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Safe Boat Operations – Physical Well-Being – Fatigue

Source: Mariners Learning System, By Captain Bob Figular

Mental and physical fatigues are among the greatest dangers during rough weather operations. The hazard of fatigue dramatically reduces the powers of observation, concentration, and judgment. This reduces the ability to exert the effort necessary, and increases the probability that unnecessary risks will be taken and routine safety measures may be ignored. The following are examples of situations that may cause fatigue:

  • Operating in extreme hot or cold weather conditions
  • Eye strain from hours of looking through sea-spray blurred windshields
  • Exposure to the sun
  • Exposure to noise
  • Poor physical conditioning
  • Lack of sleep

The safety of the crew and other passengers should always be the foremost concern of all boat operators.

The primary symptoms of fatigue are:

  • Inability to focus or concentrate/narrowed attention span
  • Mental confusion or judgment error
  • Decreased coordination of motor skills and sensory ability (hearing, seeing)
  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased performance
  • Decreased concern for safety

Any one of these symptoms can cause mistakes that may ultimately affect the safety of the crew. It is important to ward off the effects of fatigue before they become too great. Fatigue can lead to faulty decisions and a “don’t care” type of attitude.

Alcohol and drug use causes slower reaction time, lack of coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, or an overconfident attitude. Hangovers also cause irritability, drowsiness, seasickness, and a lack of concentration. Alcohol is a well-recognized central nervous system depressant. It is one of the most frequently used and abused drugs in our society. Even small amounts of alcohol in the blood can seriously impair judgment, reflexes, and muscular control and may reduce the restorative effects of sleep. The level of alcohol in the body varies with the frequency and amount of alcohol intake, the length of time following your last drink and an individual’s body weight.

Prescription drugs have the ability to adversely affect or incapacitate crewmembers. Certain medications can be as debilitating as alcohol or worse. In addition, many medications, if taken with alcohol, intensify the effects of both.

The drug caffeine, contained in coffee, tea and many soft drinks, can produce an adverse effect on the body. The amount of caffeine contained in just two cups of coffee appreciably affects the rates of blood-flow and respiration. In small amounts, coffee can be considered a nervous system stimulant. Excessive amounts may produce nervousness, inability to concentrate, headaches, and dizziness.

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