If you’ve ever worked on a ship, you know that when you sign on to a contract, they take your passport, and your dignity, at the gangway. This strange process surprises a lot of crew members when they sign on, but is a necessary part of working on the high seas. To comply with local law, crew members passports are held in a safe in the personnel office and are rarely given back until the end of a contract.


What happens if I miss the ship? Am I stranded without a passport?

No. As a part of their duties, the personnel and security staff are required to check to see if crew have returned by all-aboard time. If the ship departs at 5PM, passengers are all required to be onboard by 4:30, and crew generally by 3:30 or 4 – depending on how mean the ship’s management is being at the day.

If a crew members has not boarded the ship by departing time, the personnel staff will turn over their passport to the port authority. When you eventually do make it back to the ship, they’ll have quite a few questions for you – but that will be the least of your worries. Likely you’ll need to catch a flight to meet the ship at its next destination, where you’ll promptly be fired.


Can I get the passport back?

You likely won’t see your passport until the day you leave. If you need to go get a visa, or make a photo copy, you’ll need to fill out a request to view your passport which will likely be denied. Your ship ID will be your new passport for the next few months.


What about when I’m leaving?

When you depart (due to quitting, or end of contract) your passport will be returned to you no problem. On the morning of your debarkation, the personnel manager will march a box of passports down to immigration, where you’ll be stamped into the country you are debarking into. You’ll then often be required to head directly to the airport. Staying in a country sometimes requires extra work or coordination. As a Canadian, when debarking into the united states, I was unable to stay in the US, despite regularly having a six month window.


Isn’t this illegal?

Probably, but that’s ship life – so are half the working conditions.



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