When Nicholas Schmittberg did six-on six-off shifts as a pilot’s mate, he sometimes had to work hard not to fall asleep on watch.
Today he is second mate on Silja Symphony, where they have a relief system that gives much better rest.
Nicholas Schmittberg, 44, has worked at sea since he was 19. He has worked on many vessels, from archipelago boats to cargo ships and ferries, and has worked both six-on six-off (six hours work/six hours rest) and four-eight watches (work between 4 and 8, then 12 and 4). The system he is currently working, 10½ hours work followed by 13½ hours rest, suits him best.
”When I finish I have time to shower, wash and take a walk if we are in berth, and there is still enough time to sleep,” he says.
It was much worse working six-on six-off, which he did from 2002 to 2014 on Tallink Silja’s Åbo Line and Seawind.
”I tried to eat and shower during working hours to get as much sleep as possible, but I hardly ever got more than two periods of 4 hours sleep per day. You have to go to the toilet and brush your teeth before you sleep, and then get up before you start work again.”
Nicholas Schmittberg compares the feeling of working six-on six-off with being constantly drunk. You become less alert and tiredness can come suddenly.
”It’s as if you’re drinking beer all the time. Sometimes I was almost falling asleep in the middle of a watch, but as a pilot’s mate I had to prevent that somehow. I used to try to do something to stay awake, like going out on the wing of the bridge and getting some fresh air or drinking extra strong coffee.”
The lack of sleep was a problem even outside working hours and he found it difficult to rest, especially after the watch that ended at 15.00. In the end he asked for help and a doctor prescribed sleeping tablets.
”I took them for ten years, both when I was at sea and for the first few days at home. When I started work on the Symphony I stopped taking them immediately – I didn’t need them any more,” he says.