Time pressure is present in maritime shipping in many ways. Like all industries, working and delivering on time plays a crucial factor in activities within maritime shipping. Unfortunately, this means that time pressure can sometimes be a contributing factor in the cause of maritime incidents. This focussed guide aims to highlight the presence of time pressure to stakeholders in the maritime sector.

Time pressure leads to stress and as with most forms of stress, there is a balance.  There is nothing wrong with setting a realistic timeframe to complete an action or task, it is when the timeframe is unrealistic that ‘excessive’ time pressure becomes a problem. 

The aim of this guide is to:

  • Promote awareness of time pressure within the maritime community.
  • Improve understanding of different types of time pressure including self-induced time pressure.
  • Emphasise the importance of addressing this issue from top of the leadership chain and developing a visible management commitment in maintaining a safety culture.
  • Develop guidance on the importance of repair and maintenance strategy, planned maintenance systems in managing resource issues.
  • Emphasise the effect that time pressure can have on safety and well-being on board.


The varied and conflicting demands on our time, from professional commitments to domestic responsibilities, push us to squeeze the most from every minute (Hochschild, 1997; Perlow, 1998, 1999).

Modern innovations like fast food drive-through’s, mobile telephones, microwave ovens, productivity applications etc. continually increase our ability to get more done in less time. Organizations strain to make the most efficient use of their employees, laying off those who can be spared and pushing those who remain to do more in fewer hours (Schor, 1991).

Experts such as Hochschild and Schor recognize the pressure that companies are under and highlight the impacts that can be felt by their employees such as constraining cognitive capacity and impairing performance. The maritime shipping industry is not exempt from these effects with ships being capital intensive assets, and where the operating costs or expenses (OpEx) play a major role in running the ships.  

Time Pressure has been recognised in many areas of operation and there are numerous high-profile examples: -

Navigation: The request to meet a ‘challenging’ Estimated time of arrival/departure (ETA/ETD) can lead to shortcuts being taken or insufficient time available for voyage preparation. Examples of this include the Titanic sinking, Herald of the free Enterprise and the more recently the grounding of Rena[1].  

Mooring/Unmooring: Pressure may be present to berth a vessel or to unberth to clear the berth. The Hoegh Osaka capsize is a supporting example.

Cargo operations: Pressure to prepare tanks, holds or cargo itself may lead to incidents in cargo spaces. Incorrect or incomplete lashing of containers plays a part in the eventual loss of containers overboard. There has been a trend of increased containers losses in the recent years.

Maintenance: Pressure to complete repairs may result in rushed repairs causing damage to critical equipment or injury to crew.

Given that the existence of time pressure in general is beyond doubt, and that there is no formal recognition of time pressure within the maritime shipping industry, there is an opportunity to provide industry stakeholders with insight on the subject. 

To establish effective management of the risk associated with time pressure, there is a need to:

  • Recognise where excessive time pressure is influencing behaviour.
  • Identify where existing safeguards may be used to avoid incidents.
  • Evaluate where help should be available under ISM.

Time Pressure

Time pressure is a stress that a person can experience that may impair his/her ability to make safe decisions.  It can be a form of ‘commercial pressure’ and businesses may struggle to find the balance between maintaining safety on board and maximizing the commercial performance of the ship. In other words, there is a fine balance between conducting operations safely and efficiently. Tilting the balance in favour of one, may negatively affect the other.

What may not be apparent to individuals (or stakeholders) is that their actions and/or instructions may result in time pressure being applied to staff further down the communication line. In other words, any person directly or indirectly involved with ship operations has the potential to influence time pressure, examples include.

  • Agents
  • Authorities
  • Charterers
  • Colleagues
  • Ports and Terminal managers
  • Port and/or cargo workers
  • Shipboard managers
  • Shore based managers.

There are three different types of time pressure (described below):

Explicit Time Pressure  Implicit Time Pressure  Self-induced Time Pressure

This is sometimes called direct time pressure. A formal instruction, which is time bound, is given by a party with apparent legitimate authority that creates a pressure on the receiving party to carry out the instruction within the assigned time. In some cases, this formal instruction is recorded in some way. The situation is, therefore, visible during audits and investigations.

Example – A voyage instruction sent from a charterer to a shipowner with a tight schedule for a ship. An instruction sent from the office to the ship to prepare the cargo hold for the next cargo however the time allowed is not sufficient.

This is sometimes called indirect time pressure. In the communications between parties, times are not explicitly mentioned but is implied in the way the communication is carried out. In this case the recipient individual’s decision making is shaped by implicit messages in the communications and processes. 

Sometimes, this affects people’s perceptions of what the organisation wants. Implicit time pressure is not easily visible or recordable and will seldom be visible in an investigation or audit.

Example – A instruction to carry out a repair work is sent out from the technical department of a shipowner to a ship with no mention of time. However, in most other cases, such an instruction is carried out with the highest priority.

This type of time pressure does not originate from a third party but from one’s own self. It is the self-perception that a task needs to be carried out within a particular timeframe determined by the individual, that is usually shorter than the desired timeframe.

Example, a vessel/technical manager who must leave the office to complete an important personal errand may choose to approve a safety work permit from the ship slightly more quickly, paying more attention to the time and not the risks involved in the job.  

Resources are available from charities or mental health professionals on self-induced time pressure (stress).

While self-induced time pressure can occur in any part of the organisation, it is mostly found on ships, as ship’s staff are the ones that carry out the sharp end of the tasks. Although self- induced time pressure can occur in the shore side of any organisation, this has not been very visible in this analysis as most of the time it has either been a direct or an indirect time-pressure that affects the shore staff the most. Of course, there are difference in personalities in people and this can lead towards time pressure.


What does time pressure look like and why does it happen?

Stress due to time pressure can manifest differently between people. While some may show many physical signs, others may show only some or no signs at all.

Some physical signs may include; decreased energy and insomnia, headaches, weight change and change in appetite, frequent sickness, rapid heartbeat, and sweating.

Non-physical signs may include; irritability and generally acting differently or changed mood. Increased complaints and grievances are another sign that may be an effect of time pressure.

Why does it happen?

Some examples of why this happens include:

  • Excessive administrative demands
  • Imbalance between resources and workload
  • Poorly constructed or non-existent procedures
  • Weak safety culture
  • Lack of awareness of the effect that instructions and messaging can have on people.
  • Reluctance to challenge real or perceived authority.
  • Structure of reward programmes for seafarers

Sources of time pressure in the Maritime industry

In a typical shipping company context, time pressure can arise from different sources. To identify the various sources of time pressure and how they interact with the ship and ship-owner, an analysis has been carried out, the result of which is demonstrated in the following model.

In the figure above, the grey box represents a shipping company’s shore office, the blue box represents the ship, the arrows represent the direction of the flow of communication and in turn, time pressure. The continuous arrows are how direct time pressure travels, and the broken arrows represents ways in which indirect time pressure travels. The Red boxes represent the already existing safeguards or barriers of time pressure within the system.

It is important to stress that time pressure can originate from within the line of responsibility or from other outside sources.

Time pressure can arise from within the ‘Company’ (as defined in the International Safety Management Code (ISM)) or from an outside source, which then affects the company both ashore and on board.

Time pressure can arise from Charterers in the form of tight deadlines and/or often amending time required to arrive at a port /berth or changing cargoes and therefore tank/hold combination at tight deadlines etc.

Ports and terminals also create time pressure to the ship. An example of this that a ship which is at anchorage waiting for a berth, is given a very short time to prepare and come alongside. If the ship requests for more time, port may assign the berth to another ship and asks the waiting ship to continue waiting for another berthing opportunity.


Preventing time pressure

Preventing time pressure and managing expectations can go a long way in mitigating circumstances that can cause incidents. Below is a list of mitigations that can be put in place to reduce the adverse effects of time pressure.

  • Understanding the sources of time pressure
  • Knowing the visible signs of time pressure
  • Planning and prioritising work
  • Having an accessible safety management system
  • Confident leaders and a healthy safety culture
  • Having a strategic view of workload
  • ‘STOP the job’ practices.
  • Supporting the master’s authority
  • Strong and open communication
  • Challenging time pressure (P.A.C.E[1])

[1] Refer to Annex A for further information.



Time pressure Model

Annexes and further reading

Annex A - The Time Pressure Model


Annex B - The PACE Model


The Guides

Head over to the guide specific pages below for more information. 

Time Pressures In the Maritime Industry Ship Owner/Ship Manager Guide image

Time Pressures In the Maritime Industry Ship Owner/Ship Manager Guide

Time Pressures In the Maritime Industry Shipboard Guide  image

Time Pressures In the Maritime Industry Shipboard Guide

Time Pressure In the Maritime Industry - Ports and Terminals image

Time Pressure In the Maritime Industry - Ports and Terminals





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