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Here, the TRUSS (Training in Reducing Uncertainty in Structural Safety) ITN (Innovative Training Network) Horizon 2020 project (http://trussitn.eu, 2015-19) demonstrates how the accuracy of residual life assessment predictions can be improved by achieving a good agreement between measured and predicted dynamic responses of a crane structure. Existing records of measured strain data are often missing information such as the weight of the payload, the hoisting speed and acceleration that are relevant for structural assessment purposes. This paper aims to reduce uncertainties associated with the recorded data in an aged grab ship unloader by comparing measured and non-linear transient finite element analyses results for a loading/unloading cycle. The speed pattern is determined from a best match to the measured record. The moving load consisting of ‘trolley + grab + payload’ is modelled with parameters that are derived from minimizing differences between measured and simulated responses. The determination of these loading parameters is central to accurately assess the remaining life of ship unloaders.