First Time Onboard? A Comprehensive Guide to Joining Your Ship

by | Last updated Mar 22, 2024 | How-to Guide | 0 comments

I recently received a comment from a reader about the embarkation process and how seafarers join their ships.

His concern was valid, and I can relate to it, especially on my first contract as a cadet in the deck department.

Do you know that uncertain feeling when traveling from your ship to a place you have never heard of before? That experience is legit for first-time seafarers joining their ships.

This article enlightens you on what to expect on your first crew change, especially if traveling solo.

Key Takeaways

  • Plan ahead before joining by obtaining the necessary documents. This could take months.
  • The company covers most of the expenses, so go ahead and devour those inflight meals.
  • Anything could go wrong during transit. Always save the contact details of your manning agency and ship agent.

Pre-Embarkation Stage

You must have the necessary documents ready before joining your ship. Your local manning agency will assist with all the paperwork needed.

Obtaining them may take months of preparation. But you don’t have to worry.

In most cases, you will be given ample time, and all you have to do is cooperate with them.

Pre-joining Checklist

Here are the documents that you will need during the pre-embarkation journey.

While acquiring these documents, you will frequently report to the office to inform them of your progress.

Moreover, it’s best if you also start packing the things you need for your contract.

My packing list article for seafarers should be handy as a guide for what to put in your luggage.

Joining Your Ship

Before heading to the airport, you must have all the documents above signed, prepared, and carried with you.

Some companies conduct contract signing, document turnover, and boarding instructions hours before your departure schedule!

This gives you very little time to catch up with your flight.

Meanwhile, others do this a day or two before your flight schedule, giving you enough time to prepare mentally.

Flights and Flight Arrangements

Your manning agency books your flight itinerary after communicating with the captain of the ship

They “time” the crew-change process so that you can immediately embark on your ship when you arrive at the joining port.

At your point of departure, head to the airport at least three hours before your flight.

In my case, I usually give enough time, like four or five hours, to avoid cramming if something unexpected happens.

You should have your documents ready in a backpack to access them easily during customs and immigration control.

Flight itinerary from the port of origin to the port of arrival for joining the ship.
Flight itinerary with two connecting flights from Manila to Lisbon, Portugal.

Taxis and Hotels

Upon arriving at your port of destination, the ship’s agent or a taxi driver will pick you up. You can go directly to the ship or stay a night or two in a hotel.

If your ship is still at the anchorage due to delays, you may need to stay at a nearby hotel. If docked, you will go to the ship.

Either way, the agent or taxi driver will take you there.

Service Boats

If the ship stays at the anchorage longer, expect to board the vessel using a service boat.

My first joining was with a service boat in an anchorage area outside Amsterdam, Netherlands.

It was more expensive to stay in a hotel, so the company sent us there by boat.

The Role of Ship Agents

Upon departing from your point of origin, you are under the care of the ship agent. 

Ship agents are local experts at a port who represent the ship’s owner for various tasks such as port clearance, provision, bunkering, repair, logistical support, and crew changes.

It is essential to save your agent’s contact details before departure. They are your “lifeline” if something happens in the middle of the transit.

Who pays for everything?

The company pays for everything from booking flights to hotels, food, and immigration clearances.

I heard some first-time seafarers joining alone refuse to eat the meals served during their flight. Their company may have failed to mention that it was already paid with his flight itinerary.

The joining crew need not pay anything unless he buys something for himself, such as perfume, gadgets, extra food, internet sim cards, etc., during his trip.

Crew Change

The crew change takes effect once you relieve the off-signer. You may have a few hours for handovers and a short familiarization with your duties.

After that, the offsigner/s will become a passenger and wait for the agent to pick him up.

What happens to the off-signing crew?

The off-signer will embark on a reverse itinerary. He may proceed to a hotel or head the nearest airport directly.

This plan is already decided when the captain hands him his documents and flight itinerary.

Signing off is usually a lot easier than joining.

Flight itinerary from ship to home country.
Flight itinerary from Brussels to Manila via Doha.

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

Sometimes, things go differently than planned. It’s very inconvenient, but this happens as part of the job.

Joining Canceled

The airplane was already calling us in the P.A. system, and our luggage was already inside. We were checked-in and waiting for the company’s advice on whether to proceed.

In the end, we pulled out our luggage, returned home, and came back again the next day.

Flight Delays

Most long-haul flights have connecting flights, and in between are layovers that could lead to delays.

It has happened many times, but the airline usually rebooks your trip. There’s no problem for you unless you are joining a tight schedule.

Flight schedule monitor showing the destinations, flight numbers, departure times, and status.
Flight schedule monitor.

Missed Flights

Never tried this one, but if you missed your flight due to some extraordinary reason, you should head to the information desk and contact your agent.

They should book you on the next available trip, but for the airfare, you may have to discuss it with the master.

Missing the Ship

While most embarkation occurs when the ship is in port for days, missing your ship can happen for some reasons.

You could be joining while the ship is transiting the Bosporus, but due to some delays at the airport or immigration, you missed this trip, and the vessel is five days away from the next port.

In this case, you could be sent back home and wait again for the next joining opportunity.

May the winds be in your favor.



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