Skip to content
Maritime Impact Our expertise in stories
Toggle Menu

The future of seafarers in the cruise industry

As the maritime industry undergoes major changes, mainly due to decarbonization and digitalization, crews must adapt to new and different ways of doing things. At the same time, recruiting seafarers has become exceedingly difficult amid a general shortage of skilled labour. How is the cruise industry coping with these challenges?

“Traditions are strong in the cruise industry,” says Marco Fantasia, VP Safety and Compliance at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH), based in Miami, Florida. Change is happening on a more subtle, human level as young, digitally minded seafarers come aboard and the experienced crew members find themselves confronted with a new set of expectations from their younger colleagues. “The most common questions we hear from young crew members are: Why don’t we have an app for this? Why are we using so much paperwork?” says Fantasia.

Younger seafarers more digitally inclined

Expectations around digital solutions are helping to drive innovation in the cruise sector. The young generation of seafarers mostly completed school during COVID and are accustomed to distance learning.

“To be up to their standards, we have to transform our training methods, so they’re as close as possible to what they do on a daily basis,” says Fantasia. “For example, since they spend so much time on social media and other apps, we try to apply the same approach to the way we train them and convey our safety culture throughout the organization.”

High standards on board cruise ships

The prospect of travelling the world and seeing amazing places whilst earning money attracts many young people to jobs aboard cruise ships and the cruise industry is therefore less affected by the general shortage of skilled staff. But expectations go both ways and there are things about life on board that young crew members may find surprising.

As Fantasia points out, it is important to avoid raising unrealistic expectations: “Whilst the old military-like style no longer exists on board, we’ve strict regulations and requirements for our crew members, and our expectations for employees are higher than in comparable onshore jobs, such as restaurants, hotels and others.”

With its unique attractions such as a 300-metre go-cart track, NCL’s Norwegian Bliss requires a crew with a firmly rooted safety mindset.

DNV helping NCLH to upgrade training system

To ensure seafarers are well-prepared for their tasks, NCLH runs a comprehensive training system that is currently being upgraded with the help of DNV, including implementation of a train-the-trainer programme. “DNV is helping us learn how our younger seafarers are learning,” says Fantasia.

Whilst most of the crew training occurs on board, there are some online courses as well as instructor-led remote classes. Nevertheless, practical, hands-on learning continues to be indispensable. Some skills simply require physical presence, such as emergency response drills, but also technical procedures such as repair and maintenance work.

Physical learning enhances communication skills

Presence-learning also serves another purpose that is very important for a positive on-board experience: enhancing communication skills. “In-person training is an excellent opportunity to communicate with fellow trainees, learn from each other and share experiences on a personal level,” Fantasia points out.

“On a cruise, with so many crew members, it’s not uncommon to sometimes feel lost. Whether you are sharing a cabin with a colleague or have over a hundred co-workers in the same department, communication skills, and social skills in general, are very important in this complex environment.”

Training programmes for experienced crew members

Training is not just for the future generation of seafarers; experienced crew members are also asked to take classes: “Today we need to understand that the younger generation has a different approach to the work environment,” says Fantasia.

The future of crewing and training should balance technology with human experience. Whenever we introduce new technology, we must make sure to develop a training programme that is tailor-made for new needs.
Marco Fantasia NCL
Marco Fantasia VP Safety and Compliance , Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH)

“Leaders on board have to learn how to manage communication with the younger generation, so enhanced leadership skills are more important than ever.” This includes learning to work with the different nationalities and cultures represented on board, he adds.

DNV Partnership identifies improvement opportunities for future training

“Our partnership with DNV is very strong and has evolved since last year,” says Fantasia. Together with DNV, NCLH is improving its plans across various functions, including decarbonization, safety culture and reporting. Furthermore, DNV has helped NCLH update its incident and accident management and build a new, fleet-wide incident investigation, analysis and training programme for senior management.

Tradition meets digitalization: The digital transition comes with new on-board procedures and requires a new approach to crew training.

“Working together with DNV has helped us identify improvement opportunities in all of these areas,” says Fantasia.

Learning on the job from older crew members

Beyond formal training, knowledge and skills are also shared directly on the job between older and younger crew members. This “shadowing concept” is an important way to retain specialist knowledge in the many trades practised on a cruise ship.

“New crew members have the opportunity to start as apprentices in nearly any position – IT, technical, hotel or whatever – and learn the most important skills of their job from crew members who have many years of experience,” explains Fantasia.

As Fantasia points out, there are also opportunities for cross-training in other functions to enable crew members to find the activity or department where they can function best, experience new fields of activity and grow.

Buddy system and leisure activities enrich culture

This “shadowing” concept is complemented by a “buddy system” where every new crew member is assigned a mentor to ask for help when necessary, especially during their early months on the job. NCLH also has dedicated Human Resources personnel on board with whom crew members can discuss a concern or ask for a transfer to another department.

To counterbalance the demanding work on board, NCLH makes sure there are enough opportunities for leisure activities on board where crew members can socialize, learn from each other, discover common interests and develop a common on-board culture, says Fantasia. Each ship has a dedicated “Crew Enrichment” team in charge of organizing special joint events, such as parties, movie nights or international days.

Sustainability a key concern of crew members

The need to think and act sustainably is rooted firmly in society today and young crew members are sensitive to the topic, says Fantasia: “You’d be surprised how proactive they are. They’ve understood the challenge we’re all facing, including all the new regulations, and they’re also proactive in proposing new ways of doing things. This makes it much easier for us to explain our expectations in terms of sustainability and decarbonization.”

NCLH has a dedicated decarbonization department that provides remote training on new environmental regulations to the environmental officers and senior management on board. Additional in-person training onshore ensures a better exchange of information, enabling officers to relay this information more easily to the rest of the crew.

Contact us
Antonio Prestigiacomo

Antonio Prestigiacomo

Business Development Director | Head of Maritime Academy, Region Americas

View image copyright information

The RelatedArticles module failed to load

Get regular cruise vessel insights!

Don’t be left out. Join the thousands others and sign up today to receive the latest cruise insights.

Sign up