According to Maritime NZ figures, 61% of commercial fishermen work when overtired, while 34% have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Key causes

  • Tough work: Hard physical work or boring, repetitive jobs like watchkeeping can bring on fatigue. Add stressors like the ship’s motion or extreme weather, and the risk is amplified.
  • Poor nutrition: The food you eat can make or break your energy levels. If you don’t eat well or drink enough water you leave yourself open to fatigue.
  • Staying awake for a long time: Six hours or less sleep a night, broken sleep and irregular work hours lead to a build up of ‘sleep debt’, a key fatigue trigger.
  • Drugs and alcohol: Drinking or taking drugs the night before sailing makes you more vulnerable to fatigue on board. If you’re intoxicated or hung over, stay safe, stay home.

What to do when struggling to sleep

  • Follow a roster: A well-planned sleep roster lets everyone get enough sleep (and includes 15 minutes to wake up).
  • Take naps: Nap whenever you can – and wear an eye mask and ear plugs to block out light and noise.
  • Eat well: A balanced diet of nutritious food gives you the energy you need to help ward off fatigue.
  • Dress right: In the cold, wear 3 layers (including windproof outer), warm hat, socks and insulated boots.
  • Drink water: A lack of water is a main cause of tiredness and low energy levels, so aim for 1.5 litres a day
  • Use watch alarms: Alarms don’t prevent fatigue, but they do help prevent accidents when watchkeepers fall asleep

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, all crew must take reasonable care to ensure that nothing they do on board harms themselves or any other person. Both operators and skippers must make sure the vessel is safe and involve the entire crew in managing any risks. Now is the time for you to raise any safety concerns that you have with your skipper or operator.

Earlier in 2018, Maritime NZ carried out a survey on the awareness and understanding of fatigue, focusing on a group of 83 commercial fishermen who said they spend more than a day at sea at a time.

Most of the 318 respondents are skippers and 82% have been working in the industry for more than 10 years, suggesting this group has the greatest concerns about fatigue.