Skeleton crew

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A skeleton crew is the minimum number of personnel needed to operate and maintain an item—such as a business, organization,[1] or ship—at its most simple operating requirements. Skeleton crews are often utilized during an emergency and are meant to keep an item's vital functions operating. The COVID-19 Pandemic is an example of when skeleton crews are used, such as in news stations.[2]


Some examples of situations in which skeleton crews may be utilized include:

  • Shipboard – The barest minimum number of personnel to keep a ship operating[3] after it has been damaged and awaiting tow to port.
  • Blizzards, hurricanes, and typhoons – The fewest personnel to remain at a business location during a major storm to monitor conditions and to make emergency repairs if possible.
  • Inactivity – The fewest personnel necessary to keep an inactive facility, such as a commercial building in transition between owners, from being vandalized.
  • Temporary closings – The smallest number of employees to monitor and maintain the facility while it is otherwise shut down for a holiday, strike, etc.
  • Medical attention – The fewest personnel necessary to keep an inactive facility for radioactive poisoning.
  • Film crew – The fewest essential workers required on a very low-budget production to shoot some form of media.
  • Television and radio stations – Most broadcasting authorities require a minimum of two employees to maintain a television and radio station, usually an engineer to handle on-air operations and transmitter maintenance, and a manager or office worker to maintain station records and correspondence. For stations on automation or which are translator stations, this allows the station to claim to meet local presence requirements in its city of license even if all programming is originating elsewhere.


  1. ^ "Skeleton Crew | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  2. ^ Schneider, Michael & Steinberg, Brian (7 May 2020). "TV's Unsung Heroes: How Skeleton Crews Are Still Keeping Networks Like CBS on the Air".
  3. ^ Shipboard Manpower, 1965: A Statistical Study of Men in the Privately Operated U.S. Flag Merchant Marine. National Academy of Sciences. 1968. p. 14.