Crane Operators - What They Do

Crane operators operate cranes or draglines to lift, move, position or place machinery, equipment and other large objects at construction or industrial sites, ports, railway yards, surface mines and other similar locations. They are employed by construction, industrial, mining, cargo handling and railway companies.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Operate mobile and tower cranes to lift, move, position or place equipment and materials
  • Perform pre-operational inspection, and calculate crane capacities and weight to prepare for rigging and hoisting
  • Operate pile driving cranes to drive pilings into earth to provide support for buildings and other structures
  • Operate cranes equipped with dredging attachments to dredge waterways and other areas
  • Operate gantry cranes to load and unload ship cargo at port side
  • Operate locomotive cranes to move objects and materials at railway yards
  • Operate bridge or overhead cranes to lift, move and place plant machinery and materials
  • Operate offshore oil rig cranes to unload and reload supply vessels
  • Operate cranes mounted on boats or barges to lift, move and place equipment and materials
  • Operate dragline cranes to expose coal seams and ore deposits at open pit mines
  • May assemble tower cranes on site
  • Perform routine maintenance work such as cleaning and lubricating cranes.

Job titles

  • tractor crane operator
  • dragline crane operator
  • crane operator
  • construction crane operator
  • bridge crane operator
  • tower crane operator
  • hoist operator (except underground mining)
  • boom truck crane operator
  • climbing crane operator
  • mobile crane operator
  • gantry crane operator
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a one- to three-year apprenticeship program or High school, college or industry courses in crane operating are usually required.
  • Mobile crane operator trade certification is compulsory in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta and available, but voluntary, in all other provinces and the Northwest Territories.
  • Tower crane operator trade certification is compulsory in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba and available, but voluntary, in Prince Edward Island.
  • Mobile crane operator (hydraulic) trade certification is compulsory in Quebec and available, but voluntary, in Prince Edward Island.
  • Hoist operator trade certification, for specified types of cranes, is compulsory in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta and is available, but voluntary, in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
  • Mobile crane operators may require a provincial licence to drive mobile cranes on public roads.
  • Internal company certification as a crane operator may be required by some employers.
  • Red Seal endorsement is also available to qualified mobile crane, tower crane and mobile crane (hydraulic) operators upon successful completion of the interprovincial Red Seal examination.

Essential Skills


  • Read instructions and warnings on labels, e.g. read labels posted on crane components to learn about hazards. (1)
  • Read short text entries in forms, e.g. read short text entries in work orders to learn about the materials to be hoisted. (1)
  • Read memos and bulletins, e.g. read memos and bulletins to learn about changes to work processes and job hazards. (2)
  • Read load chart notes, e.g. read notes on load charts to learn the conditions that apply to various crane equipment configurations. (3)
  • Read explanations, instructions and procedures in operators' manuals, e.g. read manufacturers' operating manuals to learn about rigging methods and how to use on-board computers and load movement indicators. (3)
  • Read trade magazines, newsletters, brochures and website articles, e.g. read articles in magazines, such as Crane and Hoist Canada, to learn about industry trends and new regulations. (3)
  • Read safety regulations, safety codes and policies and procedures, e.g. read Canadian Safety Association Standard safety codes and provincial occupational health and safety regulations to learn the standards that govern the transport, set-up, rigging and operation of cranes. (4)

Document use

  • Observe directional and hazard signs, e.g. view signs posted at job sites to learn about muster points and the location of overhead wires. (1)
  • Locate data on labels, e.g. locate weights, dimensions and product types on shipping tags and product labels. (1)
  • Locate data in forms, e.g. locate data, such as dates, times, locations, rigging specifications and weight restrictions, on work orders and highway travel permits. (2)
  • Enter data into a variety of forms, e.g. check off items on inspection checklists and record tasks completed, malfunctions observed, crane running hours and driving distances in crane logs. (2)
  • Locate information in lift planning sheets, such as load weights, distances and directions of lifts, excavation and power line locations and minimum clearances required. (3)
  • Locate data in a variety of complex tables, e.g. locate specifications in 'parts of line' and 'rope weights' tables to calculate the number of parts of line to use for lifts and the maximum loads that can be applied to hoist lines. (3)
  • Obtain information from technical drawings, e.g. study engineered drawings for tilt-up construction projects to identify sizes, weights and centres of gravity, the locations of lift inserts and brace anchors, and other details. (3)
  • May study assembly and schematic drawings when performing maintenance and repairs, e.g. study assembly drawings to learn how to take apart and reassemble mechanisms when changing oil seals. (3)
  • Locate data in range diagrams, e.g. use range diagrams to determine the boom elevations, boom angles, boom lengths and jib off-set angles needed to lift loads to specified heights and locations. (4)
  • Locate data in complex load charts, e.g. locate gross capacities for a variety of crane and boom configuration variables, such as operating radius, boom length, boom angle, jib length, jib offset angle, outrigger position, lifting quadrant and size of counterweights. (4)


  • Write brief logbook entries, e.g. write crane logbook entries to describe tasks completed, malfunctions experienced and equipment maintenance required. (1)
  • Write email messages and short notes, e.g. write email messages to supervisors and clients to outline site preparation requirements. (2)
  • Writes text entries in a variety of forms, e.g. describe worksite hazards in hazard assessment forms. (2)
  • May write short reports, e.g. describe symptoms and the possible causes of malfunctions in maintenance reports and factual descriptions of accidents in incident reports. (3)


  • Estimate variables for non-critical lifts that are well below crane capacity, e.g. estimate operating radius by pacing off the distance between the load and the crane's centre of gravity. (1)
  • Measure the weight of loads and wind speed using on-board digital scales and anemometers. (1)
  • Measure the width of passage ways and distance of operating radii using measuring tapes. (1)
  • May calculate out-of-pocket expenses, e.g. calculate reimbursement claims by totalling the cost of out-of-pocket purchases and the amount charged for the use of their personal vehicle to travel to work sites. (2)
  • Calculate capacities, e.g. calculate lift capacities by totalling the weight of gear, such as hooks, hoist lines, jibs and slings, and deducting this weight from the crane's rated gross capacities. (2)
  • Calculate safety margins, e.g. increase the capacity of rigging used by a factor of ten when lifting people and reduce rated load capacities by specified percentages for each crane when making tandem lifts. (2)
  • Compare lift variables to manufacturers' and regulated specifications, e.g. compare load weight with the crane's net capacity, and compare air temperatures and wind speeds with Canadian Standards Association specifications for safe lift operations. (2)
  • Calculate work rates, such as the number of tilt-wall panels erected per day and windows lifted per hour, to project job completion times. (2)
  • Estimate the time needed to complete projects by considering factors, such as travel distance, rigging configuration and set-up steps. (2)
  • Estimate changes in crane capacity that may occur when loads are lifted, lowered and swung. They consider the effects of line speed and stopping distances on load weights and the quadrants through which loads travel. (2)
  • May calculate invoice amounts by adding charges for time and travel at specified rates, applicable taxes and fuel surcharges. (3)
  • Calculate lift requirements, e.g. use factors, such as load weight, line capacity and boom lengths, to calculate the required angles and lengths of sling legs and the size of counterweights. (3)
  • Calculate the weight of loads, e.g. calculate the weight of loads using constants, such as kilograms of weight per foot, square metre and cubic yard. (3)

Oral communication

  • Talk to co-workers and suppliers about ongoing work, e.g. receive job assignments from dispatchers and coordinate inspection and maintenance tasks with other operators. (1)
  • Speak with servicers and supervisors about equipment, e.g. exchange information with servicers when trying to troubleshoot equipment faults. (2)
  • Participate in meetings, e.g. discuss safety issues and procedures during crew meetings. (2)
  • Instruct apprentices, co-workers and on-site work crews, e.g. assign tasks to apprentices and explain how to configure cranes for specific jobs. (2)
  • Exchange information with regulators, such as health and safety inspectors, e.g. discuss the safety procedures to follow when handling hazardous materials and making lifts near public roadways. (2)
  • Discuss detailed lift specifications with on-site personnel, e.g. explain detailed lift procedures to riggers, signallers and other operators during lifts. (3)


  • Encounter obstacles at set-up locations and obstructions to lift paths. They select alternate locations and different lift paths to avoid obstructions. (1)
  • Encounter unsafe work conditions. They speak with clients and supervisors about their concerns and ensure work is safe before proceeding. (2)
  • Find upon arrival at job sites that clients are unprepared for scheduled lifts. They find other tasks to perform to give clients time to prepare and, if necessary, reschedule the jobs. (2)
  • Experience delays and interruptions caused by equipment failures. They troubleshoot the equipment faults and attempt to make repairs. They contact repairers as required and inform customers and supervisors about the delays. (2)
  • Decide which tasks to delegate to apprentices. They consider the demands of the tasks and the workers' skills. (2)
  • Judge the accuracy and reliability of lift-related information provided to them by others. They verify information using their own observations and calculations. They assess the adequacy of others' slinging work by checking that the size, angle and attachment points of slings are appropriate for the weights and shapes of loads. (2)
  • Organize their own tasks to complete jobs assigned by their dispatchers and supervisors. They may have some responsibility for determining the priority of jobs. Their work activities vary according to their employment context. For example, an operator employed by a pulp mill may operate only one crane and work only at the mill site. In contrast, operators who work for crane rental companies may operate several types of cranes at a wide range of job sites including ship yards, airports, oil refineries and a variety of construction projects. The schedules of mobile crane operators range from performing several different jobs during a day to spending whole days doing repetitive production lifts, such as moving boulders and pouring concrete. Their schedules may be disrupted by mechanical breakdowns, poor weather and changes in the work schedules of clients' crews. (2)
  • Locate information about the capacities of cranes by reading operating manuals, referring to load charts and speaking with manufacturers and suppliers. (2)
  • Find information about lifts, such as load weights and characteristics of job sites, by speaking with on-site personnel, taking measurements of loads and sites, and examining shipping labels and jobsite drawings. (2)
  • Decide not to complete lifts when they cannot be performed safely. (3)
  • Choose set-up locations and crane configurations for specific jobs. They analyze numerous factors including ground condition, the weight and location of the load, crane capacity and the position of structures. (3)
  • Make operational decisions during lifts, such as when to start, stop and vary the speed and direction of lifts. They consider their observations, equipment readings and the information provided by riggers and signallers. (3)
  • Assess the condition of cranes and gear, such as hoist lines, hooks, blocks and sheaves, booms, outriggers and hydraulic systems. They use inspection criteria, which are clearly specified, but they apply their own experience and judgment as well. (3)
  • Evaluate the safety of lifts before and during lifts. Before lifts, they analyze lift variables, such as ground conditions, load weights and crane capacities, for conformance with occupational and site-specific safety regulations. During lifts, they continue to monitor all lift variables including the security and balance of loads, the effect of wind on boom and load movement and the activities of surrounding personnel. (3)

Digital technology

  • May use calculators and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices to complete numeracy-related tasks, such as calculating the weight of a load. (1)
  • Use hand-held and stationary radios to communicate with riggers and signallers. (1)
  • May use word processing programs to write short deficiency and incident reports. (2)
  • May use communication software to exchange email with office staff about administrative matters and with clients about lift preparations. (2)
  • May use the Internet to access training courses and seminars offered by training institutions, unions, suppliers, associations and employers. (2)
  • Use Internet browsers and search engines to search manufacturers' websites for maintenance procedures and parts diagrams. (2)
  • May access online articles posted by suppliers, manufacturers and associations to stay current on industry trends and practices. (2)
  • May use their company's Intranet system to learn about job assignments. (2)
  • Use on-board load movement indicators and load management systems to monitor percentages of crane capacities used, weigh suspended loads, enter configuration data and access load charts and operational specifications. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

To be effective, mobile crane operators must establish close and ongoing job-task coordination with other workers on the jobsite. They work closely with clients to plan lifts and ensure that their activities are coordinated with those of on-site crews. During lifts, they are in close communication with riggers and signallers to coordinate lifts and load placements. They work in close coordination with other operators when operating large cranes above specified capacities and when performing multiple crane lifts. They may assign tasks to apprentices and helpers.

Continuous Learning

While all mobile crane operators learn through performing different lifts and dealing with new problems, the requirements for continuous learning by crane operators vary according to the variety of cranes they use, the range of jobs they perform and whether they became operators through apprenticeship. For example, operators who operate only one small crane at one site may need to engage in little continuous learning, while operators who use a variety of cranes may take training courses provided by manufacturers on the operation of different models. Operators who entered the occupation without formal training may be required by their employers and clients to take courses on topics, such as rigging and load chart reading. Crane operators are required to take safety training on topics, such as fall protection and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).