Physical exams as part of shipboard employment

starting a whole new thread regarding this topic.

I will say for myself that as a “relatively” fit person that I welcome any measure taken by employers that might eliminate others than myself from consideration to fill a position. Not becoming obese and refraining from smoking heavily should be a goal of everyone but there are those who do not have the discipline to avoid becoming a physical basket case so why should I feel bad for them for being in such poor condition that they cannot pass the pre-employment physicals of ECO or anyone else? If you are a heart attack waiting to happen you should not be working on any vessel anywhere.


What he said… :point_up: I don’t want to be the one writing up the paperwork for your coronary when you shouldn’t have been allowed more than a mile from a hospital, much less a boat in the middle of the ocean.


I know a couple fellas that have to “hunch” over the forward console, bracing themselves and their massive bellies. Not to mention the stench of cologne to mask the fact they can’t wash themselves properly. If not get healthy for oneself, then do it for the other people who might have to haul your ass from the depths of the ship to make the medivac.


No problem with most of that. It not realistic to eliminate everyone that is 40 pounds overweight, but I see no reason to allow any 300 pounders onboard. I certainly agree that cardiac problems, brain cancers, etc. should remain onshore.

Those back x-rays and MRIs are looking for potential future injury issues that are not a danger to the ship. Most people over 40 have some disk degeration or arthritis.

I would like to see more effective drug testing. Too many drug problems slip through. Personally, I would prefer that they not hire nicotine addicts: smokers, chewers, or vapers.

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Others on the derailed thread suggested or “thumb-up’ed” the idea that employers only use the minimal standards set by the USCG for employment & a CG medical certificate should be sufficient to get hired. That is a horrible idea. If a 55 yr old who doesn’t smoke & obviously takes care of himself walks in the door with a current medical certificate then fine, the CG minimal standard would probably work. But if an obese 40 yr old who smokes with bad dental hygiene waddles in the door with a current medical certificate then the CG minimal standard probably wouldn’t work for the company. Large companies & EOE can’t have multiple minimal standards or the low standards set by the USCG. I get older everyday & I know my clock is ticking but I’m fine with companies setting the bar higher than the minimal standards set by the CG as long as they are reasonable & the same for everyone.

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In the early 2000’s I was the CE on a slow OSV that was to deliver cargo from Louisiana to the Canary Islands & back. One of the QMED’s sent for the voyage was in terrible health. He was around 5’6", 40ish, about 270+lbs, he had horrible dental hygiene, he dipped, smoked & always carried a 32oz big-gulp type thermos drink with him either filled with coffee or Diet Coke. 2 minutes after meeting him I thought to myself, “I sure hope this guy doesn’t have a heart attack in the middle of the Atlantic & die on us”. He turned out to be a really nice guy, he worked just as hard as the twenty-something QMED & best of all, he didn’t die on the voyage. Unfortunately he did have a heart attack about 2 months later while offshore in the GoM & died before making it back to land. He passed the USCG physical just like everyone else so the company couldn’t discriminate against him for being obviously in poor health. That company did a disservice to that QMED, his coworkers & itself by accepting the minimal standards set by the USCG physical as a condition of employment. I’m fine with the companies setting the bar higher when it comes to health, prehaps it will motivate people to be healthier & live longer.

Neither the USCG physical or a company physical is likely to detect potential cardiac problems.

So, what should be done about that? A Stress EKG by a technician? A Stress EKG by a cardiologist. A MRI of the heart interpreted by a cardiologist? And who is going to pay for all of this?

If a guy shows up with bad hygiene, bad teeth, and smoking and dipping, anyone should know better than to hire him in the first place. No physical needed to screen him out.


I don’t know if all EKG’s are the same but the half dozen or so that I had for company annual physicals were quit simple. A few suction cup sensors on the chest around the left breast, a clap on the right ankle, push the “on” button & wait a few minutes. They cost about $50. The exercise stress test is more expensive, about $150- $200. I think it would be great if all mariners over 40 had to take these tests every year or two. I’m fine with the few companies that care requiring employees to have annual physicals.

Can legitimate EOE hiring manager not hire somebody because they are fat, smoke or have bad teeth? At legitimate EOE, can a hiring manager pass over someone because they had on too much cologne? I’m asking because I don’t know? From a legal standpoint it would make more sense to have a thorough medical physical exam in place to run everyone through & let a 3rd party medical professional decide who is able to work & who isn’t, hence the process the industry uses now with pre-employment physicals.

It’s not a “USCG physical.” The Coast Guard doesn’t do the medical exam, a private doctor chosen by the mariner does it. The Coast Guard accepts what is written on the form signed by a licensed doctor.

For 50 years the physicals were a complete joke. Anyone who could fog a mirror passed. That actually worked pretty well. Very few problems.

There were a handful of incidents: Staten Island Ferry, the Towboat in Alabama, and a couple others. Shortly after, trucking incidents, new DOT physical requirements, and STCW came along.

Employment physicals have absolutely nothing to with Mariner health or maritime safety. They are only about reducing the employer’s health insurance costs, and screening out people who are more likely to file an injury claim.

If employers throughout America are allowed to do this, get ready to pay much much higher taxes to support all the guys on disability and their families on welfare.

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I agree that the company’s medical hoops that mariners have to jump through is for the benifit of the companies but it isn’t just for lower insurance prices. Employees are similar to any other asset or equipment a company uses. Why should a business pay for a school or training for an employee that only has a couple of useful years left in him? Why should a company buy an airline ticket for a guy to go to work who might not make it to the end of the hitch or voyage without having to get off to get medical treatment? Maritime companies are in business to make money, not to provide derelict seamen jobs. People need to make their health their #1 priority & take care of themselves, end of story. Nobody wants to work with ticking time bombs or shipmates who can’t pull their own weight anyways.

About having to pay more taxes because of more unhealthy people stuck on the beach, thats a strawman argument, the government is going to tax us as much as it thinks we can bare regardless.

I’ve had to get some guys off over the years, but not a significant number. Mostly, slip and falls and most of them were young and in good shape. I can only think of a couple that had underlying illnesses.

The notion that there is any significant number of mariners with current USCG medical cards that are not healthy enough to do the job, that is the straw man. It’s pure B.S.

Most mariners today have had all the courses that they need. Most companies don’t pay for courses anyway, or invest anything in Mariners, at least not without a promissory note.

I can think of a dozen young strong guys that could not come back to work because they were injured in motorcycle, snowmachine, boating, skiing, chain saw, home repair, etc. accidents. I can think of two that had drug overdoses. I can’t think of any fat old guys that had these kind of problems.

If it was just the boat companies that were doing occupational physicals, it would not affect the national economy. But it’s lots of companies in lots of industries that want to reduce their high healthcare costs and keep their workers comp rates lower. If this nonsense is allowed to continue to grow, so will our tax bills and health insurance costs.


I worked once with a morbidly obese mate who was so huge he had to squeeze through nomal openings. Equally anecdotal. If he plugged up a trunk opening you could forget about going through it in a hurry. How do you get around a 450 pound mass of blubber?

That’s smart business. Would you rather invest in a business that don’t watch their healthcare costs and ignore the effect that workers comp rates have on their profit margin.

Our health costs are already exorbitant and the cause of too many Americans going bankrupt.


I’m not claiming you are a liar or your opinion b.s. I’m sure you are calling it as you see it. I guess you have been very fortunate to be working with some in-shape crews & me not so much. Even in this global oil crisis in the last year I’ve still worked with guys who couldn’t fit in the jumbo immersion suits, XL firemans outfits or load groceries for an hour straight without nearly killing over. I’m talking about guys who would walk up 4 decks of stairs & get too winded to put out a sentence. It sounds like the company you work for has done a good job at weeding out the fatties, cripples & lame. But trust me, its not like that everywhere. American mariners reflect the rest of the population IMO. Higher the standards the better.


My brother is a non-smoker, physically fit (within 5-10lbs of a full 6 pack), works out regularly, and no drugs ever. He went for a routine pre-employment EKG for his work and they told him the results said he had had a heart attack in the recent past, that he had muscle damage, and his heart was bigger on one side. They said he needed to go see a specialist that day and were considering calling an ambulance to transport him. Freaked us all out. He went to a specialist that afternoon and they did another EKG and their results only showed the heart being slightly bigger on one side. Two EKG’s on the same day with vastly different results.

After 10months of testing, stress ekg, full blood work, nuclear stress test where they inject the isotope, 24hr monitoring, and a bunch of other tests the Dr said everything looked normal. No evidence of heart attack, valve issues, or abnormalities other than the EKG registering a slight enlargement of the heart on one side which baffled her. She had even conferred with the other Dr because of how the case began and how the results panned out. They had no results or symptoms to explain the enlargement of the heart on that side and finally had to put it down as a peculiarity of his anatomy. At the end he was given a clean bill of health but was put on two meds to deal with his pre-hypertension. His next EKG will probably show up as bad, but as long as he sees the Dr every 6months and nothing changes she will attest to his good health.

It took lots of $$$ and time to be able to verify his good health because either the machines are not totally trust worthy or operator error messed it up somehow. I don’t put much faith in EKG’s anymore.


Let me guess, Dr. Green created that unnecessary mess?

He doesn’t sail so it was a Doc on land.

My last physical the doc said: your blood pressure! I think you’re in immediate grave danger!

I was like… do you know how to read that thing? My blood pressure is so low I have to put extra salt on my food just to please people like you. Try again.

She was like… oh. Never mind. You’re fine, actually.


I work with all types. Many of the guys are in their 50s and 60s with an occasional 70s. Some smoker, dip, vape, drink, etc. Most have a few extra pounds. I’ve had a few really fat guys, but rarely anyone over 300 lbs. It use to freak me out to see guys with CPAP machines, but those guys are becoming more common and none of them ever had a problem. Diabetics are becoming more common, and one of those had a problem. I’ve had guys who were simply on too many prescriptions and had some adverse reaction problems.

I’ve seen a lot of minor slips and falls. Some with cuts, sprains, broken fingers, nose, ribs, and one guy with temporary paralysis. He made a full recovery and I would have been glad to have him back, but the company would not let him come back to work. He was a young, strong guy with good skills. In many years, I’ve had to take maybe three guys to port, and I’ve sent maybe three people (one with a pregnancy related issue) in on other boats. The vast majority of the injuries were on fishing boats. I have had to get rid of several people who could not get over seasickness.

All in all, very few pre-existing condition issues in many many years.

If companies are going to be allowed to discriminate based on age (with excessive physicals, back x-rays and MRIs, because it’s “good business”, even though it’s illegal, what’s next? Are you going to allow them to stop hiring women because they might have high cost pregnancies? Or lost work time due to child birth? Would it be “good business” to allow companies not to invest in women because they might decide to stay home and raise children?

It’s not the1950’s anymore. It’s illegal to discriminate against workers over 40, and it’s illegal to discrimate against women. Even if, it might save companies a few pennies. That is not good business.

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This is a really real thing that really happens. I’ve been places where I’ve asked for training, and the conversation shortly comes round to: when are you going to get married? As if there was some obvious connection there.