and has proven to help improve mental wellness and reduce depression. 


    What can we do? 

    Wellness and lack there of at sea is on the rise,  Tim Huxley, Chairman of  Mandarin Shipping, Hong Kong was quoted saying “as an industry, we have a duty of care to ensure our seafarers stay healthy. It’s not just a moral obligation as employers, it makes sound business sense. and Guy Platten, CEO Chamber of Shipping was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that “Managing crewmember health is a strategic priority for the maritime industry, not only to reduce downtime but also to keep seafarers motivated and gainfully employed.”  

    Now is time to take proactive steps to improving wellness at sea.  Now is the time to invest in those people that keep your ships trading around the world, that help us lead lives we are accustomed too.  At ZS Wellness, we work with experts in the wellness industry who have decades worth of experience and knowledge, we use smart innovative technologies to monitor, educate, train and fuel crew around the world. There is so much we can do by taking simple steps, wellness should not be a quick fix, is should be sustainable in both life at sea at and at home.

    To learn more follow ZS Wellness on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Instagram to learn more about, “Why Wellness is important” “How Can we take proactive steps to improve wellness at sea?” “How can wellness affect risk and safety at sea?” and much more.