Fatigue At Sea Found To Be Major Risk For Sailors

With the long shifts, hours, days, or weeks spent at sea, and the physical strain associated with long voyages on the ocean, it’s no wonder that many sailors find themselves having a lot of sleepless nights out on the water.

While lack of sleep can affect workers in any industry – and let’s face it, we’ve all had a few nights where the morning came a little too soon – this sort of fatigue has been found to be an increasingly common source of risk for sailors and their crewmates.

The culture around cargo ships has a tendency to equate hard work with fewer hours of sleep; if you’re the last one to turn in for the night and the first one out of bed, you’re going to look that much better to the boss, right? This culture has started to lead to a lot of risks, health issues, and preventable accidents on the water, including a number of recent collisions between Navy vessels that have been attributed to fatigued workers and lack of sleep.

In fact, the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health recently performed a survey showing that seafarers who are willing to work while sleep-deprived or under fatigued conditions are seen as “more professional”, and believe that fatigue “just comes with the job”. Starting to sound a little familiar, right?

Clearly there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to change the culture of long nights and early mornings in the maritime industry, and a lot of it will have to start by making the shipowners more aware of the sleep needs of their workers, and how to schedule around these needs to prevent accidents and keep morale up. In the meantime, however, there’s a few things you can do while living onboard a cargo ship to try and get the best night’s sleep you can:


  • Set consistent sleep goals: try to get to bed and wake up at the most consistent times possible (given your work schedule and the travel schedule of the vessel itself) to get your body into a regular pattern
  • As your work schedule allows, give yourself time to relax before going to sleep – the body needs time to wind down before going to bed, so try to relax by reading or doing something calming in the time you have before lights out.
  • Try to avoid distractions – even in the bunk areas, cargo ships can get pretty noisy and bright. Bring earplugs to help drown out things like engine noise and other workers (but make sure you can still hear things like alarms or phone calls), and try setting up a curtain around your bunk to block out lights from the hallway.
  • Avoid heavy meals and caffeine before bed – these can cause discomfort and keep you awake longer than you need to be, so depending on your meal schedule, avoid any big meals an hour before bed at least. (And cut back on the caffeine at night – it might help you get through the day, but it’s going to make going to sleep that much harder.)

If you feel as though fatigue and an unreasonable work schedule have begun to affect your health as a cargo ship worker, you need the maritime lawyers of O’Bryan Law. Contact us today for a case consultation and we’ll help you fight for your rights on the water.