In the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC), which was ratified in August 2013, the provisions for seafarers’ hours of work and rest can be found in Regulation 2.3, which states that each flag state must establish either maximum hours of work or minimum hours of rest over given periods that are consistent with the requirements specified by the Convention. According to Regulation 2.3, “maximum hours of work shall not exceed: 14 hours in any 24-hour period; and 72 hours in any seven-day period” and “minimum hours of rest shall not be less than: 10 hours in any 24-hour period; and 77 hours in any seven-day period.”

Most Flag States have chosen to regulate the hours of rest for seafarers rather than the hours of work due to an anomaly in the rules that means seafarers can work longer if ‘rest’ is regulated rather than ‘work’.

Fatigue is one of the most common causes of accidents. Following a recent incident where the officer of the watch on board a small container ship fell asleep and the vessel hit a wall, a report by The Nautical Institute claimed that “working while fatigued is equivalent to working while under the influence of alcohol.” Nevertheless, the regulations were understandably met with apprehension by some in the charter industry who feared they would make operations difficult.

“The operation of superyachts was not considered by the ILO when ratifying the MLC,” says Richard Eastham, chief executive at Regs 4 Ships. “Crews, when on charter, do work long hours, which at times are in excess of the requirements.”

One of the main concerns of the MLC coming into force was that for crew, particularly on smaller charter yachts, the practicality of sticking to the rest requirements could result in a lower level of service for charter clients.

While the MLC has not been ratified everywhere yet, the US for example, the Isle of Man has been recording data on the MLC inspections on Isle of Man registered yachts since August. Paul Grace, Technical Policy Lead in the Department of Economic Development at the Isle of Man Ship Registry reveals that over the last year, 28 per cent of yachts received an hours of rest related deficiency, with breaches of the minimum rest hours accounting for 8 per cent and incorrect hours of rest recordkeeping accounting for 20 per cent. Paul asserts that this means the yachting industry is actually in line with the results for the merchant ships when it come to actual breaches. “As suspected all of these deficiencies occurred while a charter party was onboard the yacht.”

For Captain Andrew Johnstone of 60m Lürssen, M/Y Solemates, the MLC hours of rest regulations don’t need to be an issue and can be a chance for a yacht to become more efficient. Since he joined Solemates in May 2011 they have been working to the regulations, with posted rotations for on charter and off charter, outlining hours of work and rest on deck, in the interior and the engine room. Johnstone explains that the crew mess computer has a spreadsheet set-up for each crew member that they fill in at the end of each working day. The forms are submitted at the end of each month and then checked to ensure the hours of rest are within the required limits. “If a crew member is outside of the limits, the form automatically highlights the daily or weekly overage,” he explains. “In this case the chief officer, department head and captain get together to discuss viable solutions.”

One of the primary concerns for charter yachts was that the regulations would make back-to-back charters extremely difficult, if impossible. “‘Thankfully we are able to comply with the minimum rest requirements as most of our turnaround times on charter allow for a 48 hour break, so all the crew get a good rest before and after the charter,” the chief mate of a 878gt yacht tells us. “I always try and get some extra workers to help us out if needed. It only becomes difficult if the vessel has to move to another location for the pickup of the next charter.”

While some yachts may continue to struggle with the requirements until they find what works for them, it is clear that working in line with the MLC is not impossible. Indeed, it may make operations run smoother. Eastham encourages crew to be honest with guests and owners about the rules, and Johnstone is adamant that the rules will only make the industry better. “Our industry is becoming more professional,” says Captain Johnstone. “Those who uphold professional standards and operate with integrity, should have little difficulty with the changes being implemented.”