New Study: "An evaluation of fatigue factors in maritime pilot work scheduling"

by - published on 17 September 2020 901


The purpose of this study was to evaluate the extent of fatigue among Bar Pilots and its potential impact on safety, and to make recommendations concerning how the risk of fatigue could be managed. Information was gathered via a literature review, observations of Bar Pilots at work, surveys, a task analysis, and an analysis of dispatch records.

The work of Bar Pilots involves an unusual mix of activities and job demands. Their work calls for situational awareness, reasoning, communication, and perceptual abilities comparable to those required by airline pilots and air traffic controllers. Errors can have severe consequences for public safety and the environment, as well as significant financial costs.

Fatigue is increasingly recognized as a hazard that must be managed by the transportation industry. The reduced sleep quality and quantity experienced by personnel who work at night, in conjunction with circadian misalignment can lead to an operationally significant level of cognitive impairment.
Fatigue can have a detrimental impact on cognitive functions that are critical to safe maritime piloting, such as vigilance, judgment, reaction time and communication.

Maritime piloting operations involve on-call work schedules that may lead to sleep loss and circadian misalignment. Our study documented pilot work scheduling practices (n = 61) over a one-year period.

Most pilots worked a week-on/week-off schedule. Work periods averaged 7.6 hours in duration and pilots worked up to four ship assignments during a given work period. Work weeks averaged a total of 35.0 hours with pilots working on average three consecutive days. Night work was common (19.0 hours/week) with 02:00 h the most common starting hour for a work period.

On-call work periods occurred at irregular times with a high degree of start time variability between consecutive work periods. While typical individual and weekly work total hours were not high, there were instances with long work periods, minimal rest opportunities, and extended total weekly work hours. Fatigue-model predictions based on work schedules were similar to objective outcomes collected among other groups of maritime pilots and may prove useful in identifying potential fatigue risks within on-call work schedules. Future studies should be conducted using objective measures to provide further insight on how on-call maritime operations influence sleep timing, alertness, and performance.

Additional information

This study was performed under contractual agreement 15M900007 between the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the Bays of San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun and the San José State University Research Foundation.

The authors would like to thank the San Francisco Bar Pilots who assisted with data collection and in our understanding of their operations. In particular, Port Agent Captain Joseph Long was available for communications, meetings, and facilitated transfer of the dispatch records files. From the San José State University Research Foundation, Zachary Caddick and Gregory Costedoat supported various aspects of the study.


Kevin Gregory, Alan Hobbs, Bonny Parke, Nicholas Bathurst, Sean Pradhan & Erin Flynn-Evans (2020) An evaluation of fatigue factors in maritime pilot work scheduling, Chronobiology International, DOI: 10.1080/07420528.2020.1817932

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