Inside the Issues

Fatigue

Introduction

*Two Seafarers suffering from fatigue
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*Photo: Henk Wildschut / Raimond Wouda

Seafarers are increasingly expected to take on heavier workloads with less crew support, and to work longer hours with less time off – on board or on shore – to recuperate. 

Under the international convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), it is acceptable for a seafarer to work up to 98 hours a week. This is far longer than the limit of 72 hours a week laid down in the International Labour Organisation convention 180, and almost double the maximum of 48 hours per week in the European Working Time Directive.

What are the dangers of fatigue?

Safety at sea is endangered as crews are not fully alert, and take shortcuts. And your health suffers, now and in the future, through taking poor care of your physical and mental health needs. Comprehensive research on seafarer fatigue, published in 2006, showed how the long working hours culture takes its toll on seafarers:
  • One in four seafarers said they had fallen asleep while on watch
  • Almost 50% of seafarers taking part in the study reported working weeks of 85 hours or more
  • Around half said their working hours had increased over the past 10 years, despite new regulations intended to combat fatigue
  • Almost 50% of seafarers surveyed considered their working hours presented a danger to their personal safety
  • Some 37% said their working hours sometimes posed a danger to the safe operations of their ship

What about on-board records?

Increased workloads are also leading to a new problem - false record keeping. Seafarers are bowing to the pressures of the job to falsify records of the hours they actually work. This practice undermines onboard safety and health - and makes the problem of long hours working and crew fatigue harder to address.

How can seafarers cope with fatigue?

The symptoms of fatigue can endanger yourself, your colleagues, your ship and the marine environment. The danger signs include:
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Clumsiness
  • Headaches and giddiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Moodiness and needless worrying
  • Poor judgement of distance, speed, time and risk
  • Slow responses
  • Difficulty concentrating
If you become aware of these signs, you should take the following steps:
  • Use your maximum allowance of sleep, rest and leisure time
  • Inform your supervisor if you think fatigue may be impairing your performance
  • Where possible, rotate your tasks to mix heavy and lighter duties
  • Exercise daily
  • Eat as healthily as possible, limit smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption
Use the link on right of this page to see information on staying healthy.

What is the ITF doing?

The ITF campaign against fatigue at sea argues for:
  • Safe crewing levels on board ship
  • Enforcement of maritime regulations on minimum hours of rest and/or maximum hours of work
  • New regulations on seafarers' hours of work
  • Universal recognition of the right of all seafarers to shore leave
  • An onboard safety culture
  • Fatigue to be treated as a serious health and safety issue
  • For more information on fatigue, please use the links on the right of this page.