Sixes, a quick way to a deep six

from the interwebs

Is there anything worse than working “sixes”? I would submit
that there is not.

“Sixes” is a watch standing routine common to Canada. It is
a brutal watch system where two people share the oversight responsibility
amongst themselves, in particular on smaller vessels, like tugs. In the engine
room the Chief Engineer stands the 6-12 watch, while the Second Engineer stands
the 12-6 watch. These watches last the length of the time on board, which in my
particular case, now is targeted to six weeks.
Typically, larger vessels have a 4 hrs on 8 hrs off watch
routine, where three engineer manned the engine room, with a Chief Engineer
usually doing “day work”. Although you still need a second nap while working 4
on 8 off, it offers a bit more flexibility in your rest patterns. The down side
to 4 on 8 off is also a higher rate of overtime, spent doing additional
maintenance and such.
from the interwebs
Some people, principally the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), do
twelve hours days, but they do it in a straight time, 12 to 12. Although this
presents its own challenges, it is actually a better watch system for twelve
hours days. Your rest is unbroken, less time is wasted in “preparatory
routines”, and meals end up on watch. However the CCG also has more crew in the
engine room.
Working sixes are usually grueling as the opportunities for
rest are so tight. Spend a little too much time working, reading, or watching
TV and your next couple of days drag on, as your body deals with the fatigue.  
Rest time is taken up by waking / falling asleep routines,
watch handover, meals, throw in some paperwork or a phone call. Your actual
effective rest opportunity is reduced to about 4 hrs per off-watch. In
addition, your time off watch is never really time-off on a small ship, as all
its operations are felt throughout, and impact your rest quality. “Sixes”
result in a very regimented day and a very tiring contract.
from the interwebs
Fatigue builds pretty quick with sixes, and within two weeks,
any minutes of lost sleep are easily noticed. One good side of fatigue, it
forces you to “sleep on command”. Within minutes of hitting the pillow, you are
in deep sleep mode. This skill is generally found to be quite frustrating by
partners ashore.

My spouse is envious of my ability to fall asleep within
second of having an interactive conversation with her – literally within 10-30
seconds of saying good night, I will be snoring.

Watch out for fatigue; learn more from Wikipedia.

This article has 5 Comments

  1. I've done 6&6 on freighters and tugs.When something goes wrong its 18 & 6.Tired all the time and in the zone. Many years on the standard 4 & 8 although some companies are pushing a 10 hour day split in watches which messes you up.This year I'm on a small ferry.8 hour days 16 off.I almost don't know what to do with my time,but I do get sleep.Semi retired .Would I pick this to do again?I've never been out of work unless I want to.However I think I should have cleaned myself up way back when and married a rich woman

  2. I am a deck officer on smaller tugs. We operate on a 6&6 for anywhere from 5 day to 3 week stints. I've also spent some time working 4 on, 8 off on a larger vessel. After the first day I start to feel minor fatigue and it progressively gets worse until the end of the trip or the off chance I can get some extra sleep and catch up. I love my job and as far as I'm concerned the fatigue and inability to get a proper sleep on a regular basis are the most challenging/worst aspects.

    I have always wondered what a watch system like 4 on 4 off, 8 on, 8 off, or something similar would be like. The extra time to sleep during your 8 hours off might make all the difference. Has anyone worked a twelve hour day with a watch system other than 12-12 or 6-6? I'd be curious to know how it worked out.

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