Alternative Watch Schedule or European Watch Schedule

I am a 3rd Mate on a U.S. flagged ship. Lateley I’ve hear a lot about the ‘Alternative Watch Schedule’ or the ‘European Style Watch Schedule’. It involves standing one six hour watch, followed by (2) two hour watches and overtime incorporated somewhere through the day either in one 4 hour block or another two hour break up. The advantage to this schedule is the considerable time off or rest period. It is fully OPA 90 compliant and flexible as well. Each watch stander winds up getting at least 10.5 hours off. My question is, where did it come from? Has there been any supporting research performed on it? If so, where can I find that information? Do the folks using it really like it over the old mirrored watch schedule?

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What I’ve used that called “European watches” was three mates working 12 hour shifts. The 3M was on watch from 0000-0600 then had 4 hours for overtime to do his inspections then was back on the bridge from 1000-1200. The 2M was on the bridge 1200-1400, then had his 4 hours for overtime, then was back on the bridge 1800-2400. The CM was on watch 0600-1000 then again 1400-1800.

Everyone involved preferred it because it got your work day over and done with and have you 12 hours straight off. You can’t do those watches with inexperienced mates though.


We did “European Watches” on the tanker I was on with Ocean Shipholdings… loved it, though it took some getting used to at first after coming from 4&8’s. Not sure where in Europe instituted the schedule though, as I don’t think I’ve EVER heard a European mention them. But yeah, the biggest advantage is the straight time off and getting a good rest. I don’t think I ever went home exhausted from that ship.

Ours were set a little different from what Capt Phoenix said though. We had two 3/Ms, and the C/M was a day worker/floater. 2/M had that 0000-0600 routine and the two thirds worked it out for the pick of the other two watches. It’s been 12 years since that ship, so it’s a little fuzzy now, but I want to say all the 2 hour blocks were in the AM (from 0600-1200) if I remember right too.

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So where I am…

2/M 00x06, 08x10… OT from 06x08 and 10x12. Off from 12 until 00.
C/M 06x08, 12x18 OT from 08x12. Off 18 until 06.
3/M goes 10x12 and 18x00. OT 13x17. Off from 00x10.

Everyone except for the most junior mate gets a full 12 hours of sleep, which makes a HUGE difference. Working a regular schedule I felt totally trashed at the end of a long trip, especially as third mate. On a traditional watch schedule the C/M can usually catch a nap in the afternoon, and the second mate can usually grab an extra hour or two of sleep in the mornings before they turn to for OT, but as a third mate all your time off gets eaten up by meal times.

It is also nice because the two mates who stand cargo watches (C/M is always on call at the dock) can go from a regular watch schedule to 12 and 12 easily. If you’re maneuvering a lot 12/12 beats the hell out of 6/6, if you’re called out during your 6 hours off 6/6 can easily turn in to 18/6.

I don’t know if there is any science behind it, but I feel much happier on the schedule I’m on.

That seems overly complicated and the 3M is working 14 hours every day. The schedule I posted is much simpler.

10x12 is 2 hours, 18x00 is 6 hours, 13x17 is 4 hours for a grand total of 12 hours…

Though I agree yours is more straight forward.

I see. I misread. The schedule still sucks for the 3M because so much of his “off time” is really just meal hours.

Yup! That’s the schedule we had, though, like I said earlier, we had two 3Ms, so they had the 3M and CM watches you mentioned. Honestly, even the watch taken up by meal hours wasn’t so bad. Probably even less so since our OT was limited to 36 hours a week, inclusive of the weekend watches. So there was plenty of time to rest.

I’ve worked this as well, first time I had worked 12 straight, and I enjoyed it. Always well rested.

Where I’m at, as it is the 4 on 8 off, the two third mates have to take turns standing meal relief for the 2/m. Another thing I like about the European watch, no meal relief necessary.

I’m also on a US tanker and we’ve stood the European watches for 6 years. Once you get used to the 6 hour watch, you’ll love it. The morning watch flies by, and the afternoon watch drags a little, but the amount of time you have off in between is great, and it’s all together. So if you’ve had a long day and want to crash for 9 hours, you can actually sleep a full 9, instead of having 8 off and maybe getting 7 hours if you’re lucky.

It’s also really easy to break watches in port for cargo and have the junior mates go 12/12 then switch back to sea watches. You aren’t really changing anyone’s rest period.

We’re a 4 mate ship, so we don’t have that issue, but yes that’s another benefit of the alternative watch schedule.

Lucky you. I’m amazed any ship owner spends the money on a mate they’re not required to have.

I think most of the tanker companies have gone this way in the last several years. With the short coastwise runs and the Chief Mate being up all sorts of weird hours, it makes sense. Also, some of the charterers actually require it.

Ding ding ding! There you go, that’s the reason.

Ha yup! Money talks.

Short coastwise runs and long hours are not new. Having 4 mates made sense in the early 80s, but the tanker companies got rid of the “extra” 3rd Mate anyway. Before then, it was the norm to have 4 mates. And they didn’t bring them back when OPA '90 restricted working hours

Nope, only brought them back when the charterers started requiring it and work/rest hours really started to come under scrutiny with all of the vettings/audits/etc.

Are the charterers requiring the watch schedule or the addition of an extra mate?