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The Seaman’s Book is an official document to record seafarer’s experience along the years/ranks and it was standardized in 1978 (MLC is very controversial about the actual date). Before that, countries had their own form of record and up to this day, many still have or even never had such thing.
Why record? Well, as in many countries like the Philippines, you need it to prove that you worked on board vessels and cruise ships. Some other countries work in similarities that it is mandatory to have one if you want to pay taxes, have government benefits and so on. This is very, very, VERY complicated to talk about, but in order for it to be short, not all countries work like that and as you can maybe gather from friends and other experiences on board, you might find it very uncommon as well.
Also, if you’re a Cadet (Engineering / Deck / Maritime) you need to prove that you’ve been a cadet for “x” months in order to get promoted. You can’t simply say that you’ve been a Third Engineer for 10 years, you have to prove it. And the Seaman’s Book is one way!
Why one way? Well, because cruise lines don’t provide a seaman’s book. Who provides it is the country of the ship flag of convenience. The two most common ones are Panama and Bahamas. You can also have a seaman’s book of your own country and it works the same, just that some countries (for instance, Brazil) doesn’t issue a seaman’s book if you’re not part of their rank formation of seafarers, again only for Engine, Deck and Maritime personnel. Also taking Brazil as an example, as the military navy is the only issuer of the document, so you will require a separate course, pass an exam, wait a few weeks, all in order to be certified.
Whats the other way? A certificate of discharge. Literally anyone can have it and many companies issue them by default. Carnival gives them out when you sign off. On NCL, you have to ask the HR department for one. Yachting companies and private yachts often give them out as well, as they’re a very important part of someone’s career.
We hope that you learned here, that the Seaman’s Book is literally a document to officially record time and experience at sea, nothing more than that.
OK, now that you learned about the seaman’s book and the PRINCIPLE of recording your work, rank, salary and time, here goes the benefits from it:
- As already mentioned, you must have one to record your employment in order to have government benefits BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE FROM A COUNTRY THAT HAS THIS IN FIRST PLACE;
- As already mentioned, you must have one to record your employment if you’re a Cruise Ship Engineer, Deck or Maritime professional OR you’re working on yachts OR cargo vessels;
- You’re eligible to enter certain ports of call without a VISA as long as they’re part of MLC. Some people require it to visit Russia, Ireland, Japan, and the most common one, the Schengen region. But don’t take us wrong by stating that you need a Seaman’s Book in order to visit these places, as some nationalities can enter them even without a visa (example again for Brazilians that can basically go anywhere). Or doesn’t require a VISA in order to join. We will not go deeper into that, but it depends on so many factors and to be fair we are not that versed in international affairs;
If you believe or not, that’s it for the benefits that exists and also till where the law goes. If you hear from a friend or colleague that having a seaman’s book make your job easier, or that you will be hired faster, well, on the law it doesn’t say anything about that.
"What about the luggage allowance?"
Well, that’s not part of the Seaman’s Book. And as probably heard it so often, people abused it so much that airlines started to get angry and deny it. You can hate us for this, but at least take in consideration that when they created this rule, they were not talking about cruise ship crew, but seafarers in general. Think about your fellow crew greasing engines right now somewhere on the coast of Thailand, or a Refrigeration Engineer working against time, keeping the products cool on board a cargo vessel, shipping your favorite flavor of ice cream.
Maritime Labor Convention (2006) added a paragraph that didn’t existed before. It is about the rights of seafarers, having or not a seaman’s book. One of them, is under Guideline B2.5.1, 1.A and 3.D. “transportation of 30 kg of the seafarers’ personal luggage to the repatriation destination”. That’s the only mention to luggage allowance on MLC, and we truly believe that’s when the rumors about crew being able to carry excess luggage without being charged unfortunately started.
Lastly, we would like to point out that some people from certain nationalities have different rights than others. Some airlines also have different allowances than others. Argentinians as on most airlines are being allowed to carry 2x checked bags of 23kgs plus a carry on bag of up to 10kg plus a personal item of undisclosed weight as long as it fits underneath the seat. (That’s 56kg of luggage that can’t be charged). This is such a vast topic that we can stay here talking about different airlines, nationalities and so on and not reach into any conclusion at all.
What we point out its the fact that having a seaman’s book or not does not allow crew members to carry extra pieces of luggage nor extra weight other than what is stipulated by the airline companies. We can not reiterate how much this topic is wrongfully shared between the crew communities and that’s one of the points that we’ve created this website: to only share the truthfully most information that we can in order to assist you in your career on board.
"What about the Seaman's Book of rights"
Every issuing country has a different version of it. Also, there are no “rights”. If you’re not satisfied with the content that we took some time to research with accurate information just for you, please check the Standard A2.1, paragraph 1E: “MLC requires seafarers to be given a document containing a record of their employment on board the ship. The MLC, 2006 does not define or have a specific model for this document.”. This topic in specific mentions the Certificate of Discharge as being the only actual document that cruise lines and yachts are by law, required to issue.
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