Stable Crew Study

What a waste of time and money to find out the obvious.

I agree with the exception of all 4 senior officers turning over at the same time. No overlap whatsoever makes the concept moot in my opinion. There’s nothing stable to me about not being able to ask my chief mate why this or that has changed on deck and having them shrug their shoulders because we both signed on the same day.

Returning to the same ship is a no brainer for efficiency purposes.


It’s obvious to you and it’s obvious to me, but I don’t think it’s necessary obvious to shoreside. There is too much noise in the data for one. Sometimes a ship with a good crew can perform poorly for whatever reason and vice versa, a crew that can’t perform in pinch might stay lucky for a long time

It’s always good to have solid research to back up what we know from experience.

I agree that a study looking at turnover between a rotation of officers on one ship is not very useful. What I would like to see is an industry study of the effects of personnel turnover within a company or union.

Where I work, annual turnover in crew personnel is tracked statistically. The annual turnover is compared to injuries, cargo losses, and vessel claims. (This is a non-union company that does its hiring in-house).

As far as I know there is no accepted calculation for arriving at a metric for annual crew turnover. Here we do it this way:
annual number of people terminated/(number of voyages for all vessels X average crew size per boat)

“Terminated” means a crew member who leaves the company for any reason in a particular year

Where I work this results in a number as high as 17% turnover and as low as 2%. When you plot the annual turnover number against annual injuries, cargo loss,and vessel damage, there is a strong correlation between increased turnover and, to put it cold-bloodedly, increased financial loss for the company. For this company, 17% turnover is very bad (and last seen in 1997). 3% is fine. Other companies would have different metrics. Having a calculation that returns a number between 0 and 20% is great because it makes it easy to graph turnover against things like inflation and unemployment.

Once management sees a graph of financial loss and crew turnover superimposed it changes their thinking. But I understand there are crewing systems where this might not be possible.

By the way, when you get to low crew turnover unintended consequences and costs occur. Accidental injuries decrease, but since your workforce is steady, that means it is an aging workforce. The human body is designed to work well to about 40. After that parts starts wearing out. But the medical costs of dealing with these are a fraction of medical costs due to accidental injury, and you don’t have the lawsuits to deal with.

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Not surprising that there’s a connection. Money and time are always wasted more by the new hands. I’ve seen service technicians called to the boat to resolve things like loose wires and setting navigation computers. Things someone with experience on that boat could have done easily cost the company money instead. But I think most offices view most of the crew as bodies to fill a required spot.

We have mostly “permanent” crew here. However, I relieve people for vacation and fill vacant spots in our fleet. Many times, I will have not sailed on ship x in at least a year or more. Meaning that I have a bit of a learning, or re-learning curve when I join up, especially if things have changed like new equipment or a new chief eng. There are few things worse than asking a question and being looked at as if you just got a dementia diagnosis. A mixture of pity and revulsion. But I feel it’s better to ask and look stupid, than to cause damage.

I actually wish they would rotate crew on the regular here like other companies do. You have a lot of homesteaders on these ships, people who have lived and worked here for years and year, and that create its own unique set of issues.


The first line in the article defines “Stable Crew” as being the four senior officers.

Stable crewing, within the merchant shipping industry, is where the same top four senior officers (Captain, Chief Officer, Chief Engineer and Second Engineer) operate on a back-to-back basis and return to the same vessel for several voyages, with all four joining and leaving the vessel at the same time

Who has even managed to make that work for a decent period of time? It doesn’t seem practical or realistic.

Most of the union deep-sea ships do it that way. Senior officers are permanent with the company and return to the same vessel. Junior officers, thirds and seconds are rotary, some 2 A/E positions are for several trips.

On the unlicensed side at least one Chief Stwd and Bos’n are permanent.

In practice many rotary positions are filled with crew returning to the same ship, or to the same company.

I knew that permanently assigned senior officers return to the same ship, but was under the impression that their arrivals and departures were somewhat staggered so that it wasn’t a suitcase parade of all the principle officers at the same time.

If it matters then the reliefs can be staggered over a couple ports but in my view this has problems as well. For example I used to sail with Capt micro-manager, the first let-go then with captain cowboy would be a little rough because nothing would be ready as we gotten accustomed to having to wait for instructions to get things ready.

If it’s done right after the relief the next leg should just be an unfolding of the various plans that are allready in place.