Shore leave: What to know when visiting foreign ports

Shore leave: What to know when visiting foreign ports

All seafarers look forward to shore leave during a long haul. Nothing beats the feeling of stepping off the boat, even for a short time, and getting to enjoy a new country or city. Improving your experience on board ships and in port is one of our primary objectives here at Out2Sea.

We certainly realize that in the past decade, security concerns and tighter schedules for shipping companies have reduced the amount of shore leave most seafarers receive. But shore leave still remains one of the most important issues for merchant mariners throughout the world.

sailor on ship

Getting time off the boat is one of the best parts of being a seafarer.

Rules regarding shore leave

Of course, whether or not a seafarer can even disembark from a vessel during his or her time in port depends on the specific security rules and regulations of the country. Although the IMO amended the FAL convention this past January to prohibit countries from discriminating against a seafarer’s right to shore leave, many seamen still don’t get to take advantage of these privileges in practice. That’s because some ports still require mariners to have visas.

Of course, ports operated by private entities can pretty much ignore the IMO guidelines without consequence. Even publicly controlled ports have unfortunately found ways around international rules – so it never hurts to have a travel visa as a seafarer.

Aside from needing the appropriate documentation, merchant mariners must remember to abide by the rules of whatever country they are visiting. Yes, that means in Singapore you can’t chew gum or smoke. Try to read up on the laws of whatever country you happen to visit before your ship docks.

Preparing to disembark

While your time ashore is often brief, it helps to know what to bring – and what not to bring.

It’s usually not a great idea to carry a lot of valuables around. All too often, credit cards won’t work in a foreign country. In situations like this, it’s unnecessary for seafarers to even bring a wallet, unless they have a foreign credit card. Just be sure to bring along some form of ID.

Making sure you know your way around a city before you arrive is never a bad idea. Whether you tend toward shopping, sightseeing or bars and nightlife, you want to minimize your time looking at maps and asking for directions after you disembark.

Free online resources like Time Out are great for getting your bearings entertainment-wise. But entertainment is only one piece of the puzzle. Your personal safety as a merchant mariner matters too. Online forums like City-Data offer user-generated information about safety in major metropolitan areas throughout the world. Try reading through some of the threads on there just to see which areas of a city to avoid.

If you don’t have access to the Internet onboard a ship, organizations like Apostleship of the Sea can answer questions about a particular area and even help mariners run errands while in port.

A seafarer’s responsibilities

It’s easy for merchant seamen to forget that they represent their company, union and the entire industry while on shore leave. Irresponsible conduct that puts your safety in jeopardy can also jeopardize an entire voyage, since every coworker plays a vital role in the function of a ship.

In line with this, punctuality is also important. If you need to report back to the ship by a certain time, plan to be back a half-hour earlier. This allows you to compensate for any unplanned delays. Any delayed return to a ship can result in lost time and money for a shipping company.

In case you missed it, we recently wrote a blog post about 7 common issues mariners face while traveling abroad. Check it out here.

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