Crew Rest?

February 2009


Okay, here’s weekend topic raised, in part, by a news article about a merchant ship running aground because the man on watch fell asleep (see also here).

It was my experience in the surface warfare world that there was a tendency for watch officers to “burn the candle at both ends” – usually a result of demands placed on them by work load, drills and the like. In fact, there has been a sort of perverse pride in long hours with little or no sleep.

In the aviation community, there is a certain amount of mandated “crew rest” after flying and before being eligible to fly again: OPNAVINST 3710.7T states : Flight Crew and Flight Support Personnel. Commanders should make available eight hours for sleep during every 24-hour period. Schedules will be made with due consideration for watch standing, collateral duties, training, and off-duty activities. Flight Crew. Ground time between flight operations should be sufficient to allow flight crew to eat and obtain at least 8 hours of uninterrupted rest. Flight crew should not be scheduled for continuous alert and/or flight duty (required awake) in excess of 18 hours. If it becomes necessary to exceed the 18-hour rule, 15 hours of continuous off-duty time shall be provided.

Now, here’s the question should similar rest requirements be put in place for shipboard watch standers, especially those on the bridge?

Posted by Mark Tempest in Aviation

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Well…as Skippy-san will attest to, that part of the 3710 was one of the most ignored parts of NATOPS for most of our flying days, at least as far as CV-OPS was concerned. That said, and having spent my fair share of twenty-plus hour evolutions on the bridge I think there is merit in the idea just as there is in rigorously enforcing the rule that when special nav details are called away there are no other evolutions or distractions (including “visitors”) on the bridge.
    – SJS

  • Having had the experience of standing watch on a pitch-black bridge with maybe 4 hours of sleep in the previous two days, yes, some sort of rule on rest requirements would be a great idea.

    If the surface fleet is still doing “midwatch becces”, then those ships are asking for a bad thing to happen.

  • P.M. Leenhouts CAPT USN (Ret)

    I do not believe it prudent to further limit the authority of Commanding Officers at sea in ships. Study after study shows that,without question, sleep deprivation leads to poor decision-making and accidents. There is.no.doubt.at.all about it. Commanding Officers have been exposed to this fact at every stage in their sea-going careers. There will be times when a CO must push his crew harder than he/she would like. So be it. Deal with individual transgressions by dealing with the individuals involved, not by limiting all commanding Officers for the mistakes of one or two. The Service does not need to capriciously levy more rules or regs to limit the CO’s authority to run his/her ship.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    How does the idea of mandated crew rest fit in with the reduced manning initiative? Particularly in a vessel that has sustained combat damage and is still potentially in the fight?

  • sid

    How does the idea of mandated crew rest fit in with the reduced manning initiative?

    You got to it first URR…Don’t forget: “In Close”. At forty knots. At night. In waters noted for uncharted/badly charted what datum was that again?) obstructions, and crowded with all kinds of dubious radar contacts. All that against a shoreline that barely paints at all. With the constant tension of wondering just when the first round will get fired a constant drain on what energy you can muster….

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Yep. LCS needs to be fitted for an intravenous coffee distribution system.

  • Bill Aston

    This high speed waterborn dart manned with short muster lists racing around shallow water with inadequate crewrest is an invitation to some chapters from McHale’s Navy. I wonder if there is a growing realization of just how much change in SOP will be required for the new ishore navy.

    The gestation period will exceed any future service of program supporters. Better begin some serious longterm readiness studies now. I am not impressed with photos of one of the few officers at work on his cleaning station. Best we begin to phase out the recruiting pictures and install some fleet realism.

  • sid

    Some years back I ruminated that it may be a good idea to expand the kind of fatigue training now endured by SEALS to everyone who goes to sea in an “opitmally” manned ship.

  • While there is no requirement by policy, I can tell you from experience that most ship COs pay close attention to this in the ORM process and much more thought is given to having well-rested watchstanders than was the case 20 years ago.

  • I can say that there is still something of a pride factor in how long someone can go without sleep.

    It’s a badge of honor, even though it shouldn’t be because, as CAPT Leenhouts said, after awhile you just start making bad decisions.

    I don’t think a mandated “crew rest” period should be instituted at all levels, but it would be nice 🙂

  • A little more rest 20 (!) years ago would have helped me be a better watchstander, but it should not be written into some regulation and enforced Navy-wide. COs should certainly be encouraged to establish policies along those lines based on the needs of their commands.

  • Anathema

    FastNav – be careful to not confuse young stupidity and violations of every ship’s standing orders I have seen with “a badge of honor”. I too have seen JOs brag about how little sleep they have had…and it’s all too often involved procrastination, movies, sitting around, or Guitar Hero and less and less about mission accomplishment.
    As for a “Navy” policy…there used to be one in Fleet Regs – a document almost no one reads because it isn’t inspected against.

  • Brine

    Make no mistake this is an issue, but the nail has already been hit squarely on the head here: it is an issue the CO, XO and CMC need to drive. Down below 3 section, maybe 3 with a kicker is the general rule, and that doesn’t give much time, especially after paperwork, maintenance, and training are done.
    The big question in the back of leadership’s head has to be: “how tired are they” and “what isn’t important” when they are tired. The whole “routine, but inherently dangerous issue” is probably something they teach at the senior leadership course, because I’ve been blessed with COs and XOs who explained it to me in both word and deed. There are a finite number of hours in a 18 or 24 hour day, and working smarter or harder won’t change that.
    This doesn’t have to consider dumb kids (JO and blue shirt alike) who stay up too late doing things, but that is a seperate leadership issue that can usually be corrected informally with peer pressure and leadership.

  • marvin

    On a Navy bridge, there is more than one person –
    so a little teamwork to notice if a watchstander is too sleepy and to take action to protect the ship.

    After being on the bridge for 26 of the last 32 hours, I still had the conn and if it wasn’t for a CWO4 on my watch team, I would have driven right over a small boat.

  • Dave Price

    As used in NATOPS for aviators, perhaps a “should” could be the wording to describe expected rest requirements before assuming a watch position that requires wide-awake decisionmaking. This would allow the chain of command to make calls based on the situation at hand. It would also help begin to address the (perhaps misplaced) machismo that leads to bragging about how little sleep one can operate on. General guidelines from on high with specific guidance in a ship’s SOP might alleviate concerns about loss of command authority and expeditionary flexibility. As in aviation, CO’s would then be expected to articulate rationale for not following guidelines, particularly if something went awry. Then educate to the policies and the physiological reasoning behind them using historical case studies. Of note, hospitals are also rethinking their “crew rest” requirements, particularly for interns and residents and seeing quite a bit of cultural push-back, despite the many cases of malpractice which can be at least partially attributed to lack of rest on the part of doctor’s.

  • ExLT

    As a 1st Lt on a Cruiser, there were not enough hours in the day. I remember times when I would hit the 70 hour mark with maybe 5 hours of sleep total in that time. I would enter a “zombie” mode where I physically could not sleep. My body would just keep going until 10 to 15 hours later when I would just become completely exhausted and have to go to my rack.
    In retrospect, it was pretty stupid. I could have found the time to get proper (at least more) sleep. My division was A+ in every inspection and evolution, but my qualifications to make SWO suffered. I did what it took to get the job done, but I just did not have the managerial experience to trust my people more (delegate) and hold them to account (audit). A hard lesson learned that has helped me to success in my sillyvillian life.

  • Byron

    In the shipyard repair, new construction and conversion world I live in, if I pull an all nighter (anything in excess of 18 hours straight) I do NOT work the next shift. Pure and simple, it’s first a safety issue, and second an efficiency issue. Just like we learned not to work continious 12 hour shifts. After 3-4 weeks, the efficiency in the last 2-3 hours of each shift goes to hell.