In Valdez we have something we call “crew endurance management”, where the captain will get up at 0400 to relieve the chief mate 2 hours early and then give the second mate an extra 2 hours as well, allowing him or her to sleep until 0800 instead of 0600. But that doesn’t always happen; the mates stand the six-and-six watch while the master “floats” – getting up to operate the boat whenever we have to do the work of docking tankers or towing barges and then sleeping whenever possible. I’m on the 12 to 6 so I’m up from midnight to six in the morning and noon until six at night. But this does not mean I get 12 hours of sleep a day. You generally need to allocate at least half an hour each for lunch and dinner – not to mention the time it takes to wake up and get out of bed, or to get ready for bed – and time to be spent just using your brain a little for something other than work, which I believe is essential to mental health. You need some time to handle the parts of your life outside of work: there are phone calls and plans to be made, bills to be paid, friendships and relationships to maintain, movies to be watched, blog entries to be written. So I usually sleep for just two or three hours in the evening before I go on my night watch, and depending on whether I’m relieved by the captain for extra sleep or not, in the morning I might get up to 7 hours of sleep (if I go to bed at 4 in the morning and get up at 11, which is rare) or as little as 4 hours (sleeping from about 6 to about 10, getting up in the morning to handle non-work business, etc.)
Over the last few days we’ve been underway a lot, and not only have I not been getting “CEM”, I have been staying up on either side of my normal watch to get extra work done, like last night when I was on a line boat an hour after my watch ended, training my second mate. I’ve gotten no more than 2 to 4 hours of sleep at a time for a couple days now and I’m starting to really feel it. I’m not complaining per se, because It’s fun being this busy. I grow and learn a lot when I’m constantly working. But this type of work schedule has been shown to put you into hours and hours of sleep debt after just one week, and sleep deprivation like this has been linked to ailments including diabetes and heart disease. No bueno.
When people hear that I do 4 weeks of work and then get 4 weeks off, their eyes widen in astonishment and they say something like “wow, lucky you, it’s like you spend half the year on vacation”.
We NEED that time off, make no mistake.