Background on fatigue

Fatigue affects an individual’s ability to do their job effectively and safely. Apart from impairing individual performance, fatigue also effects health and wellbeing.1 There is a common misconception that fatigue "comes with the job"; while not particular to the maritime industry, it is certainly pervasive within it. Fatigue is a hazard that needs to be addressed and managed appropriately.

The nature of maritime operations means that working on vessels exposes crew to conditions which lead to fatigue. Fatigue has been identified as a safety concern in a number of accidents, some leading to tragic outcomes. Accident investigations and the research literature revealed the serious impact of fatigue on safety, health and welfare of seafarers.

 Research is also clear on the consequences of fatigue, which include aspects such as performance decrements, increase in error rates, delayed or response failure, decreased attention span, decreased motivation, irritability, restlessness, and long-term health problems. There are also risk factors that lead to fatigue with the main contributors related to duration and timing in which sleep takes place. These risk factors also include inadequate sleep, prolonged periods of wakefulness, shift work, stress, environmental aspects (ship motion, temperature variation, light and noise), duration of continuous work and workload (task demands).

To date, there has been limited focus on the domestic commercial vessel (DCV) industry in Australia on the issue of fatigue. Hence limited information is available on the level of awareness and experiences with fatigue for crew engaged on domestic commercial vessels. 

An exploratory pilot study conducted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in 2016 on domestic fishing vessels2 focusing on safety culture within the industry examining the systems, processes and people related to operating schedules and workplace norms. This initial study identified that the least mature systems on fishing vessels under study related to operational scheduling. The reason for operational scheduling rating poorly was because the risk of fatigue was not being managed effectively. The study further highlighted the need to explore how fatigue was managed given the masters’ perceptions on fatigue contradicted the facts about how sleep impacts performance. The study findings concluded that more understanding was needed on the issue of fatigue on domestic commercial vessels.

Therefore, to ensure that relevant and effective guidance is developed for the domestic vessel operations, input was sought in 2019 from the industry to gauge their understanding, experiences and current practices used to manage fatigue. 

This report provides initial and high-level findings of the data collected by the survey conducted in 2019. The initial analysis presents basic demographic and descriptive statistics. 


This research survey was designed to capture and understand the level of awareness and perceptions of fatigue and its management of crew engaged on domestic commercial vessels. The survey was conducted in late 2019 and completed responses were received from 1024 crew engaged on most classes of domestic commercial vessels. 


The survey was conducted online (approximately 80% of surveys were completed by respondents via Survey Monkey) and offline (approximately 20% of surveys were completed manually by respondents). Participation was anonymous, voluntary, and personal information was not made available to anyone.

To ensure a higher response rate, the survey was limited to 22 simple questions. The survey was designed to collect data on recent and normal experiences by crew engaged on domestic commercial vessels based on their last month, their last sea trip and hours of sleep they would normally obtain when at sea. The questions were based on existing literature centred on collecting data on four key areas:

  • demographics, 
  • sleep/rest, 
  • fatigue awareness and 
  • management of fatigue. 

The survey (see Annex A) took around six minutes to complete. The survey was available online between 18 July and 31 October 2019.


1 Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) (2019). Fatigue guidelines: Managing and reducing the risk of fatigue at sea.
Douglass, E., Neal, A., & Grech, M. (in print). An exploratory study of safety culture in domestic commercial vessels. University of Queensland/ University of Western Australia/ Australian Maritime Safety Authority.