Fatigue Suffered By Merchant Seafarers

The positioning of crew onboard oceangoing vessels is done after putting in the concoctions of freight involved, type of charter, length of voyage, size of ship etc. This is often done with a cost cutting and profit enhancing approach. The charter of duties of the crew is well defined and an extra hand is not positioned onboard. At sea, these billeting turns out to be unrealistic as the crew may be summoned to meet contingencies any time. If a pump or an engine fails at sea the manning structure goes topsy-turvy and the crew has to slog till things are set right. It is impractical to call for assistance during emergencies and the only option is to stretch the available manpower. The physical or mental weakness resulting from such prolonged and tiring effort or activity is called fatigue. The life at sea has fatigue inherent in it. The age of ship, maintenance standards and living conditions onboard contribute to the level of excessive stimulation or prolonged exertion. When fatigue strikes, the crew’s ability for spontaneous action during emergencies diminishes and this can lead to disaster.

In a report submitted by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), UK on marine accident to or onboard UK ships worldwide and other ships in UK territorial waters during the year 2004, it has been brought out that fatigue suffered by merchant seafarers caused a worrying number of collisions or near-misses. The sole objective of MAIB accident investigations is to determine the circumstances and causes of the accident with a view to preserve life and avoid accidents in the future, not to apportion blame or liability. Therefore, the findings will be based on facts and it should be considered in that spirit.

     The findings of MAIB should be treated as a pointer to the life of seafarers world over. A similar study on accidents and collisions that occurred throughout the world might bring out the alarming picture of health conditions of seafarers. If UK flag ships have a fairly good maintenance standard and living condition onboard, there is something beyond this that causes fatigue. National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers (NUMAST), UK has backed the MAIB’s call for urgent action to tackle the ‘scandalous’ problem and said it is ‘a miracle that there had not been a major accident caused by fatigue’. The Ship Owners, Charterers and Underwriters must listen to this warning and step in for action to avert another collision. Because, beyond the seafarers’ health, their interest in the ship is also at stake.

Fatigue Management

     To prevent fatigue related disaster onboard, positioning of standby crew for the Engine Room and Deck is very essential, let what the cost may be. At the personal front, seafarers should gain training to defeat tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion – as well as related conditions, such as insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. It is not only the STCW courses that are important for operation and survival at sea. The sailors need training to survive fatigue and live a happy life onboard. Happiness depends on one’s state of mind and body. To stabilize the body and mind, besides balanced food; adequate exercise and specialized medical care is essential. Unfortunately, enough room is not there onboard for these two aspects. It is at this point that the marine world should think about options like Yoga, Homoeopathy, Ayurveda and alternative medicines.

How Yoga Can Help Seafarers?

Yogic principles state that diseases are caused due to the imbalance in natural harmony of body and mind. Healing is done by restoring that balance. Yoga is the holistic approach to all aspects of life ie spiritual, physical and mental. Yoga views the person as a unique combination of body, mind and soul and its techniques maintain perfect harmony between these three. Yoga prescribes simple exercises that keep one happy and healthy. It doesn’t require a treadmill, a game court, furniture or other appliances that demands additional expenditure for one to practice it-just the space you sit and you. It can be practiced whenever you feel like. It is this special feature that makes yoga adaptable for seafarers in maintaining their health.

     It will be in the interest of seafarers to master the art of yoga from an experienced teacher or practitioner. With the time and space available onboard, Yoga will be an ideal therapy for one to maintain health and control fatigue. The Yoga lessons are available on CDs also.

Practice of Alternative Medicines. 

Normally allopathic medicines are prescribed for a shorter duration only. The Doctors need to monitor the impact of medication as the patient’s condition must have improved or deteriorated. Therefore, to increase / decrease the dosage or alter course of treatment, a doctor has to examine the patient. Seafarers who are under medication are deprived of this facility and continuation of medicine without medical supervision is dangerous. The deficiency of lack of specialized healthcare and counseling facilities onboard is one reason for the fatigue level to brew up. In this context and lifestyle of sailors, other systems of medicines like Ayurveda, Homoeopathy, Sidha and Unani are to be considered as an option to maintain health and contain fatigue onboard.


Ayurveda, a holistic healing science pioneered by our forefathers 5000 years ago emanated from the creator ‘Brahma’. According to Ayurveda, disease is a state caused by disturbance in one’s equilibrium of ‘tridoshas’ (ie Vatha, Pitha and Kapha) in the human body. Vatha represents the entire physical volume in a living organism, Pitha the entire biochemical processes operating in a living body and Kapha constitutes bodily movement and activity. A disturbance in equilibrium in any one of these doshas lead to the eruption of disease and treatment is administered to restore balance. The medicines are widely known to have little or nil side effects and sudden re-actions endangering life may be a rare incident. Prolonged treatment is administered for chronic diseases and this system of medicine is highly adaptable for seafarers who need a break for follow-up consultations.


     Homoeopathy is another widely accepted system of medicine. The fundamental principle of Homoeopathy is the law of similars – that like is cured by like. It was first given practical application by Samuel Hahnemann of Germany, in the 19th centuary. When a drug was found to produce the same symptoms as did a certain disease, it was then used in small doses in treatment of that disease. Side effects and sudden re-actions endangering life are rare incidence in homeopathic healing. This system of medicine is also highly adaptable for seafarers as medicine are prescribed for longer period, allowing enough time for follow-up consultations.

Health Checks

Life is a direct blessing from god. It is a blessing to lead healthy life in this wonderful world of unlimited opportunities. While at shore, the seaman should find time to visit a doctor and undergo a health check-up. Just like the equipment and machinery onboard, our body also needs a little servicing. A health check is aimed at assessing, identifying and making corrective suggestions to strip away or reduce health risks. High blood pressure, diabetes etc are silent killers. Most people don’t even know that they have it. The only way to know is to have it checked periodically. In a busy and competitive world, while switching over sea assignments and shouldering family commitments, the seaman tends to forget their health conditions. The task onboard takes the highest priority for the seaman and taking his ship to the destination is a matter of pride for him. To achieve this goal he compromises with fatigue and then adversity strikes in the form of a collision or a collapse.

The Plimsoll Mark

The interest of Ship Owner, Charterer and Underwriter is bestowed in the hands of the ship’s crew. The ship’s compliment should be adequate to meet contingencies at sea and it should not be compromised for petty gains. The ship management should provide counseling and training on the techniques of managing fatigue before joining the ship and during breaks. Periodically the crew should be enlightened on the suitability of practicing Yoga and alternative medical systems at sea. It is in the best interest of the crew to undergo health check-ups seriously and not as a ritual.

– By

Categories: Blogs

10 replies »

  1. This type ofarticles provide more confidence in seafarers and make them more realistic towards any situation.

  2. Good to read all this ,yoga is the magical cure.Try doing yogic asanas at sea with the ship rolling and Find yourself in a limbo.Any way alternate medicine and practise to reduce stress at sea is a wonderful idea. I would go further and say that Pranayana ia a better option

  3. The results indicate that this article seems to have generated a tussle between the ship owners and the seafarers. Perhaps more ship owners are reading this article.

  4. It is a good article.A step to improve life of we sefarers.At a time when we feel lonely, left out at sea or otherwise ,we can practice yoga,execrsise or prayers to keep the mind focusssed.

  5. the objective is clearly mentioned.i assure myself that i follow this technique which will keep me mentally and physically fit when i board the ship.

  6. Yoga and medicines is all very well, but when you are working 14 hours at a stretch or more it is a bit difficult to do yoga and most probably the medicines will also be forgotten. The most pragmatic will be to make an extra administration officer mandatory but nobody is listening.

  7. Mastering yoga is difficult for everyone. Meditations are simple and can be practiced easily. Laughter theraphy onboard ships can also help a lot.

  8. dear sir, it is very informative site especially for seafarers who had been long neglected, will spread rays oflight to enlighten the shipping commuity. capt sukhdev singh

  9. can anyone explain why rest hour records are maintained , but the truth is never recorded ? why are the masters left out?

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