How to write a fatigue management plan

A fatigue management plan highlights the fatigue risks on board your vessel and outlines how they should be managed.
a man sitting in the cabin of a sea vessel is sitting down and completing some paper work on a clip board.

Depending on your operation, developing a plan might be simple, complicated or anywhere in between. But regardless of how easy or difficult it is to create, chances are it won't be 100% right the first time. That's why it's essential to follow these three steps:

1. Develop the draft plan.
This process should be led by the owner/operator, with help from the skipper and crew, and others where needed.

2. Trial the plan for several weeks.
See what works and what doesn't.

3. Revise the plan.
Improve your plan based on the trial. Many operators also find it useful to review their plans at the end of each season.

“We have a good verbal discussion before we sail. I put the hazard register on the table for the guys to go over. Then they're encouraged to look at things.” – Steve (skipper)


Example fatigue management plan

Use this example as a basis for writing your own fatigue management plan.

About the company

Dave's Seafoods is operated by Dave and Shirley. They own and operate a 14m fishing vessel that trawls in the summer and dredges for oysters in the winter, and employ a crewman called Tom.

Dave and Tom go to sea and Shirley does the books on land. Dave's Seafoods leases quota, and Dave and Tom work long hours to provide a return to the business.

Their plan

Dave and Shirley's expectations

Dave and Shirley (as Dave's Seafoods) want to manage their operation well. They agree that Dave and Tom need to avoid dangerous incidents that could happen as a result of being fatigued. This includes working too many hours.

Dave, Shirley and Tom read the material on Maritime NZ's website to learn more about fatigue and health and safety. Later they met at Dave and Shirley's house to talk about what would work for them.

Their plan will help reduce the risk of either Dave or Tom making a decision that results in injury or damage to the boat or environment.

Developing the plan

It's a good idea to follow these steps:

  1. Write the draft plan (‘Plan’)

    This should be led by the owner. Shirley writes the first draft, with assistance from Dave and Tom.

    Once they have identified the fatigue risks, Shirley, Dave and Tom decide how they will manage the risks (the ‘controls’). Shirley then works through the list with Dave and Tom to work out what needs to be done to put the controls in place (‘actions’).

    This is often referred to as the ‘Plan’ stage. Under HSWA a business (or PCBU) must involve workers when identifying risks and controls.

  2. Trial the plan (‘Do’)

    Dave's Seafoods trials the plan for a month so they can get a good understanding of what works and what doesn't.

    This step is often referred to as the ‘Do’ stage.

  3. Revise the plan (‘Check’ and ‘Act’)

    Plans usually don't get everything right first time. Dave tweaks the plan after a while, and decides to have a meeting at the end of the season so everyone can review it together. If need be they will then revise the plan and put any changes in place.

    These steps are often ‘Check’ and ‘Act’. The ‘Act’ stage refers to keeping the plan alive by continuing to periodically review the controls and make any changes that are needed.

Dave's Seafoods draft plan

Shirley, Dave and Tom draw up a table that lists fatigue risks, the controls they will use to manage those risks, and the actions they need to take to put the controls in place (‘actions’).

Remember these are just examples, and some may not apply to every operation.

Common risks are listed in the table, along with a plan to remove or minimise them. (Remember these are just examples, and some may not be suited to your operation.)

Fatigue risks Controls to address the risk Things that need to be doneh>

Long drives to and from the boat

Sleep on the boat every second night

Share driving – drives while the other sleeps

Improve the sleeping area

Make sure one sleeps while the other drives (no music or radio)

Working long hours at sea

Breaks to eat and drink

Share watchkeeping

Make sure Tom knows the watchkeeping rules

Rotate off the deck for a break

Set breaks at regular times

Give Tom watchkeeping training

Make sure there are standing orders

Give Tom as much training as he needs

Working many days in a row

Monitor sleep/work hours

Get another crew member

Shirley to manage time off

Give Tom time off

Hire another crew member

Dave is fatigued

Dave to have a full night at home and leave a bit later every second trip during the busy season

Everyone agree on this, so Dave doesn't feel he has to go fishing when fatigued

Review schedule of departures

Noisy engines create fatigue

Use hearing protection

Use good mufflers

Get hearing protection

Get new mufflers

Crew arriving drunk after being out all night

Have a “no drinking” rule the night before sailing

Hold off on sailing

Add a “no drinking” policy to the employment contract

Hold off on sailing

Crew tired after being kept up all night by young children

Stay on the boat the night before sailing or sleep in separate areas

Hold off on sailing to get some rest

Check if crew had enough sleep

Make sure sleeping area is comfortable

Sleep with ear plugs

Hold off on sailing

Check box in logbook to ask crew about sleep

Standing and sorting at shellfish tray all day

Take breaks

Swap sides of tray with skipper

Wear comfortable footwear

Drink water regularly

Work area arrange to avoid strains

Set breaks at regular times

Change positions every hour

Get better footwear

Set up the sorting area so it's comfortable to work at

Gutting fish all night

Take breaks

Land green fish

Have regular breaks at set times

Have breaks between tows

“It's important to have a culture of honesty.” – Andrew


Fatigue management and HSWA

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), risks must be managed by both owners and workers. Fatigue is one of these key risks.

As an operator or skipper, you're required to make sure the vessel is safe (so far as is reasonably practicable), which includes minimising the risk of fatigue. Operators are also required to involve workers in managing fatigue.

Crew (both those on wages and those who are self-employed) are responsible for taking sensible safety precautions – like letting you know if they have sleep problems and ensuring that they get enough sleep during rest periods. It's important that everyone – the skipper, the crew and the owner – contributes to creating the fatigue management plan.