boat time

Posted in dredges, safety, tugs, USCG, watercolor, drawing, boat, sketch, waterfront by bowsprite on 2009/12/15

This ship has a 12h watch system: 0600 to 1800, 1800 to 0600. The crew of 35 are on 6 weeks, off 6.
A front watch gets the sun. A back watch gets no sun–and no Captain down their backs.

This one is using a 7-5, 5-7 watch (0600-1300-1800-2300-0600), deviating slightly from the industry standard of 6/6.

This offshore tug has the luxury of a 3-watch system (the benefit of any voyage more than 600 nm): 4 on-8 off, 8 on-4 off.  Their breakdown is 0600-1000-1400-1800. “We do it this way so whoever cooks does not end up with the pots.”

You were on watch to see the sun rising, the smell of breakfast is cooking, the engine is loud, someone is hammering: it is time to go to bed.

I am not going to touch the fatigue issue on boats. However, I will direct you to some fascinating sites. The Nautical Institute urges mariners to report issues relating to fatigue as part of their database.

Peruse the USCG’s Crew Endurance Management literature. Reactions to it are on Towmasters and by NYTugmasters, with links to studies on the matter. Good reading on the experiences are found on Kennebec Captain and on Old Salt Shaker’s ‘rest in pieces’, ‘inhuman error’, and ‘groundhog day’.

A reference on these manning issues are here. Quite interesting is this 1984 case of seamen vs USCG. If you need help falling asleep, all the codes are collected here.

So, don’t request a tug to blow their horn as they go by: there is always someone trying to sleep. They fight constant noise, vibration, light, motion, odors; are interrupted by drills — I just cannot imagine it. As one chief mate puts it: “…bear in mind that we work aboard vessels that are essentially designed to collide with things…”

One offshore tug chief mate said, “I don’t know how harbor guys do it. I had to do it for 2 weeks, and at the end, I couldn’t remember my name.”

Another mate wrote: “It was a 2-watch system (captain, mate, two deckhands and an engineer) until the economy fell apart –  and then most ship assist tugs went to “singled-up” crews (captain, engineer, and deckhand) – don’t ask how they complied with work and fatigue…!”

Knowing all this, though, it still might help to take the advice of one well-meaning journalist girlfriend should you attempt to date someone who goes to sea/incommunicado for weeks at a time:

thank you Julie, Will, Jed, Robert, Wesley and O, Linked Ones!

25 Responses

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  1. alice 0 said, on 2009/12/15 at 07:07

    fascinating topic . .. and –dearie– can you get me info on such a support group if it exists. i’ll bet biannual time changes related to daylight savings adds further havoc. have you talked with airline personnel who do intercontinental flights with layovers and learned their solution to sleep? and for the women who work within constraints of boat time (female mariners, i mean), what reactions might their male partners based on land have to their adjustment once they arrive back on shore? on a side note . . . that top drawing . . . to anthropomorhize (oh!! that the wrong word) to free associate a bit . . . it resembles a bit a grey lobster evolution… straingtened tail, legs gravitated upward to become yellow cranes, rectangle atop the carapace. said lobster seems about to try to ingest some long yellow-beaked seabird. or is lobster attempting to dialogue on bird time v. evolved lobster time?

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/15 at 10:19

      hey, Alice O! for a silent heartbreaker yourself, you’re rather chatty this morning!
      I am NO authority on, well, anything really. But ideas pop into my head, like this one for you: a ‘dear Alice’ column, advice to the forlorn and lovelorn, the sleep-deprived or contact-deprived. Can you handle crushed hearts the way you do crushed gravel?

  2. JP said, on 2009/12/15 at 07:55

    Lovely pics as always.

    There can also be health implications of working odd hours – see this report:

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/15 at 17:08

      have you heard of the shining of sunlight (or light) on the back of the knees helps reset from jetlag? or long hours of blogging? thank you, JP!

  3. Robert said, on 2009/12/15 at 12:43

    Well done, Bowsprite… just a quibble… three-watches are mandated for vessels on voyages of more than 600 nm, not distances offshore of 600 nm.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/15 at 17:11

      ah! I thought you meant a 600nm voyage off OUR shores, the Center of the Universe. How embarrassing. Thank you, Robert!!! (Creative reportage is one effect of collecting data in a bar.)

  4. naveganteglenan said, on 2009/12/15 at 15:31

    Hola bowsprite. Watches offshore are marvellous. The sea, no coastal hazars, and you can enjoy the night and the sunrise. This past summer, during my sail crossing of the English Channel, we had a watch rota for 5 crew members: 2 hours navigator, 2 hours steering, 2 hours crew and 4 hours rest. I love steering from 4 to 6 a.m. in summer time. Then, as you say, cooking the breakfast and then time to go to bed.

    As usual, wonderful acuarelas and very interesting links… I’ll copy this post in my blog 🙂

    Unrelated I: I’ve found a sister-watercolour of the Staffa one.
    Unrelated II: The capsize mistery is resolved.

  5. Jed said, on 2009/12/16 at 03:24

    As far as CEMS goes, research has spawned some cool products. Apparently they are experimenting with certain lights. Word is there is a special light that can be installed in the wheelhouse that ‘tricks’ the brain into thinking it’s daytime. It’s not a bright light – infrared/ultraviolet James Bond-ness that results in a more aware operator. So I’m told. I’m trying to find specs and such and will forward when I find them.

    Jed sends

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/16 at 06:20

      under the knees! the spot is under the knees. You need a hard hat, long sleeves, steel-tipped workboots, and removable flaps behind the knees.

  6. Capt. Mike said, on 2009/12/16 at 06:16

    I’ve been entertaing the idea of possibly looking to see if I might be able to find a temporary gig on a tug or barge or ship of some kind. Then I read this post. Having worked 19 years on the overnight shift I know what fatigue and lack of sleep really felt like. But, then I was not pushing or towing a barge of volitale explosive fluids like those working on the water. Your post on the watches is reminding me of my “zombie” days on the overnight shift. But, I was at least able to collapse on my water bed without the sound of a 30,000 horsepower engine vibrating me to sleep. My hat goes off to those who can sleep under such conditions.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/16 at 06:29

      how cool! how many water beds are out there on the working harbor, I wonder?
      there is something enticingly dada about water beds on a tug, water bunks with closed cross connections.

  7. Capt. Mike said, on 2009/12/16 at 11:18


    It would never work on a boat. Usually the problem is making sure you stay in the bunk especially in sailboats underway. I would think the sloshing of a waterbed due to wakes might have a tendency to catapult a sleeping crew member out of the bunk and would tend to just make people more grumpy.

  8. Mage B said, on 2009/12/16 at 14:14

    I made a mistake. I checked in here just as I was heading out to do errands. Darn….what a fascinating entry. You bet I will be back shortly to read every link and enjoy every drawing all over again. Bravo….great entry.

  9. Allen Baker said, on 2009/12/17 at 15:34

    Hi Bowsprite..

    If you ask me nicely, I could give you a comprehensive history lesson of tug labor since the early 1980’s and how we (tugmen) find ourselves in this current situation of undermanned tugs, barges and ships.

    Ok, you don’t even have to ask me nicely…


    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/18 at 12:09

      oh, pretty pretty please with a 600mm brass-armed parallel rule on top?

  10. Kennebec Captain said, on 2009/12/18 at 07:51

    What a post, and the comments! Yes, by all means make sure the cross connections are closed on the waterbed. I’d be interested to see Allen Bakers comments on labor issues, more mariners need to start blogging.

  11. lazerone said, on 2009/12/18 at 10:28

    I found out that New York Port Authority is having an icebreaker named William H. Latham. Please would you so kind to post some infos and some pictures. Thank you.


  12. Michael said, on 2009/12/18 at 14:58

    I always feel a bit unmanly when I confess to needing eight hours of sleep to be in good shape. Having just read Towmasters on the subject I don’t known whether I should be happy about it (I’m a man!) or worried (I’m surrounded by exhausted people) but I sure as hell want the folks in the ships (and planes) to have sufficient rest.

    • bowsprite said, on 2009/12/18 at 15:05

      Zen logic: eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired.
      modern life not very Zen.

  13. Maritime Monday 193 said, on 2009/12/21 at 00:13

    […] spell of insomnia has Bowsprite musing about fatigue and keeping odd hours » Peruse the USCG’s Crew Endurance Management literature. Reactions to it are on Towmasters and by […]

  14. Weather 2 « tugster: a waterblog said, on 2009/12/21 at 07:04

    […] close-ups, interactions with the USCG Bridle,  and perfect illustration for Bowsprite’s boat time post on a three-watch system.  FYI, the tow left the sixth boro aka exited the Narrows around 1300 […]

  15. jim said, on 2009/12/24 at 06:24

    Wimps! The Navy had watches of 6 on, 6 off, for 60 to 90 days. Pucker up and do your duty!

  16. Robert said, on 2010/01/03 at 20:39

    And the Navy had twice the officers and twice the crew on their tugs; more than double that on their ships. Get real.

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