Fatigue doesn't mean you're tired

The results of our recent survey confirm that all respondents are aware of fatigue and most consider it to be a problem. However, the survey results also suggest that its signs are commonly misunderstood.

It's not what you think

When you're fatigued, you mightn't even feel sleepy at all. In fact, it's possible to both look and feel alert when being at risk of falling asleep!

This is because when you're fatigued, you can be over-tired – and the signs of being over-tired are different to those of ‘feeling tiredness’. You may even feel lively – or ‘wired’. Your heart might race as your adrenalin surges. In this state, you could potentially feel perfectly fit to work. The danger is, your performance wouldn't be up to scratch.

This is important because while caffeine might perk someone up who is tired, for fatigue it can fool the body into thinking that it has more energy than it doesn't and compound the risk of accidents on board,

Accident investigations have found that fishermen often ‘felt good’ just before falling asleep on watch. This was true for a skipper who fell asleep at the helm (you may remember him from the story we recently shared). The skipper says he took all the right precautions – slept well the night before, avoided alcohol, set all watch alarms – yet he fell asleep in the wheelhouse, while his luxury launch motored along on autopilot, its alarms blaring.

“We did it all right, but the fatigue still caught up with us. The trouble is, you don't think you are fatigued,” the skipper says.

Read full story

Tiredness is not a foolproof sign of fatigue – and is certainly not reliable enough to be the basis for important decisions. Falling asleep at the wheel is not a sign. It's an effect – and a potentially deadly one, destroying lives and businesses.

a wooden sign post with four individual posts pointing in different directions.


The real signs of fatigue

So what signs should you look for? Everyone experiences fatigue differently but these are some of the most common signs:

  • tunnel vision (overly focused on one task)
  • poor concentration
  • mood swings
  • easily distracted
  • forgetful
  • more irritable than usual
  • slow responses
  • taking unusual risks
  • making mistakes
  • poor judgement
  • clumsiness.


Recognise the risk factors

If two or more of the risk factors below apply to anyone on your vessel, consider them fatigued and in need of sleep:

  • has been awake for more than 16 hours
  • is short of sleep
  • has had poor-quality sleep
  • is working alone in the early morning hours
  • reports being fatigued.

Some survey respondents claim to manage fatigue by monitoring themselves for warning signs. The trouble with this is that ‘poor judgement’ is in itself a sign of fatigue, so how can you be sure you're fit to make the call? A safer option is for everyone to keep an eye on each other.

“Fatigue is close to my heart. Be aware of it – the warning signs. It's basic common sense.” – Ian (skipper)


Fatigue facts

  • It's possible to both look and feel alert when fatigued.
  • Everyone experiences fatigue differently.
  • Keeping an eye on each other is the safest way to monitor fatigue.