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Yacht Crew Fatigue

Sue Blundell / SJO Illustrations
Sue Blundell / SJO Illustrations

As seafarers working aboard yachts our primary responsibility is safety. Safety of our guests, safety of our crewmates, safety of our vessel and safety of ourselves, nothing is more important. We assume when we are on charter or the owner is on board that we will, in essence, be working 24/7. Always available and on call for any request is how we operate. But how can we do our job effectively if we are dog-tired?

Our motto has always been, “Work hard, play hard”, that is until last year, August 20, 2013 to be exact, the date that the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 took effect. MLC 2006, as it is known, is a product of the International Labour Organization, a United Nations Agency which sets labor standards around the world. It was designed as the ‘Seafarers’ Bill of Rights’, and addresses a variety of working conditions including safe manning levels, the maximum hours of work and the minimum hours of rest that crew on commercial vessels must adhere to. The scope of this mandate includes yachts with paid crew members and has caused much debate within the yachting industry.

The concept is simple: the need to avoid or minimize excessive hours of work, ensure sufficient rest and limit fatigue. Even so, some superyacht captains have argued that they can’t efficiently serve the requirements of their yacht owners with the restrictions imposed by MLC 2006. However, as the size of superyachts and the complexity of their systems increase, so does the chance of fatigue related accidents. Case in point, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) of the British government conducted an extensive study of collisions and groundings of commercial vessels. The MAIB discovered that ‘a third of all groundings involved a fatigued officer alone on the bridge at night.’ It is well established that due to our circadian rhythm or daily biological clock, our mental alertness is lowest between the times of 0400 to 0800. In one accident the MAIB noted ‘the chief officer fell asleep standing at the controls between 0405 and 0415 and missed a planned alteration in course. He woke and hour later, still standing, as the vessel grounded.’

All superyacht crew working on vessels that cruise to international destinations are required to participate in Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities training as required by STCW 95 (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping). During that training they learn that fatigue is caused by weariness, exhaustion, overexertion, stress and inadequate sleep. The STCW 95 Basic Safety Training is the bedrock of all the work that we do aboard yachts, whether we are a captain, engineer, stewardess, chef or deckhand.

What was once a training standard, is now a set of regulations enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Port State Control of other maritime nations. In other words, it is the law.

 

CREW FATIGUE

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 limits on hours of work or rest are as follows:

Maximum hours of work shall not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period; and 72-hours in any seven-day period; or:

Minimum hours of rest shall not be less than ten hours in any 24-hour period; and 77-hours in any seven-day period.

Hours of rest may be divided into no more than two periods, one of which shall be at least six hours in length, and the interval between consecutive periods of rest shall not exceed 14-hours.

Musters, fire-fighting and lifeboat drills, and drills prescribed by national laws and regulations and by international instruments, shall be conducted in a manner that minimizes the disturbance of rest periods and does not induce fatigue.

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