Top 11 Most Dangerous Tasks for Seafarers at Sea

13 April 2023


As we all know, working at sea can be both rewarding and challenging. With the vast open ocean as our workplace, we face a unique set of hazards every day. It's crucial for us to understand these risks to ensure our safety and the safety of our shipmates. As seafarers, we encounter a variety of challenges and risks while performing our duties at sea. Understanding the hazards associated with these tasks helps us prioritise safety and mitigate the risks involved. Below, you can find a comprehensive list of the most hazardous tasks we seafarers can face while on board.

11. Working in Confined Spaces

Confined spaces, such as cargo holds, ballast tanks, and other tight compartments in the engine room (eg. main engine scavenging space pictured above), pose unique challenges and risks to seafarers. These spaces are not designed for continuous occupancy, and working in such environments requires extra caution and adherence to safety protocols. Some of the main hazards associated with confined spaces include:

  • Oxygen deficiency or enrichment: The atmosphere in confined spaces may have low oxygen levels due to rust, chemical reactions, or the presence of other gases. On the other hand, oxygen enrichment can also be a hazard, as it increases the risk of fire or explosion.
  • Toxic gases: Confined spaces can accumulate dangerous gases, such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, or other volatile organic compounds. Prolonged exposure to these gases can lead to serious health issues or even fatalities.
  • Explosions and fires: The buildup of flammable gases or combustible dust in confined spaces can result in fires or explosions, putting seafarers at risk of severe injuries or death.
  • Engulfment or entrapment: Workers can become trapped or engulfed by loose materials, such as grain or coal, which can cause suffocation, crushing injuries, or death.

Here are some interesting statistics and information about confined space hazards:

  • According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), around 20% of fatalities on ships are associated with entry into enclosed or confined spaces.
  • The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers who enter the space without proper training or equipment.

To mitigate the risks of working in confined spaces, seafarers should always:

  • Receive proper training in confined space entry and rescue procedures
  • Follow a permit-to-work system to ensure all necessary precautions are taken before entering a confined space
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gas detectors and breathing apparatus
  • Ensure that adequate ventilation and lighting are provided in the confined space
  • Establish an effective communication system with colleagues outside the confined space and have a rescue plan in place

10. Handling Heavy Loads

Heave ho! Lifting, moving, or securing heavy loads is an essential part of our daily tasks on board. However, these activities can lead to injuries and accidents if not done correctly. To keep ourselves and our shipmates safe, it's crucial to follow best practices and use the appropriate tools and techniques.

Some of the main hazards associated with handling heavy loads include:

  • Back injuries: Improper lifting techniques can lead to sprains, strains, and other musculoskeletal injuries, particularly in the lower back area.
  • Falling objects: Inadequately secured or improperly hoisted loads can fall, resulting in severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Crushing accidents: Workers can get caught or pinned between heavy loads and other objects or surfaces, leading to crush injuries or fatalities.
  • Slips, trips, and falls: Moving heavy loads can obstruct walkways or create tripping hazards, increasing the risk of slips, trips, and falls.

Here are some useful tips and best practices for handling heavy loads safely:

  • Proper lifting techniques: Always lift with your legs, not your back. Keep the load close to your body, maintain a firm grip, and avoid twisting your torso while lifting.
  • Use appropriate equipment: Utilise mechanical lifting aids, such as cranes, hoists, or forklifts, whenever possible. Make sure all equipment is well-maintained and operated by trained personnel.
  • Secure loads properly: Ensure that all loads are adequately secured using the correct lashings, straps, or chains. Regularly inspect these securing devices for wear and tear.
  • Clear communication: Establish clear communication with your team during lifting and moving operations. Use hand signals or radios to coordinate activities and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Designated walkways: Keep walkways and working areas clear of obstructions and ensure that they are well-lit and free from tripping hazards.

9. Working at Heights

Whether it's up in the crow's nest, on a mast, or working on the edge of a deck, seafarers often find themselves working at heights. This task can be quite risky, as a fall from a significant height can result in severe injuries or even fatalities. To ensure our safety and that of our shipmates, it's essential to follow best practices and use appropriate protective gear when working at heights.

Some of the key hazards associated with working at heights include:

  • Falls from height: Losing balance or footing can lead to falls, which can cause severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Falling objects: Tools or equipment dropped from heights can pose a risk to those working below.
  • Structural failures: Collapsing ladders, scaffolding, or other structures can lead to falls and other accidents.
  • Weather conditions: Strong winds, rain, and rough seas can make working at heights even more dangerous.

Here are some helpful tips and best practices for working at heights safely:

  • Use appropriate fall protection: Always wear a safety harness, lanyard, and other fall protection equipment when working at heights. Ensure that your gear is well-maintained and inspected regularly.
  • Proper training: Receive appropriate training on working at heights, including the correct use of equipment and emergency rescue procedures.
  • Secure tools and equipment: Use tool lanyards or other methods to secure tools and equipment, preventing them from falling and causing injuries to those below.
  • Inspect work areas and structures: Regularly check ladders, scaffolding, and other structures for signs of wear or damage. Ensure that they are stable and secure before use.
  • Monitor weather conditions: Be aware of changing weather conditions and adjust your work accordingly. Postpone working at heights during storms, strong winds, or other adverse conditions when possible.

8. Working with Hazardous Substances

Handling dangerous chemicals, gases, or other hazardous substances is a serious task that seafarers often encounter on board. From fuel and lubricants to cleaning agents and refrigerants, we must be cautious when working with these materials. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and adherence to safety guidelines are crucial in preventing unwanted exposure and potential harm.

Some common hazards related to working with hazardous substances include:

  • Chemical burns: Direct contact with corrosive substances can cause severe burns and injuries.
  • Inhalation of toxic fumes: Breathing in harmful vapours or gases can lead to respiratory issues and other health problems.
  • Fire or explosion: Flammable substances or those that emit flammable vapours can cause fires or explosions if not handled properly.
  • Environmental damage: Accidental spills or leaks can harm marine life and the surrounding environment.

To minimise these risks, consider the following best practices when working with hazardous substances:

  • Understand the risks: Familiarise yourself with the hazardous substances on board and their potential dangers. Consult Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and follow the recommendations provided.
  • Use appropriate PPE: Wear the proper PPE, such as gloves, goggles, face shields, and respiratory protection, as required for the specific substance you're handling.
  • Proper storage and handling: Store hazardous substances in designated areas, using appropriate containers and following the manufacturer's guidelines. Handle and transport them with care to prevent spills or accidents.
  • Good ventilation: Ensure adequate ventilation in areas where hazardous substances are used or stored to minimise the risk of inhaling toxic fumes.
  • Emergency preparedness: Be familiar with your ship's emergency response plan for hazardous substance incidents, including spill containment, evacuation procedures, and first aid measures.

7. Machinery Operation and Maintenance

Operating and maintaining ship machinery, such as engines, pumps, winches, and other equipment, is an integral part of a seafarer's job. However, it also comes with its share of risks. Accidents can occur due to improper use, maintenance, or even equipment failure, potentially leading to injuries or damage to the ship. Therefore, it's essential to be well-trained, familiar with the equipment, and adhere to safety guidelines.

Some common hazards associated with machinery operation and maintenance include:

  • Mechanical injuries: Getting caught in moving parts, such as gears or belts, can result in severe injuries or even amputations.
  • Electrical hazards: Working with electrical systems or machinery can lead to electrical shocks or electrocution if not handled correctly.
  • Noise exposure: Prolonged exposure to loud machinery noise can cause hearing damage or loss.
  • Vibration hazards: Excessive vibration from certain equipment can cause discomfort or long-term health issues, such as hand-arm vibration syndrome.

To minimise these risks, consider the following best practices when operating and maintaining ship machinery:

  • Proper training: Ensure that you have the necessary training and qualifications to operate and maintain the specific machinery you are working with.
  • Use appropriate PPE: Wear the required personal protective equipment, such as safety gloves, goggles, earplugs, or earmuffs, to protect yourself from potential hazards.
  • Follow safety guidelines: Adhere to your ship's safety protocols and the manufacturer's guidelines for operating and maintaining equipment.
  • Inspect equipment regularly: Regularly inspect machinery for signs of wear, damage, or potential failure. Report any issues to your supervisor or the appropriate department for repair or replacement.
  • Keep work areas clean and organised: A tidy workspace can help prevent accidents caused by tripping or slipping on tools, parts, or other debris.

6. Working in Extreme Weather Conditions

Seafarers often face extreme weather conditions, such as storms, high winds, rough seas, and even ice or fog. These elements can make our work more challenging and hazardous, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries on board. Therefore, it's essential to stay prepared, follow your ship's protocols, and keep a close eye on weather forecasts to ensure the safety of the crew and the vessel.

Some common hazards associated with working in extreme weather conditions include:

  • Slips, trips, and falls: Wet, icy, or slippery surfaces can increase the likelihood of accidents on deck or other working areas.
  • Man overboard situations: High winds and rough seas can result in crew members being swept overboard or falling off the ship.
  • Structural damage: Severe storms or other extreme conditions can cause damage to the ship's structure or equipment, potentially putting the crew at risk.
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures: Working in extreme cold or heat can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, or heatstroke if proper precautions are not taken.

To minimise these risks, consider the following best practices when working in extreme weather conditions:

  • Monitor weather forecasts: Keep track of weather updates and adjust your ship's course or operations accordingly to avoid severe conditions when possible.
  • Adhere to ship protocols: Follow your vessel's safety procedures and guidelines for working in extreme weather, including using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and securing loose equipment or cargo.
  • Ensure proper communication: Maintain clear communication with your fellow crew members and supervisors about any hazards or changes in weather conditions to keep everyone informed and prepared.
  • Take breaks and stay hydrated: When working in extreme temperatures, be sure to take regular breaks and stay hydrated to prevent heatstroke or hypothermia.
  • Receive appropriate training: Participate in safety training and drills specific to working in extreme weather conditions to ensure you know how to respond appropriately in such situations.

By staying vigilant and following best practices, we can ensure a safer working environment for ourselves and our fellow crew members, even in the most challenging weather conditions at sea.

5. Firefighting and Emergency Response

When there's a fire or another emergency on board, we need to act fast to protect our crewmates, the vessel, and the environment. However, firefighting and emergency response come with their own set of hazards, such as burns, smoke inhalation, and other dangers. Therefore, it's essential to keep your training up-to-date, be prepared for any situation, and follow your ship's safety procedures.

Some common hazards associated with firefighting and emergency response include:

  • Burns: Direct exposure to flames or extreme heat can result in severe burns.
  • Smoke inhalation: Breathing in smoke can cause respiratory issues and reduce visibility, making it difficult to navigate during an emergency.
  • Explosions: Flammable substances, such as fuel or chemicals, can ignite and cause explosions if not handled properly.
  • Structural collapse: Fire or other emergencies can weaken the ship's structure, leading to potential collapses that endanger crew members.
  • Chemical exposure: During a fire or chemical spill, hazardous substances can be released, posing risks to those involved in the response.

To mitigate these risks and ensure a safer emergency response, consider the following best practices:

  • Regular training: Participate in firefighting and emergency response training and drills to stay prepared for various situations.
  • Proper use of equipment: Familiarise yourself with the location and operation of firefighting and emergency response equipment, such as fire extinguishers, fire hoses, and life-saving appliances.
  • Follow safety procedures: Adhere to your ship's safety protocols and guidelines, including using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during emergencies.
  • Maintain clear communication: Keep open lines of communication with your fellow crew members and supervisors to coordinate your response and share vital information.
  • Conduct regular inspections: Inspect and maintain firefighting and emergency response equipment to ensure it's in good working order and ready for use when needed.

4. Mooring and Anchoring Operations

Securing our vessel is a critical task, but it's not without risks. Lines and cables can cause severe injuries or fatalities if we get caught in them. Poorly executed mooring and anchoring operations can also lead to equipment damage, environmental hazards, and even collisions. As seafarers, we need to stay alert and follow best practices during these operations to keep ourselves and our shipmates safe.

Some common hazards associated with mooring and anchoring operations include:

  • Snapped lines or cables: Under tension, mooring lines or anchor cables can snap and whip back, causing severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Entanglement or getting caught: Crew members can get entangled or caught in the lines, leading to crushing injuries, amputations, or even death.
  • Slips, trips, and falls: Working on deck during mooring and anchoring operations can be slippery and hazardous, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Equipment malfunction: Winches, capstans, and other equipment can fail, posing risks to the crew and the vessel.
  • Environmental factors: Adverse weather conditions or poor visibility can make mooring and anchoring operations more challenging and dangerous.

To ensure safer mooring and anchoring operations, consider the following best practices:

  • Proper training: Ensure all crew members involved in mooring and anchoring operations are well-trained and familiar with their roles and responsibilities.
  • Clear communication: Maintain open lines of communication among the crew to coordinate efforts, share critical information, and quickly address any issues that arise.
  • Use of appropriate PPE: Wear proper personal protective equipment, such as safety boots, gloves, and hard hats, to reduce the risk of injuries.
  • Regular inspections and maintenance: Inspect and maintain mooring and anchoring equipment to ensure it's in good working order and ready for use when needed.
  • Adherence to safety procedures: Follow your ship's safety protocols and guidelines, and stay alert to potential hazards throughout the operation.

3. Working on a Slippery Deck

Slips, trips, and falls can happen easily on a wet or slippery deck, and they're one of the leading causes of injuries on board ships. Navigating a slippery deck can be particularly treacherous during rough weather, heavy swells, or when working with spilled substances. It's essential to take extra care when moving around the ship, wear proper footwear, and follow safety guidelines to avoid accidents.

Here are some common hazards and contributing factors for slips, trips, and falls on a ship's deck:

  • Wet surfaces: Rain, seawater, or spilled substances can make the deck slippery and increase the risk of accidents.
  • Uneven surfaces: Damaged or worn deck surfaces can create trip hazards and make it harder to maintain footing.
  • Loose objects: Unsecured equipment, tools, or cargo can shift and cause tripping or slipping hazards.
  • Inadequate lighting: Poor visibility due to insufficient lighting can make it difficult to identify and avoid potential hazards.
  • Fatigue: Tired crew members are more prone to slips, trips, and falls due to reduced situational awareness and slower reaction times.

To minimise the risk of accidents on slippery decks, consider the following best practices:

  • Wear appropriate footwear: Choose non-slip, well-fitting shoes or boots that provide good traction and support.
  • Keep the deck clean and well-maintained: Regularly clean the deck and promptly address any spills, debris, or damaged surfaces.
  • Secure loose objects: Ensure all equipment, tools, and cargo are properly stowed or secured to prevent them from shifting and becoming trip hazards.
  • Improve lighting: Install adequate lighting in all work and transit areas, and replace any faulty or damaged fixtures promptly.
  • Use handrails: When available, use handrails to maintain balance and stability while navigating the deck.
  • Follow safety protocols: Adhere to your ship's safety guidelines, and stay alert to potential hazards while working on deck.

2. Lifeboat Drills

Lifeboat drills are essential for our safety at sea, as they prepare us to effectively respond to emergencies that may require us to abandon ship. However, these drills can also be quite dangerous if not carried out correctly. Accidents and injuries can occur during lifeboat launching, retrieval, and maneuvering, leading to serious consequences for the crew members involved.

Some common hazards and risks associated with lifeboat drills include:

  • Falls: Crew members may fall from the lifeboat or the davits, especially during launching or retrieval.
  • Impact injuries: Improperly secured lifeboats can swing and hit crew members, causing severe injuries.
  • Trapped limbs: Fingers, hands, or other body parts can become trapped between the lifeboat and the ship or the davits during launching and retrieval.
  • Equipment failure: Malfunctioning winches, cables, or other lifeboat equipment can lead to accidents and injuries.
  • Capsizing: Lifeboats may capsize if improperly loaded or if launched in rough sea conditions.

To minimise the risks during lifeboat drills, consider these best practices:

  • Follow safety protocols: Adhere to your ship's safety guidelines and manufacturer's instructions for lifeboat operations.
  • Conduct regular inspections: Regularly inspect lifeboats, davits, and associated equipment for signs of wear or damage and address any issues promptly.
  • Ensure proper training: Ensure that all crew members are well-trained in lifeboat operations, including launching, retrieval, and maneuvering.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE): Don appropriate PPE, such as helmets, gloves, and safety harnesses, during lifeboat drills.
  • Communicate clearly: Maintain clear communication among the crew to coordinate actions and quickly address any problems that arise.
  • Practice caution during drills: Conduct drills in a controlled manner, being mindful of the potential hazards and risks involved.

1. Boarding and Disembarking the Ship

Finally, the most dangerous task we face as seafarers: getting on and off the ship. Boarding and disembarking can be fraught with potential hazards, making it a critical area for safety precautions. In fact, studies have shown that a significant proportion of maritime accidents and fatalities occur during these activities. Falls, slips, and other accidents can lead to serious injuries or even fatalities, so it's vital that we take extra care when using gangways, ladders, or other means of accessing the ship.

Here are some alarming statistics that highlight the dangers of boarding and disembarking:

  • According to a study by the International Maritime Health Association, over 40% of maritime accidents occur during boarding or disembarking the ship.
  • Falls from heights, including gangways and ladders, account for approximately 20% of all fatalities among seafarers.
  • Slips, trips, and falls are among the most common types of accidents during these activities, often resulting in severe injuries or worse.

To reduce the risks associated with boarding and disembarking, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Inspect gangways and ladders: Regularly inspect and maintain these access points to ensure they are in good condition and free of hazards.
  • Secure access points: Properly secure gangways and ladders to the ship and the dock, and make sure they are stable before use.
  • Use handrails: Always hold onto handrails when using gangways or ladders, and avoid carrying heavy loads that may cause you to lose your balance.
  • Wear appropriate footwear: Wear slip-resistant shoes to minimise the risk of slips and falls.
  • Pay attention to weather conditions: Be extra cautious during rain, snow, or icy conditions, as these can make surfaces more slippery and increase the risk of accidents.
  • Follow safety guidelines: Adhere to your ship's safety protocols and any additional regulations enforced by the port authorities.

By taking these precautions and maintaining a vigilant attitude, we can help mitigate the dangers associated with boarding and disembarking, making our journeys safer and more secure for ourselves and our fellow seafarers.


As seafarers, it's essential to be aware of the hazards we face while working at sea. Proper safety training, adherence to emergency procedures, and staying up to date on the latest safety guidelines can significantly reduce the risks associated with these dangerous tasks. Remember, despite the many safety advancements, a ship is only as safe as its crew, so let's all work together to make our vessel a safe and secure environment for everyone on board.

One way to stay informed about maritime safety is by reading our blog here at Liveseas, which offers valuable resources, articles, and safety tips for seafarers. By joining our community, you can network with top maritime employers, ultimately contributing to a safer maritime community.

Stay safe out there, shipmates, and fair winds to you all!

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