I want to rough out the crew needed for a large FTL spaceship which is on a survey mission.

My basic scenario is my civ is recovering from a dark age and is exploring its surroundings using (ex military) "carriers".

The spaceship has:

  • autonomous FTL equipped message drones;
  • autonomous [in-system] drones; some equipped for entering & leaving a planetary atmosphere;
  • 10 manned unarmed in-system ships [that are able to land on a planet or moon];
  • 2 manned armed FTL capable ships, with minimal survey equipment; their primary purpose is to defend the carrier.

My question is, how many crew will it require!?

At present, I have the following [shifts x people]:

  • [3x10] operational [bridge] crew [who handle the ship]
  • [3x10] power crew [engine room, power plants etc]
  • [3x10] IT crew [maintain computing services; provide analysis of data gathered]
  • [1x100] marines [a 100 person unit able to provide military support]
  • [1x5] squadron crew [oversee the drones & parasite ships and their crews]
  • [1x60] the 12 parasite ship's crews
  • [3x5] science team [help analyse survey data]
  • [3x10] parasite ships maintenance staff
  • [3x10] drone maintenance staff
  • [3x10] environmental crew [maintain / recycle: air, water, food, sewage, rubbish]
  • [3x20] farm crew ["grow" {fresh} food for the crew]
  • [3x25] support crew [people who run the various spaces: eg cooks, waitresses, cleaners]
  • [3x5] medical staff [doctors, nurses, lab-techs]
  • [3x25] hotel staff [run the accommodation, do the laundry etc]
  • [3x10] security team - internal "police"

~615 people

Also, what "departments" have I missed?

If the mission is multi-year (which I think it would be), should I include childcare & schools?

cheers Steve


Firstly, my thanks to everyone who read the question and especially to those who gave answers!

My updated crew is as follows:

  • [12] command staff
  • [12] power crew [engine room, power plants etc]
  • [12] IT crew [maintain computing services; provide analysis of data gathered]
  • [5] squadron crew [oversee the drones & parasite ships and their crews]
  • [84] the 12 parasite ship's crews [including 5 scientists per ship]
  • [12] science team [help analyse survey data]
  • [30] maintenance staff [parasite ships + drones]
  • [30] environmental & farm crew
  • [25] support crew / labourers
  • [15] medical staff [doctors, nurses, lab-techs]
  • [10] hotel staff [run the accommodation, do the laundry etc]
  • [12] security team - internal "police"

259 people, down from my original 615.

I agree that multiple shifts are not necessary, so where before my basic unit was 3x10 I've changed that to 12 (8+2+2). I still have some "support" crew, which will amuse some of you. I have also sacked my marines. I was always assuming that there would be lots of automation, robots & AI; but the lower [human] numbers reflect me increasing their workload. :)

  • $\begingroup$ It depends on what exactly you are surveying, but if you survey things like geological stability, resource availability, the position and orbits of things larger than a kilometer, identification of Dark Age remains etc you are going to need a lot larger science crew. Otherwise I really enjoy a bit more thought behind the crew than the "one main bridge crew and the rest can go to hell" thing we see mostly in TV and series. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Mar 14 '20 at 10:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ship's AI: please give me 1 more chance, I learnt my lesson from the last dark age... I pinky swears ;p $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Mar 14 '20 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Unless your people are cyborgs or otherwise enhanced, there is little reason for humans to do fighting in most "realistic" sci-fi settings. In space combat, unenhanced human reaction time and computational capability are easily beat by even simple automation. Same goes for ground combat, 100 marines don't mean shit when you can melt them from orbit or have a single combat drone take them all out. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Mar 14 '20 at 12:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is this for a story or a game? Putatively crew is to serve your ship but crew and ship are both fictions invented by you to serve your real purpose - entertaining readers or players. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Mar 14 '20 at 15:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Too many questions! said Emperor Franz Josef to Herr Mozart. Please focus on only one question at a time: ask either about departments or families. You can always ask the other question separately! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 14 '20 at 20:20

Whether or not you end up with more or less crew, there are some fundamental failings in this list in terms of how the labour is distributed. I'll go through the basics to give you an idea of how to better distribute crew across the functions.

Every Marine is a Rifleman
This is becoming a controversial saying in the modern world as focus shifts to other forms of combat techniques than the old school trench warfare, but for the purposes of your carrier, I'd recommend you take it to heart. Having 100x marines on board your ship doing nothing until you get to a planet on which you want them to land is a terrible waste of resources. I'd argue that they are your cooks, environmental staff, cleaners and launderers (and for Pete's sake, you really don't need waitresses) until they're needed for combat. They spend a part of their week remaining combat ready, and for the rest of it you put them to work.

Air, food, and space on board any space ship is going to be precious, and you're not going to bring people who have a single function. Everyone on board your ship will have a secondary skill and will be able to back someone else up. That is just the way of it. In the case of combat specialists, they won't just be sitting idle on your ship until they're needed, and when they are, other people can fill the gaps while they're away. After all, less to clean, launder, fix, feed, etc.

Night Shifts
While bringing redundant skill sets for critical functions like the engine room is laudable, you won't bring enough for three full shifts. You'll have a primary shift that will operate during the ship's 'day' hours, and then a small skeleton crew for the other two shifts that monitor things, fix the really simple problems, and have at their core the most important function of all; wake up the day crew if something goes really wrong.

The same will be true of your maintenance teams - the night shifts will be there to sort out the easy stuff and make sure no-one pinches the CPU out of a damaged drone to start up an in-ship Quake server. The real problems will be sorted out by a primary shift, and everyone else is going to be caretakers, pure and simple.

Smaller Bridge
I can't help but notice you put the same number of people on the bridge as you have maintaining the engines, the IT systems and the boats and drones on board the carrier. That (IMHO) is way too many. I'd argue that you may need that size for an officer corps, acting as department heads for the other functions on board your ship, but certainly not all directly on the bridge.

Let's face it; the bridge isn't where it's happening in any event. Effectively, the bridge is there to point the ship in the right direction and get out of the way of things that won't move because you're bearing down on them. Most of that (given how many IT people you have) should be automated after the initial programming by a much smaller bridge crew.

But, I'm going to assume that you didn't mean bridge explicitly and that you were referring to the command staff. If so, then that makes sense but you're (again) not going to need 3x shifts worth. You might have more than 10, but a small complement of them are going to have the sole function of waking up the primaries in case of trouble.

Military Police
If you have around 600 crew on board your ship, all intent on serving a specific mission, and you need 30 cops with you to keep the peace and the law on board your ship, then I deeply suspect your captain isn't a good judge of character. You already have some marines assigned to day jobs on the ship in flight, put a couple on to investigating stuff when it arises, and your captain is judge and jury which I think you'll find is close to the truth on a modern military vessel in any event.

Science Team
You call this a survey mission, but you bring 100 soldiers, 90 ship crew and maintenance, and only 15 scientists? That's not a survey mission, it's a reconnaissance mission. If you're serious about this being a survey mission, you'll have a lot more scientists on board, or a lot less of everyone else. In essence if you need 600 people to carry about 15 scientists and it's a scientific mission, you're doing it wrong. Very wrong.

The main reason I don't think you're wrong about the IT staff count is that they'll be split across two priorities. Keeping the ship running, and keeping the scientists running. As such, you'll find that members of the science team will accompany every away mission or landing, and you'll have specialists in xenobiology, geology, chemistry, physics, etc. on board your ship ready to analyse whatever findings they come across. Arguably, they would also make good cleaners, cooks, etc. when you are travelling between worlds, although knowing academics as I do, good luck keeping them as organised or as focused as the marines, especially if they haven't had anything published for a bit. But, I digress.

Double Ups
I'd make the point that the farming work is likely hydroponic, and that it does as much to maintain the atmosphere aboard the ship as any dedicated crew, so I'd argue that both functions would be tied into one set of jobs, not separate departments. Same with the engineers and the drone and ship maintenance teams, especially if space is at a premium on the ship already.

To Summarise
The less people you have on your ship, the better. Space is risky, and expensive. People are fragile and hard to keep alive out there, so the fewer you have on your ship the better for that reason. To that end, everyone has to have multiple reasons for being there and this is why the current list is so long - it doesn't take into account that many of the functions are part time and therefore could be done by people who do other things when not needed for that function. Also, we have to remember that automation is now a thing and the fact that we have drones entering military use at a far greater rate than new fighters and combat aircraft should tell you that the ideal crew for your ship (if it has good internal repair drones and brilliant programming) may well be zero.

In any event, segregating people so rigidly by function may not be the best idea because if you are trying to keep a crew to its minimum in space (which is something you should always do) then you really want generalists wherever possible, not specialists.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That said, in Weber's Honorverse, different navies took different approaches to marines. Some had them also running damage control or manning weapon mounts, while others had them not assigned. Don't forget they're going to spend their time while not assigned to ship's duties training. Also, don't forget about what you can do with AI's and repair mechs; automation could probably cut a lot of your numbers in half or more. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Mar 14 '20 at 15:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I also doubt that a survey mission will have more than a few dozen dedicated marines. More likely you will have the equipment, but if you actually need to send in armed troops, you'll be sending the MP's and anyone that can be spared from other duties. I'd also check your hospitality numbers against some actual businesses, as they seem high. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Mar 14 '20 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ Also, 3 shifts isn't enough for 24x7 coverage. You need a minimum of 4 shifts with everyone working 42 hrs/wk, and realistically 5 to handle weekends, sick time, etc. But as you note, only one (maybe two) needs to be fully staffed. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Mar 14 '20 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenS I'm not sure whether the mission described above is of a military nature or not, but I'm fairly certain that 'weekends' are not much of a consideration for this kind of trip. Sick time, perhaps, but that can usually be handled by working others a bit more. $\endgroup$
    – Mookuh
    Mar 14 '20 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenS If you look at stuff like the ISS, or Antarctic research bases, the idea of "weekends" doesn't fit. Yes, people (usually) get time off, but it will often only be 1 day per week, and be staggered through the week (someone has Monday, someone else has Tuesday, etc). Plus, 3*8 hour shifts is 24h - that's why the "3 shift" model is existing SOP. Not sure why you think 4 shifts are necessary $\endgroup$ Mar 14 '20 at 19:17

Lift details from history.

At first I was thinking of the voyages of Captain Cook. 2 large ocean going ships.


Cook's second Pacific voyage, (1772-1775), aimed to establish whether there was an inhabited southern continent, and make astronomical observations.

The two ships Resolution and Adventure were fitted out for the expedition. In 1772, before he set out, Cook created a map which showed the discoveries made in the Southern Ocean up until 1770 and sketched out his proposed route for the upcoming voyage. In 1773, accompanied by naturalists, astronomers and an artist, Cook made his first crossing of the Antarctic Circle, claiming that he had been further south than any person.

His 49 crew members are listed here. https://www.captaincooksociety.com/home/detail/a-table-of-the-crew-of-cook-s-three-voyages-1768-1779

I am sure the sailors on Cooks voyages would have been delighted to have hotel staff aboard to turn down their sheets!

But I think more clever would be to model your explorations on a smaller voyage of discovery.

lewis and clark The Lewis and Clark expedition is a great model for you. They had about 40 people along. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corps_of_Discovery

This included officers, soldiers, contract boatmen, Sacajawea and her husband (and her baby!) to translate, Clark's slave York, and a dog. Good variety. Instead of interacting with the Amerinds your party would be interacting with the far flung vestiges of the fallen civilization. All sort of exciting things happened on this voyage. Lewis and Clark did not find some of the things that they were looking for and I can imagine that for your story too - your people hope to find another refuge of the Unfallen like themselves. They keep hoping.

You have to have core characters to move a story otherwise people get confused. The core characters of the Lewis and Clark expedition are distinctive enough to tell apart in a narrative. I get the impression that the working men were too - soldiers from the East coast and French-descended boatmen from St Louis.


I'm going to go ahead and add my comments. Most of them were already stated by Tim (he's very thorough), so I'll credit him as needed. At the end I'll put a running tally for you.

First up, as Tim said your 100 marines can handle other jobs when not on the ground doing marine things. As such, it would not be unfeasible to replace a number of pre-existing "specialists" with lay marines. Think of it this way: If a job requires dumb labor, it only requires 2 or so overseers and a number of added folks to move things around. Namely, your environmental, farm, support, and hospitality crews can be cut down significantly and replaced with off-duty marines. This also gives a lot of flexibility for where human resources are applied. If a farm just needs to be checked for decay or disease midway through the growing cycle, most of the marines whose job that is can be sent to do something else.

Also, Tim pointed out that the presence of MP called your captain's character judgement into question. I have to both agree and disagree with that. I may be wrong, but a captain doesn't go through and hand-pick each of the 600+ people who get to be on his ship. The crew may be a combination of recommended specialists, groups of people subcontracted from companies, people the captain has worked with in the past, and whomever's handy. As such, some of the people may be used to working with each other, while others may not work well with others. While I agree a dedicated MP force isn't wholly necessary, I don't think the idea should just be vented out the airlock.

Instead of Military Police, replace them with a handful of people well-versed in interpersonal relationships; diplomats, mediators or, in some cases, bouncers. This way, they have a job off-ship as well as on it (This concept alone should be employed everywhere. While I expect specialists to, well, specialize I expect everyone else to be able to do more than one thing, even if it seems lame).

The shortage of scientists on a survey mission (again, mentioned by Tim) is concerning. Those numbers are more indicative of "a scouting mission that we're claiming is a survey mission so the enemy doesn't think we're looking at their defenses". At the same time, you don't need as many scientists as marines because, again, marines can help with things requiring less finesse.

Tim mentioned night shifts. Yes, the night shift doesn't need as many people awake as the morning and evening shifts, but it still needs some people awake. I'd lay out the shifts like this:

  • Morning: 1 overseer/specialist, 4 adept people
  • Evening: 1 overseer/specialist, 4 adept people
  • Night: 3 adept people

This assumes a 5-person shift according to your tally. The percentages would remain roughly the same as you scale it up, or the job requires more expertise (like medical staff) you can increase the number of overseers/specialists.

You should only think about childcare and schooling if the mission would span decades, not years. The most you'd need to employ is a nursery worker per shift, plus a couple of extra eyes. If you have children of educable age on board you're wasting space and resources. However, if a child is conceived and born on the ship and grows to an educable age then you'll need educators. One educator per 15 children. A tech-savvy person could probably commandeer a drone to educate instead, but that may not go over well with rowdy children.

Finally, I would tweak a few numbers here and there, but nothing major. Round numbers are great, but sometimes you don't need quite as many people as you've listed (again, spread the marines around). The final tally will assume a night shift with 20% less crew members, but I won't go changing anything in the tally proper. [Post-tally note] So I added 45 laborers because the tally came to 305.8 crew members and I realized that I was relying pretty heavily on having marines to bolster numbers, but not thinking about what would happen if the marines actually had to do marine things...

  • [3x10] operational [bridge] crew [who handle the ship]
  • [3x10] power crew [engine room, power plants etc]
  • [3x10] IT crew [maintain computing services; provide analysis of data gathered]
  • [1x100] marines [a 100 person unit able to provide military support]
  • [1x45] laborers [like the marines, these guys get spread around. Unlike the marines, they don't do fighting.]
  • [1x5] squadron crew [oversee the drones & parasite ships and their crews]
  • [1x60] the 12 parasite ship's crews
  • [3x15] science team [help analyze survey data]
  • [3x6] parasite ships' maintenance staff
  • [3x10] drone maintenance staff
  • [3x2 + off-duty marines] environmental crew [maintain / recycle: air, water, food, sewage, rubbish]
  • [3x6 + off-duty marines] farm crew ["grow" {fresh} food for the crew]
  • [3x2 per occupation + off-duty marines] support crew [people who run the various spaces: eg cooks, waitresses, cleaners]
  • [3x5] medical staff [doctors, nurses, lab-techs]
  • [3x5 + off-duty marines] hotel staff [run the accommodation, do the laundry etc]
  • [3x5 + off-duty marines] mediators [diplomats for ground missions, interpersonal issues, and the like]
  • [3x1] nursery workers, plus 1 educator per 15 expected educable children.

This puts the crew at a nice round 350 people, not including educators.


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