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Standing Duty -- How Does Your Unit Handle The 24 Hour Watch?

The 24 Hour Watch  

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I'm currently working on an article regarding the best practices for standing a 24 hour watch, duty rotation and the factors that play into fatigue. If you happen by this post, please write out what you do, how long you've been flying with your operation, and how your unit handles the 24 hour duty.


Also add in, if it were up to you, you'd do this, and this is why?


I'm also interested in operators' crew mission time and flight time limitations.


Generally for CG helicopter pilots, we are limited to six hours of flight time before we bag out and need a replacement crew, or 12 hours of crew mission time, and require 10 hours of uninterrupted crew rest to reset our clocks. Our crews stand 24 hour duty (each station changes their watch at a their own time schedule), but we have a quality operational manual which limits our flight and crew mission time as mentioned above.


What about your operation?






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  • 4 weeks later...

Military SAR: long time ago but I remember the aim was 12-hr shifts exendable to 16, 12-hr flying limit, and working 6 days a week standard with more if needed.



Later I was on a civil EMS job; SK76's. Left about 7 years ago.


Crew changes at 0700 and 1900, able to extend to 14 hours if necessary (allowed option to finish call and return to base to change crew).


Rotations were 7D/7N/7off on some bases, a more variable 28 day, equal time rotation on others. The push was to move to a 2D/2N/4off.


I liked the 7's and the 28 day rotation. I found the constant duty day changes on 2/2/4 only worked if there was little flying.



Later, working offshore, I have experienced several different rotations to accomplish 24-hr coverage. Most of our work sites are well beyond the civilized world and things like civil/military SAR coverage so the client relies on us. Each location is unique in crew and a/c availability, flying workload, and weather or daylight cycles (the equator and 60N are very different environments for day/night planning).


I have found that long days are OK, but in general the most fatiguing factor for me will be the frequency of the changes in the duty cycle. I can work nights (or days) quite happily for weeks but if I am switching nights to days and vice versa every couple days I'm wiped out in a week. These operations have all been equal time rotations of 28/28. 35/35, or 42/42 days. Depending on site all days are work days or 6 days a week.


Given a choice I'd work 35/35. I would take the shifts in blocks of not less than 4 days/nights.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Good info Swamp... I hear you on the swapping of night to day shifts, or flight schedule. Appreciate the reply.


I'm also interested in the Police & Fire Rescue guys -- how do you run your shifts, especially shifting from night to days? And how do you handle the extended high operational periods like that of a Southern California Fire season or time period?


I would like to take your schedules and run it through FAST (Fatigue avoidance scheduling tool) software to see where your performance is, based on this tool. It actually predicts people's performance based on fatigue to the a 90% accuracy rate.


If you're interested, please post your schedule, and how you operate.


Some people are hesistant to be interviewed for stories like this, and I can understand that, my intention is to not throw stones at people for scheduling flaws, but to show how operators schedule over the 24 hour day, and how pervasive fatigue affects can be in shift work and operating helicopters. Than take those schedules, run them through the FAST software, and hopefully show how scheduling really affects performance.


Also, if you do respond, please note if you are ablele to nap during the night shift if you're not flying and how many hours you're able to do that.


Thanks for the assistance,



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  • 9 months later...

You might find that you'll get some great answers if you talk to your local PD or EMS Station. Those guys are well versed at running 24*7*52 opps, and take the benefit of many hours of research. Of course these guys arn't flying, but they will have years of experience to pull from.


Basic rule for any 24*7 opp is minimum required manning (personage) is seven people.

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