Face the facts on fatigue

In January 2018 we surveyed people who hold fishing-related certificates. 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.
a group of eight paper origami boats placed on a striped backdrop.

We focused our analysis on the 83 commercial fishermen who reportedly spend more than a day at sea at a time. We asked them their thoughts on fatigue – their understanding, their experiences, and the steps they're taking to minimise it. Here's a summary of what we discovered:


What's the problem?

Fatigue is a common problem for those spending long periods at sea. All the fishermen we analysed are aware of fatigue's potential danger, with most having experienced some of the warning signs.

Over all, the fishermen agree that fatigue is ‘somewhat of’ a problem (5.5 on a scale of 0-10). Yet, worryingly, more than 40% claim to not have received any training on fatigue.

“It is rife and a real problem.”

What are the signs?

Although all the fishermen are aware of fatigue, few recognise all the warning signs. ‘Feeling tiredness’ is the most obvious, as identified by 96% of respondents. This is followed by ‘slow responses’ (72%), and ‘risk taking’ (50%).

Some of the lesser known warning signs include 'skin problems', 'cravings' and 'allergies', which are only recognised by 10%, 8% and 4% of the fishermen respectively.

What are the dangers?

More than half of the fishermen (52%) experience mood swings as a result of fatigue, with even more (56%) admitting they'd made mistakes on the job when fatigued. Then there are those who fell asleep at the wheel (34%), made a bad decision (42%) and were easily distracted or unable to concentrate (39%) – all because of fatigue.

“Falling asleep I see as the main problem.”

Experiences with fatigue

bar graph displaying results on questions around fatigue

70-80% of maritime accidents are thought to be a result of human error. Our survey results emphasise the potential role of fatigue in causing such errors.

“Owner operators never get a proper break and become mentally tired, which can lead to depression and poor seamanship.”


How is fatigue being managed?

Some of the fishermen manage fatigue on the job, while others take preventative steps before sailing. Here are some of the steps they're taking:

On the job

  • ensuring two people are on the bridge, or using a watch alarm
  • following a sleep roster and watchkeeping timetable
  • taking power naps
  • monitoring themselves for warning signs.

Before sailing

    • getting adequate sleep
    • eating and drinking well, and avoiding alcohol
    • developing a fatigue and/or time management plan
    • carefully planning trips
    • employing enough staff to ensure that everyone gets a break
    • keeping the vessel well maintained.

“If I'm fatigued, I'm not going out.”


Download the full results [PDF: 590kB, 5 pages]


Fatigue facts

Based on our research:

  • the average length of a sleep period is less than 6 hours
  • the longest time spent awake on a single trip is 20 hours
  • less than half of vessels have a sleep roster (even though they’re travelling for several days at a time).