Fatigue Monitoring Could Provide Industry Wakeup Call


The collision incidents involving the USS John McCain and the USS Fitzgerald in 2017 led to US Navy Admiral John Richardson expressing concerns that naval staff viewed going without sleep was a badge of honour.

This is only one of the many ways that fatigue impacts the shipping industry and is an oft-repeated causal factor in maritime incidents and seafarer injuries.

To address the problem of seafarer fatigue, the IMO has published new industry guidance. With the advent of wearable technology, fatigue monitoring could get a whole lot easier.

Understanding Fatigue

In the past sleepiness and fatigue were considered one and the same, but this is not always the case. A seafarer can suffer from fatigue without feeling sleepy. In broad terms, sleepiness is a short term condition that comes on quickly and is simply caused by a lack of sleep. Fatigue, on the other hand, is a long term condition that gradually takes hold and can be caused by a number of factors.[1]

Updated Guidance

The IMO has issued updated guidance on fatigue in MSC.1/Circ.1598. First issued in 2001, the guidelines on fatigue have been brought up to date for 2019, using more user-friendly language and focusing more on providing practical advice. The new guidelines can be downloaded here.

Using Tech to Fight Fatigue

An important aspect of managing fatigue is monitoring. It is possible to monitor the conditions that contribute to fatigue, such as work scheduling and the monotony of certain tasks, but the actual monitoring of a seafarer’s level of fatigue is difficult. It has largely relied on self-assessment and sleep diaries, which can be unreliable. 

In response, some technology companies believe real-time monitoring of individuals can help. The use of wearable tech has been successful in other industries, in particular the haulage industry where truck drivers are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

These systems vary, but essentially the seafarer would wear a device that tracks motion and heart rate – similar to the popular ‘Fitbit’ personal devices. This feeds into monitoring system where it is analysed. User activity, sleep patterns and – just as importantly – quality of sleep is assessed.

The data can provide an alert to the seafarer or the shipping company if calculated fatigue levels are considered to be unacceptable. Over time, the data can provide a valuable insight into life on board and can influence future work planning and manning.

This technology is currently unproven in the maritime industry and its use does introduce other risks, particularly if called as evidence by another party against the shipowner in the event of an incident where fatigue is suspected.

Recharge your battery 

Imagine your body and mind like a mobile phone battery. Quick phone charges will give you some battery use over the immediate to short term but battery life will deteriorate in the long term. Short term quick fixes or charges are not the solution to long term efficient battery use and the same is true of the human mind and body.


Image reproduced with kind permission of RSS Infrastructure Ltd

[1] Project MARTHA Report 2017, bit.ly/ProjectMARTHA


Author: Kostas Katsoulieris
Senior Executive (Claims)