In a population of male workers in two ship maintenance companies (n = 32), a workplace survey was conducted in order to quantify their physical load. Postural load was measured by using the Ovako Working posture Analyzing System. During 7480 observations, working postures, exertion of force and working activities were recorded. Awkward postures of the back occurred in 38% of the worktime, stress on the neck/shoulder region due to one or both arms above shoulder level was present in 25% of the worktime. Forceful exertions during lifting, pushing and pulling activities sometimes exceeded published guidelines for manual material handling. Determinants of physical load could be identified and a hazard evaluation procedure was designed by applying rating schemes to weight various patterns of physical load. Ship maintenance work compared well with other strenuous occupations. Considering the high prevalence of back pain (80%) and neck/shoulder pain (60%), as well as the results of the observation method ergonomic improvements are warranted. Physical load can be reduced by several technical adaptations and applications, and by enlarging task rotation.