Yoga, naps and other ways for mariners to combat fatigue

Sometimes it takes a few simple things to stay alert and healthy on the job. Fatigue can lead to mistakes and accidents, as the body’s ability to react and respond are compromised. And mariners agree that getting good sleep is tough onboard noisy vessels with demanding work hours.

How about that 20-minute power nap? Cutting back the caffeine? Jumping rope on deck?

 These were a few tips offered by a registered nurse at the Seventh Annual Women on the Water conference held in late March at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Although Lesley Karentz’ advice was geared toward cadets as they launch careers in the maritime industry, they are sensible and applicable to old salts as well. Karentz teaches medical care procedures to mariners at the STAR Center near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. STAR is a training center for deck and engineering officers that is affiliated with the American Maritime Officers union.

“Fatigue will be a big factor,” she told cadets assembled from the seven maritime academies. “You’ll have a lack of sleep and no sleep pattern. This is not unique to mariners, and it’s a matter of recognizing how to mitigate it.”

While most would instinctively turn to coffee for energy and stamina, she says think twice about how much you consume. “The body will become unresponsive and hyper vigilant, so use coffee in moderation, and that includes sports and energy drinks.”

A 30-40 minute nap, she added, would be the best way to re-energize. Darken the room as much as possible, and concentrate on shutting out vessel noises. Factor in at least 20 minutes to let the body readjust after a nap, as the mind will still be in a bit of a fog. She adds that when sleep patterns are interrupted — such as working nights after sleeping nights — the body needs one-to-two days to assimilate to the change.  “Give yourself the opportunity to let your body adapt,” Karentz said.

Sometimes it’s hard to relax and fall asleep when your mind is racing with all the things that must be done onboard. Karentz suggested making a checklist on paper before lying down.

Exercise and healthy eating are also important. Exercise is hard to do on a vessel, due to limited space, lack of equipment and unusual work shifts. But it’s still possible. She suggested yoga, which works equally well for men and women. Not only does it provide excellent stretching, but also it helps clear the mind and relaxes the body. Yoga movements can be learned on DVDs or at onshore classes and repeated on the vessel. And if you have space on the deck and can put up with some stares and good-natured jokes from fellow crewmates, how about jumping rope? Ropes are portable and cheap.

Are there any tricks or routines that work for you? Let us know.

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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