Problems and Best Practices for STCW Rest Periods

The following article was initially published in SAFETY4SEA by Apostolos Belokas Managing Editor of SAFETY4SEA. In an effort to enhance fatigue management IMO has amended the “fitness for duty – hours of rest” requirements to provide watch keepers on-board ships with increased rest periods on the latest STCW Amendments in line with the ILO MLC. Despite the fact that over the last few years STCW latest amendments are in place and ILO MLC is being implemented as of 20 August 2013 a number of problems are being experienced.

2013.10.29 - Problems and Best Practices for STCW Rest Periods

Problem # 1 : Inconsistency between work & Rest Hours

IMO States in STCW Section A-VIII/1 : Fitness for duty that each crew membershall be provided with a rest period of not less than:

  • minimum of 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period; and
  • 77 hours in any 7-day period.

At the same time ILO MLC states the following rule on work/rest:

(a)   maximum hours of work shall not exceed:

  1. 14 hours in any 24-hour period; and
  2. 72 hours in any seven-day period; or

(b)    minimum hours of rest shall not be less than:

  1. 10 hours in any 24-hour period; and
  2. 77 hours in any seven-day period.

The inconsistency lies to the fact that despite both regulations state 77 hours minimum work, this will lead to 91 hours MAX work per any 7-day period (This will be the result 7 x 24 = 168 minus 77 hrs of rest = 91 hours of work). Unfortunately MLC States 72 hours MAX work in any 7 day period. An obvious observation of the above that in order to fully comply with BOTH STCW and MLC plus minimising the liability of false record keeping you need to keep records of hours of rest ONLY !

To overcome the above problem the following best practices may be employed :

  1. Officially Register REST hours ONLY !
  2. Ensure proper guidance is provided to the vessels with respect to record keeping and ensure that ALL crew is NOT working MORE than 91 hours in any given 7-day or week to make it more simple.
  3. Ensure Seafarer Employment Agreement do NOT violate the max of 91 hours per week work and that the overtime provided to the crew is in line with that.
  4. Employ Software to monitor Rest hours and ask copies of completed records for review at the office.

Problem # 2 Master’s Overriding Authority

STCW Section A-VIII/1 para 8 states that ” Nothing shall be deemed to impair the right of the Master to require a seafarer to perform any hours of work necessary for the immediate safety of the ship, persons on board or cargo, or for the purpose of giving assistance to other ships or persons in distress at sea. Accordingly, the master may suspend the schedule of hours of rest and require a seafarer to perform any hours of work necessary until the normal situation has been restored. As soon as practicable after the normal situation has been restored, the master shall ensure that any seafarers who have performed work in a scheduled rest period are provided with an adequate period of rest.”

Obviously when a Master is exercising such an authority a relevant entry should be made in the ship’s log book to avoid future implications on a possible inspection of rest hours, however at the same time the above conditions are not properly defined and there is also no guidance to what happens next (rest, reporting, follow up etc.)

To overcome the above problem the following best practices may be employed :

  1. Provide guidance as to what are the conditions applicable to the above (normally sailing on Mississippi or another river should not be a good example)
  2. Ensure office is notified of all such cases and provide feedback to vessels

Problem # 3 Exceptions are NOT properly defined

The most controversial issue on rest hours is the exceptions provision (A-VIII/1, para 9), stating “Parties may allow exceptions” in two cases:

  1. Case 1 : Hours of rest may be minimised to 70 hours in any 7-day period, provided that exceptions from the weekly rest period shall not be allowed for more than two consecutive weeks. The intervals between two periods of exceptions on board shall not be less than twice the duration of the exception.
  2. Case 2 : Hours of rest may be split into no more than three periods, one of which shall be at least 6 hours in length and neither of the other two periods shall be less than one hour in length, provided that the intervals between consecutive periods of rest shall not exceed 14 hours and that the exceptions shall not extend beyond two 24-hour periods in any 7-day period.

Here to make the rule work (otherwise it will be continuously violated) additional clarifications may be required:

  1. What does “Parties may allow exceptions” means in real life ? Here the “parties may allow” mean “Flags may allow..” in the form of written guidance, so check with your flag.
  2. How is a vessel eligible to these exemptions? Normally an entry into official ship’s log should be enough to cover any sort of problem against a Port State Control examination.
  3. How exactly is this going to work especially on the 77 or 70 hours in any 7-day period? It may be easy to say but difficult to implement as you cannot violate the 10 hour per 24-h rest rule
  4. What is the use of rest periods split into MAX 3 periods per 24 hours ? Normally in case a person works 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening has violated the normal STCW rule asking for MAX 2 periods of rest

To overcome the above problem the following best practices may be employed :

  1. Check if vessel’s flag allows for the 77 hours to shift to 70 hours.
  2. Provide exact guidance and worked examples to the vessel for the implementation and the record keeping of rest hours.
  3. Ask masters to make an entry into log book for the split of rest periods to 3 MAX per 24 hours a minimum of 24 hours in advance of a scheduled drill. This will minimise the technical deficiencies observed in the rest hours record keeping at the date of the drill (normally Saturday).

Problem # 4 : No Clue for the Ship Operators

In Latin there is the expression: “dura lex sed lex” meaning “the law is harsh, but it is the law“. As it is clear from the above there is no assistance provided to adjust for any possible violation which we all understand is part of the routine operations on an ocean going ship with 15-25 persons (if not less) crew.

The BEST PRACTICE to be implemented in order to demonstrate full compliance with the rule is to monitor and record the AGERAGE REST HOURS as a KPI on a routine basis (per week or any 7 day period) for every vessel in a fleet on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Comparisons and summaries may be presented for fleets and companywide overall figures. There is no need to understand that if a fleet average is 77 hours there is a serious problem and that in case the KPI is safely away from the 77 hour average (say it is above 85 or even 90 hours per week average rest) you are on the right track!

The article is written by Apostolos Belokas and has been initially published in SAFETY4SEA. Apostolos Belokas is a Maritime QHSE expert with 20 year background in shipping acting as a Technical, Marine, Safety & Training Superintendent, Consultant, Trainer and Project Manager. Apostolos has co-founded SQE Marine Group back in 1998, while he is the founder and Managing editor of from 2010 onwards where he frequently blogs. SAFETY4SEA is a pro bono concept to raise Maritime QHSE Awareness.

The article is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

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