August 28, 2017


Fatigue and Training Gaps Spell Disaster at Sea, Sailors Warn (DAVE PHILIPPS and ERIC SCHMITT, AUG. 27, 2017, NY Times)
Seasoned officers and Navy studies have long warned of the perils of sleep deprivation, which sailors say is chronic.

"I spent 30 years in the Navy, which means most of my adult life, I was dead tired," said John Cordle, a retired Navy captain who commanded a destroyer and a cruiser. "Officers basically have a day job and a night job, plus drills."

Twice while commanding ships passing through narrow passages, he said, he fell asleep on his feet and his ship went off course. "Most of the officers I've talked to have a story like that," said Mr. Cordle, who left the Navy in 2013. "We just don't always share it."

He now works with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., to devise better sleep schedules for crews, but he said the Navy had been slow to adopt them.

Most ships use a traditional "five and dime" watch rotation, in which sailors serve five hours of watch, then have 10 hours off, he said. But during those 10 hours, sailors often have daytime duties.

The rotation can lead to a watch officer working a 20-hour day every three days, Mr. Cordle said, adding that even designated sleep time can be interrupted by drills or refueling operations that can keep sailors up for days at a time. A Government Accountability Office report from May said sailors were on duty up to 108 hours each week.

"I averaged 3 hours of sleep a night," someone described as a Japan-based Navy officer wrote on Reddit last week. "I have personally gone without sleep for so long that I have seen and heard things that weren't there. I've witnessed accidents that could have been avoided because the person was so tired they had no right to be operating heavy machinery."

Navy tests of sailors on the five-and-dime schedule found lack of sleep led to blunted decision-making and reflexes that were roughly the same as those of sailors who had downed several beers.

The Naval Postgraduate School has developed a shorter watch schedule to match circadian rhythms, which uses three hours of watch duty and nine hours off. Recognizing the benefits, the Navy ordered submarines to move to a similar schedule in 2015.

Mr. Cordle said adopting the schedule could result in greater safety. But the Navy has left scheduling up to individual captains, and three-quarters of ships still use the five and dime.

"The Navy, like any big organization, is resistant to change," he said. "They know sailors aren't getting enough sleep, but I think there is an expectation you can tough it out."

Posted by at August 28, 2017 8:42 AM