It never ceases to amaze me how many people, despite never having stepped foot on a cruise ship, let alone worked on one, suddenly become subject matter experts on industry forums. I recently read a crazy piece on a popular cruise blog about crew members being ‘made to work in squalid conditions’ for ‘very little money.’ Having worked for several cruise lines in various roles, from the lowest ranking positions to some of the highest, I believe I’m somewhat better qualified to comment more objectively.
While it is true that compensation, benefits and working conditions vary from company to company (as they do in any land based organization), there are many perks to working on cruise ships, and crew members are never ‘forced’ to do anything they don’t want to do.
Allow me to shed some light on three of the more ridiculous statements that were made in this particular blog…
1. “Crew members work in excess of 100 hours per week”
Hours of work vary from position to position, but an average working week for many cruise companies is 70 hours over 7 days. If you’re working 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, five days a week and traveling an hour to and from the office every day, the hours are very similar. The only difference is that crew members typically work the weekend too, although time off is granted whenever possible. It’s also pertinent to mention that contract length generally runs from 10 weeks to 8 months depending on the position, but this is followed by a lengthy vacation period, averaging 6-10 weeks.
2. “Crew members practically work for free”
Some crew members have fixed salaries, while others have a lower base rate that is supplemented by passenger gratuities. The more reputable cruise operator will still include a minimum monthly guarantee, and full compensation details must be outlined in the seafarers’ agreement (contract of employment) which the crew member has an opportunity to review, in full, prior to signing or joining the ship. Many crew members choose a career onboard because they are able to save the majority, if not all of their earnings. As food, accommodation, utilities, medical insurance and travel is paid for by the company, overheads are minimal. Additionally, there are many tax benefits for seafarers, and many nationalities find basic salaries well above their national average.
3. “Crew members have no rights if they work on a ship that is registered outside of the US”
When determining where a cruise ship will be ‘flagged’, the cruise operator will consider several factors, including but not limited to, the capabilities of the flag to deliver the services needed, the reputation and performance of the flag state, the pool of seafarers able to meet the needs of the flag, and the relevant fees and taxes. Since the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (otherwise known as the Seafarer’s Bill of Rights) entered into force five years ago, all vessels registered in countries that ratified the convention (the majority of the world’s gross tonnage of shipping) must abide by the requirements. The small minority of cruise ships that are registered in countries that haven’t ratified the convention are still obliged to follow the standards if they sail into the waters of those countries that have.
The majority of cruise operators go above and beyond the requirements of national laws to ensure their employees are safe, happy and comfortable. That said, shipboard life isn’t for everyone, and unless you are exposed to it first-hand, you’ll never really know if it’s a fit. Either way, nobody is going to hold you hostage!
Victoria from the United Kingdom, recently joined Carnival Cruise Line as an Admin Coordinator in the Human Resources Department. She shares a snippet of her first 6 weeks onboard...
"I decided to work in the cruise industry because I wanted to combine my passion for travelling with a job that I love. Shipboard life is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I have seen some really interesting places within such a short amount of time (my favourite so far being San Juan in Puerto Rico) and I am forming some beautiful friendships. There always seems to be a social gathering and I feel like I'm part of a big international family. I was overwhelmed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was - I expected it to be a little harder to fit in, but it was such a nice surprise. It's tough though...the pace of life is so fast; you always have be ahead of the game! If I had to give one piece of advice to anybody thinking of choosing a shipboard career, I'd tell them to go for it! My only regret is that I didn't do it years ago. That said, if you're going to be successful, you'll need to be adaptable, proactive, positive and hard-working!"
New Book - #ShipHappens!
We're excited to announce that our new book, #ShipHappens! is now available in paperback and eBook format.
If you're looking to discover more about the cruise industry, learn how to secure a shipboard job and delve into the details of living and working onboard, then this book is for you. It's also the official text for the internationally recognised 'Certificate in Cruise Tourism & Shipboard Operations', endorsed by the Institute of Hospitality. All readers are entitled to an exclusive discount on the e-learning program, details of which are available in the book.
Currently available via Blurb. More formats and distribution channels coming soon...
Five Essential Qualities
Do you really have what it takes to work on a cruise ship? Before you start fantasising about steel drums, crystal clear seas and endless sunshine, it might be worth reading the below. A job on board a cruise ship, is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle… and one that not everybody’s cut out for. In fact, most people aren’t!
If you love your 9-5 routine and your home comforts, you may as well tear up your application right now. However, if you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will open your mind, invigorate your soul, and prepare you for anything life should throw at you, apply away! Be warned though…you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked, be tested beyond your limits, and you’ll never quite see the world in the same way again.
Fact is, cruise ship life will make or break you, so if you are considering this career path, make sure you have 5 out of 5 of the below qualities, otherwise, even if you do manage to scrape through the interview stage, you’ll be wishing you’d never bothered!
A week onboard a cruise ship consists of 36 hours a day, 8 days a week. Everything happens at sonic speed and can change in an instant. If you love to plan and ensure everything is organised, that’s fantastic…but if you’re reluctant to divert from that plan, struggle to think on your feet, and get palpitations everytime everything goes to ship, this job is not for you!
The average contract duration is 6 months. You’ll work around 10 hours a day, any time of the day, for those 8 days a week! You won’t be able to potter around in your nightclothes until noon on a Saturday, or pop round to your mum’s for a Sunday roast. You’ll get up and go to work, every single day…regardless of whether you’re tired, sick, or just not feeling it.
Welcome to continent Cruise! One hundred nationalities, living and working together in harmony. Who’da thunk it?! You’ll be exposed to languages you’ve never heard of, food you’ve never seen, and customs and rituals you didn’t know existed. Cruise ships celebrate individuality and don’t tolerate racism, bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, or any other intolerance of differences – thank god! You’re all equal in this magical land. Think you’re superior? Go work elsewhere…politics perhaps?!
Nobody wants to work with a negative nelly! Negativity is more contagious than the ebola virus and working on board is tough enough without having somebody moaning in your ear 36/8! If you’re the type of person who wakes up every morning, full of energy and enthusiasm (after coffee is ok!), loves to uplift and empower your fellow humans, and believes nobody has the power to ruin your day (except you) – you may sign up here! On the other hand, if you spend your waking moments crying about having to go to work, and the rest of the day gossiping and bitching about your colleagues and blaming everybody else for everything that happens to you – you need not apply!
A cruise ship is a floating city - the operation never sleeps, and maintenance is also carried out around the clock. When accidents happen, you don’t have the luxury of being able to call the emergency services to come to your rescue. You are the emergency services…and you’re emergency services with limited resources! While you may have ‘Guest Services Associate’ printed on your name badge, you could have ‘Lifeboat Driver’ on your other hat! Taking responsibility for yourself and others is key to maintaining a safe operation. If you don’t take safety seriously…again…don’t apply!
You say tomayto, I say tomarto! These nautical terms will help you 'sail' through your first shipboard contract...
In addition to being a Portuguese fortified wine, it is also a place where ships can dock (usually to load or unload cargo or people). Furthermore, if you hear somebody referring to the port-side of the ship, this is the left-hand side of the ship when facing the bow. Ships are designed with even cabin numbers on the port-side and odd cabin numbers on the starboard side (right-hand side of the ship when facing the bow).
This is the right-hand side of the ship when facing the bow (forward).
The stern is the aft-most part of a ship or a boat (the very back). Crew members humorously refer to it as 'the blunt end', with the bow being 'the pointy end'!
Just as it sounds, the midship is the middle part of the ship.
The pointy end! This is the front part of the ship, the part facing forward when it is underway.
A dividing wall or barrier between the separate parts (compartments) of the ship. The wall between you and your neighbors cabin would be commonly known as a bulkhead.
A small, often round window on the outside of the ship
A dining room for the crew
The ship's kitchen
The bridge, also known as the navigational bridge or nautical bridge, is the area from where the Captain and the ship's officers direct operations.
A ship's jail - usually a small empty room which is used to hold a passenger or a crew member temporarily, in the event they become a danger to themselves or others.
The walkway providing passage from the ship to the shore.
The term used when the ship docks in a port of call. In other words, when it is docked alongside the pier.
This word has a double meaning in 'nautical speak'. It can be the ship's allotted place at a dock (where it is moored) or the bunk in which the crew member is accommodated to sleep.
A bunker is a large container or compartment for storing fuel. This ship's refueling process is more commonly known as 'bunkering'.
A unit of speed which is the equivalent to one nautical mile per hour. A nautical mile is different to a land mile as it measures 1852 meters.
The ship's Captain - the person with ultimate authority on board.
A ship's pilot, also known as a marine or harbor pilot is a sailor who guides the ship through congested or difficult waters. He or she works alongside the Captain and the navigational team on the bridge to bring the ship in to port. Once the ship is alongside, the pilot will usually leave the ship until it is time for it to sail again. The pilot will guide the ship out of the port until it is in safer waters. He or she will then leave the vessel while it is underway, literally by jumping from the ship into a smaller boat.
A term used to describe a passenger's cabin.
This word literally means to pack or store an object carefully in a particular place. Certain items on board need to be stowed, particularly in inclement weather, to stop them from toppling over and becoming dangerous.
A person who will join the ship without permission and then hides or 'stows away' there. Cases of stowaways on board passenger ships have decreased dramatically since the introduction of electronic card readers (similar to passport control) at the gangway.
This means 'to wear' something and is often used when referring to the life jacket. If you are told to, "don your life jacket", you need to put it on!
A ship's tender is a smaller boat used to service or support the vessel, generally by transporting the passengers to and from the shore in the event that the waters are too shallow for the cruise ship to dock in a port of call.
A dry dock is a narrow basin which is flooded to allow a ship to sail into it. Once the ship is inside the basin, the water is then drained to allow the ship to sit on a dry platform. Dry docks are used for the construction, maintenance and repair of cruise ships and other vessels.
A watch is a period of time that a deck or engine officer will be on duty on the bridge or in the engine control room, hence why these employees are also known as Officers of the Watch (OOW). A typical bridge or engine watch is four hours in length starting at midnight. Officers will rotate over a twenty-four-hour period to ensure the ship is safely manned at all times. On cruise ships, officers will usually work a four-hour watch, followed by an 8 hour rest period.
Cruise Ship Jobs - Joining Paperwork & Associated Costs
Whether you're thinking of applying for a job on a cruise ship, or you're lucky enough to have bagged yourself a conditional offer, there is a lot of pre-employment paperwork that needs to be taken care of, and it's not always cheap....
Official Documentation Required
Successful candidates are required to obtain a seafarer’s medical before they are able to work on a cruise ship. Employees must be physically fit, and have good vision and hearing. The medical requirements set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) are often more stringent than those required by many land based companies. This is because all seafarers, regardless of the position they are applying for, are expected to partake in regular emergency drills and ongoing safety training while they are on board. Final job offers are dependent on medical clearance and the ability to obtain any necessary visas. Some positions may also need to apply for a Seaman’s Book (a document similar to a passport that contains details of the seafarer’s movements). Lastly, you may be asked to obtain a criminal background report/police clearance certificate, and certain positions such as medical personnel and those working with children, will be required to obtain an enhanced disclosure, and may even be expected to provide their fingerprints.
There are a few regulatory certificate courses pertaining to ships' safety and security that all seafarers are required to complete, regardless of the job they are applying for. Some companies (those with Flag State approved training centers) may make provisions for new joiners to do this training during their first week on board, while others require their employees to do it prior to joining the vessel. Certain countries require their seafarer's to complete this training in their home country. The first course is known as Basic Safety Training which consists of 5 courses which are usually delivered together over five days but can be taken separately if needed. Topics including Elementary First Aid, Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting, Proficiency in Security Awareness, Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities, and Personal Survival Techniques make up the minimum basic safety training requirements. Additionally, seafarers required to assist and guide passengers in the event of an emergency, (in other words, almost everybody working on-board a cruise ship), are also required to hold STCW Crowd Management and Crisis Management and Human Behavior certificates. Together, these certificates could cost in excess of £600.
Seafarers' Medical Certificates
The medical certificate proves that the seafarer has met the following requirements:
- Has the physical capability to fulfill all the requirements of basic training as specified above.
- Demonstrates adequate hearing and speech to communicate effectively and detect any audible alarms, codes and signals.
- Has no medical condition, disorder or impairment that will prevent the effective and safe conduct of the seafarer’s routine and emergency duties.
- Is not suffering from any medical condition likely to be aggravated by service at sea or to render the seafarer unfit for service or to endanger the health and safety of other personnel on board.
- Is not taking medication that has side effects that will impair judgment, balance or any other requirements for effective and safe performance of routine and emergency duties on board.
Some countries laws, such as those of the Philippines, dictate that the seafarer must undergo this particular medical in their home country. However, the majority of seafarers are able to obtain a medical certificate at an approved facility, as specified by the ship owner. Required tests may include, a chest x-ray, extensive blood tests (including those for sexually transmitted diseases), drug screening, electrocardiograms and vision and hearing tests. This list is not exhaustive and medical exams can be very costly (circa £180-£600 depending on cruise line and job role). While some ship owners cover the cost of their employees' medicals, many do not, and those that do, may only offer reimbursement for select positions.
Most seafarers will be required to obtain a visa prior to embarking on their adventure, one of the most common being the C1/D visa. Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a non immigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Crew member (D) visas are non immigrant visas for persons working on board cruise ships. If you travel to the United States to join the vessel you will work on, in addition to a crew member (D) visa, you also need a transit (C1) visa or a combination C-1/D visa. You will need to obtain an official Letter of Employment (LOE) from the ship owner prior to being able to schedule an appointment at the US Embassy in your home country. These LOEs are usually sent to the candidate once the seafarer has obtained the aforementioned medical certificate.
It's important to note that the cruise operator is legally obliged to bare the cost of the C1/D visa, (currently $160 USD or £120 GBP) or any similar transit visa that may be required, depending on the ship's itinerary. The cost of this is usually reimbursed once the seafarer/crew member has joined their scheduled ship.
Your recruitment agent should inform you as to whether you are expected to pay for your outbound travel costs. Naturally these will vary tremendously depending on which part of the world your ship is sailing from. If you are required to pay for your outbound travel, it's advisable to contact a travel agent specializing in seafarer's tickets. These can often be cheaper, and may offer more flexibility in terms of luggage allowance and last minute itinerary changes. It's important to note that the cruise operator is obliged to provide your ticket home (repatriation) and may not ask you to make an advancement payment towards the cost of your repatriation at the beginning of your contract, or deduct any money from your salary for the same.
Most cruise lines operate on a ‘rolling contract’ system, meaning that your next contract will be renewed automatically upon successful completion of your current one. Contract lengths vary from 3 to 10 months depending on the position you're holding. Officers and Senior Management generally work from 3 to 6 months consecutively, while other staff and service crew average 6-10 months. It is a requirement for contracts, otherwise knows as Seafarer’s Agreements, to be sent to the employee prior to their scheduled arrival on board. This enables the seafarer to read and digest the terms and conditions, ask any necessary questions and seek council prior to starting work. Holidays (otherwise known as shore-leave or vacation) average 6-8 weeks for most positions, and the majority of employees will be paid only while working.
Sincerely....thank you....to each and every one of you for your support since our launch in September.
Every like, every share, every review, and every page visit is helping us get one step closer to achieving our vision, of being the World's Leading Provider of HR Services to the Cruise Industry.
We intend to rock the boat and make more waves in 2018!
MLC 2006 Compliance
August 2018 marks five years since the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 entered into force. As such, many of you will be preparing for your impending re-certification inspections. Our MLC training incorporates conveying the requirements of the Code in layman's terms, conducting mock audits, and offering advice and guidance on flag state specific requirements, as well as cruise industry best practice.
Contact us today to find out how we can assist to ensure that you are ship-shape well ahead of time!
Benefits of Working on a Cruise Ship
Every job has pros and cons and a career at sea is no different. However, here are five fabulous benefits to working on-board a cruise ship.
1. Lower (or no) Taxes
If you’re a UK seafarer, sailing in international waters (which most cruise ship workers are), you are entitled to special tax considerations, often meaning that you have very little, or no tax deducted from your salary.
2. No Overheads
Your accommodation, utilities, food and drink is paid for, meaning the tax-free salary you earn is yours to do whatever you like with!
3. Free Travel
If you’ve got the travel bug, cruise ship life is a great remedy! Varied worldwide itineraries mean you get to wake up in a different part of the world almost every day. Additionally, shipowners are obliged to pay for any necessary visas. Double bonus!
4. Cultural Diversity
As Mark Twain once said; “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” You’ll be living and working with dozens of nationalities and getting a free education at the same time!
5. Lifelong Friends
Seafarers share a special bond. It’s a unique experience that no land dweller will understand until they’ve experienced it for themselves. You’ll make friendships from all corners of the world that will last a lifetime, meaning cheap holidays forever more!
We Have Moved!
Ahoy there... We are happy to announce that we have finally dropped anchor at Prinny Mill Business Centre and are currently undergoing a civilized dry-dock! Please feel free to drop in for a cup of tea and some nautical natter. No life jacket required!