Shipping out The story of merchant mariners, and their families, who carry on at home

There’s a book by the same name which is mentioned: Shipping Out; A Sociological Study of American Merchant Marines

Good book, worth a read if you ship.

From the article:

Bill Mabie’s wife Shawn agrees with Julia that the homecomings can be tougher than the departures. “Over the years I’d get used to Bill going away — when someone’s away you miss them, but then there’s a reunion, which is nice — but adapting to when he’s home can be more of a challenge.”

Even 50+ years ago, the USN would have chaplains and family specialists visit ships on their return transit from deployment (usually six months), to advise these young sailors how to transition smoothly back into the family sphere. e.g. your very capable spouse has been reliably paying the bills for six months, so don’t just grab the checkbook and “take over”…

As a Division Officer, Department Head and finally as XO, there were always a LOT of domestic issues to deal with in the weeks and months following return from deployment.


I see a claim on another thread that divorce rates for mariners are very high, anyone got statistics on this? I checked the claim made here that firefighters have high divorce rates but from what I looked at it’s not true.

Nope. They have other issues, apparently.Florida firefighter kills new wife in murder-suicide after ominous Facebook post | Fox News

The book was published in 1972. I’m slightly curious what sociological changes have changed in the 52 years that have intervened. We talk about how different the industry is now from 20 years ago. It is a WHOLE lot different than the 70’s. I would posit that mental health may be worse now due to the increased connection and modern communications.

You can literally watch all the fun you are missing versus back in the day when you might get a letter every other month or stumbled upon a functional payphone near the dock.

Interesting subject for sure.

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I read “Shipping Out” in the early 80’s sometime, a shipmate recommended it, lost my copy at some point but been looking to replace it. That’s how I found the article in the OP.

What I recall about the book is it was written by the daughter of a deep-sea union mariner and the concept passing through a ‘portal’ (often a bar) on the way to and from a voyage.

Anyway, found a copy and it’s on the way.

Here’s something out of another sociological study. This one came out in 1983, the same time I was joining the maritime world. (I can only screen-grab the text, so it gets cut-off at the end).

The writer was a graduate student who shipped out to interview mariners (or “seamen” as we were called in those prehistoric times):

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Here’s another screen grab from the same study, circa 1983:

The author of "Shipping Out", Mariam G. Sherar was a Professor of Sociology and the wife of a merchant seaman. She also wrote “Joe’s Diner and Other Maine Stories”, so apparently some connection to Maine.

Which is relevant to the subject about mariner’s wives in chapter 5 “To Marry or Not” (book was written in 1973 so assumption is it’d be a wife).

The relevance is the spouse’s family and peer group. If the sea-going partner being away is seen as unusual or odd to the stay-at-home partner’s peers than that puts more strain on life at home than if being away is seen as a normal part of life.

Anecdotally, sitting in the control room with a pumpman who had spent his adult life at sea. My wife had just became
pregnant with our first, and we were talking. He had been married to one woman for a guess 30 years. 4 children. To me
he was kind of a living proof you can be a husband and a father and a sailor. But what he told me that night, brought me up short and
stayed with me. What he said was, he loves his children, and they love him, but he does not have the relationship with them that his wife
has. Not the normal mom vs dad stuff, just not close – just missed too much of their lives. Intellectually his grown children understand, but
just not the closeness they have with their mom.

I didn’t make it very long staying at sea after the first child came. I think that night in the control room played a big part in that.


Sometimes it’s instructive to inspect other lives.

I’ve been reading about movie directors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. 1940s etc. Howard Hawks, Cecil B Demille etc. These were enormously wealthy men. For the most part lived maybe 10 miles from where they worked. Most had several wives over the years. Also, at the same time, several mistresses. Had children. Most tended to ignore their children. Some sent them to boarding schools, even though they owned several houses filled with servants.

At a certain point when they were still young they could have retired early and not worked another day in their lives and spent it with the family. Chose not to. Of course they often ended up estranged from their adult children . Didn’t matter. They’d have more kids closing in at 60 with wives who were in their 20s.

Main point here: fathers distanced from children may be more of a choice than what profession we choose.


This struck my interest and I cannot find anything like reliable statistics.
Flying was always assumed to be a very divorce-prone profession and everyone just assumes this is so.
Likewise cops, firefighters, the military, and probably porn actors.
I did find this:
The divorce rate is high throughout the country, but you may be shocked to learn that in the transportation industry the rate is approaching epidemic levels. Nearly 75% of some pilot groups have been divorced at least once. Some have been divorced even two or three times.
Ships are part of the transportation industry one would think, so this probably applies.
Anything that has you gone from home for long periods and is stressful would seem to be prone to this. I recall being bored and turning on AT&T High Seas back in the day and hearing some pretty agonizing calls home, I wonder now if more or less constant contact makes it better or makes it worse.

No statistics, just an anecdote. A high school classmate of mine was happily married to his high school sweetheart for his entire 20 year Navy career as a submariner. They divorced six months after his retirement. :laughing:

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That’s not unusual among retired Navy guys I worked with. It seems the wives got used to doing things their way for 20+ years and there was conflict once they were together full time.
Also, I don’t think the divorce rate among merchant mariners is any higher than service members, especially navy.

The stay ashore partner needs to have, or be able create and then manage a support network. Both technical (plumbing problems etc) and emotional (family crisis and events etc).

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PLUMBING is the key!
Angry Wife: The toilet is clogged!!!
Me: I am 3,000 miles away. What exactly am I supposed to be doing about this?
(quickly learns this is the wrong answer :roll_eyes:)

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I might not even get an email, much less a phone call. Maybe a mention of a problem and how it was resolved.