Working on ships is totally different from working on land. You are cut off from the rest of the world when you’re out there in the middle of the ocean and you can’t do anything in case some problems happen. For peace of mind, you need to do these things before signing on any vessel.
It’s not only your contract, the things to bring, and your documents that you should pay attention to. There are many other things worth doing to make a smooth transition.
This is my personal list that I accumulated after years of seafaring journey. It gave me peace of mind and a better sailing experience after executing them 5 days before my flight. I’m sharing them with you today.
Things to do before working on ships
Just like vessels making a pre-departure checklist, we, too, must have our own pre-departure checklist before signing on ships for work. This won’t only help us but also the loved ones we leave behind.
In no particular order, here are the things that you should do 5 days before signing on any vessel for work.
1. Re-visit your goals
For me, this is one of the most important parts of my preparation.
What are the main reasons and your burning desires why you leave your loved ones to work on dangerous jobs in the middle of nowhere? What are your plans for the future?
Remembering your goals helps you to re-focus your efforts and do only the things that matter. This may even affect your behavior on board and in port!
2. Pack your luggage
Unless you’re on a cruise ship, there are no malls, grocery stores, or even 7-Eleven shops where you can buy anything on a whim on most merchant vessels.
That’s why it’s critical to create your own seafarer packing list, where you have a breakdown of the most essential things that you must bring on board.
This way, you’ll have peace of mind and can focus your thoughts on your work, knowing you have everything you need.
3. Configure your bank account settings
Specifically, the security settings.
We can’t deny the immense help mobile banking has in managing our finances while at sea. However, we also can’t monitor it all the time as there might be no internet connection or we’re just swamped.
Besides, hackers are also getting more and more complicated. Configuring your 2-factor authentication, OTP settings, transfer limits, and notification options should boost your account’s mobile banking security settings.
4. Leave emergency contact details for your family
Aside from your usual social media accounts and mobile numbers, give them your company’s name, contact details, and the name, call sign, and MMSI of your vessel.
Knowing your ship’s details lets them monitor you using free vessel traffic websites.
5. Spend time with your family
This is basic. Go out with your family for quality bonding because you’ll meet them again after six or nine months. This precious time of togetherness will provide emotional support and create lasting memories to carry with you at sea.
6. Buy an international roaming SIM Card
Many SIM cards nowadays provide data roaming options, so you don’t have to buy every data SIM card on every port you visit.
If you frequent in Europe, My Three UK has proven to be the best and cheapest option. You can even use them outside of Europe as long as they are listed in their Go Roam Destinations.
7. Prepare your credit or debit cards
Consider an international debit or credit card, especially if the Captain of your ship is very stingy regarding cash advances.
I tried using my debit card when going ashore in many parts of Europe, even at airports, and they do get convenient.
8. Photocopy/ Scan your original documents and certificates
I used to photocopy all of my documents, but now, I have them scanned and saved on my hard drives. This is for extra protection in case I lose my document folders for unforeseen events.
9. Monitor your joining ship
Sometimes, your assigned vessel could get delayed due to some reasons. This happens all the time, and your joining could be delayed.
Monitoring your ship or even contacting someone you know there could be very helpful with your preparation.
10. Review your rights as a seafarer
Some ships still go overboard with how they treat their crew, especially regarding the MLC rules.
Familiarize yourself with the international maritime regulations and agreements safeguarding your well-being and employment conditions.
The most common issues include working hours, rest hours, safe working conditions, fair compensation, and access to medical care.
Knowing them and how to respond helps protect yourself from exploitation and ensure that you receive fair treatment on board.
11. Review your contract
I had a friend who, after clearing his medical exam, signed a contract thinking that it was the usual rank he was assigned with.
Upon rechecking it, he was already promoted to the next rank, and the processor just failed to mention it to him due to busy paperwork.
12. Double-check your documents
Double-triple-check your documents to see whether you have everything or not. Your company usually has a checklist for it included in your folder, and you can follow that lead.
Additionally, you can offer insights and suggestions to the office if you know the joining port very well.
13. Mentally prepare for life on board
I always prepare myself mentally, thinking that my joining vessel will be very “work-oriented” with lots of overtime and port visits. This helps me accept that setting if I ever sign on those types of vessels.
However, many ships I’ve joined with often prove to be more balanced than initially imagined. This is a massive sigh of relief, and whenever some big job happens once in a while, I’m always ready for it because of my initial mental preparation.
14. Bring cash in US Dollars
I did mention that credit and debit cards provide convenience. Still, having extra cash can be a lifesaver sometimes since not all ports and countries support cashless transactions.
Besides, you don’t want to be that kind of seaman who goes hungry in the airport because he has neither cash nor a card.
Go to church, make offerings, give thanks, and pray. Pray for your voyage, the people you will work with, and your life on board.
Pray for your families and friends you’re leaving behind. Don’t join your ship without visiting a church and offering a heartfelt prayer.
This is a proven and tested method, and we all know Someone up there is listening and guiding us.
The right preparation is the cornerstone of a seamless transition into life at sea. Instead of partying and drinking on top of your list, work on the essential things that you must do before joining your ship for work on any vessel for work.
Bon voyage, and
May the winds be in your favor.