- Joining Ship

  • Joining Ship

    So you've finished up your first college phase, packed your bags and you're ready to go! Joining your first ship can be daunting. Foreign countries, travelling alone and a bevy of officials and paperwork can be overwhelming. Here's an experienced officer's guide to joining your ship!

    Before anything happens, the first thing you're going to receive is an official notification from your company about where and when they want you to join, and what ship. Depending on the type of vessel you're working on this notification could be anything from a month to a days notice. The shortest that I ever received was two hours. Once you have confirmed that you are able to join at that time, then your job is pretty much done. Your company will normally liaise with their travel section, arrange some flights for you to get there, notify the agent that you're coming and arrange for them to transport you to the vessel. Once all of this is sorted, the details and letters of introduction will be sent through to you. After that, your main job is to reach the airport on time for the flight - missing it will not go down well with your company.

    As there is already an article on what to take and where to take it, I won't repeat it all here, however I will say that when you reach the airport ensure that you have your discharge book and letter of introduction available as some airlines will ask to see it (e.g. Air France). After that, get on the plane and relax all the way to your destination.

    Once you arrive and have got yourself through customs/immigration, then there will most likely be a chappy standing around with a board with your name on it. Make sure you've got some of the local currency with you (about £50 worth) just in case the agent isn't there and you need to call him. I've had to do this at least several times as I've arrived at the airport and the collection driver was off having his siesta. I'd also advise that you do a brief Google search on how you dial local telephone numbers at your destination as I have been stranded in the middle of no-where before and couldn't call the agent as I couldn't get the sodding phone to work (luckily, a passing lady took pity on me and called him for me off her mobile and told him exactly where I was).

    Once you've been collected by the agent then one of two things will happen. You'll either be escorted directly through port immigration to go straight to the vessel or you'll be shipped off to a hotel. Sometimes ships are delayed and it can be cheaper for you to stay in a hotel overnight than it would be to send you to the vessel via a service boat. If you do wind up in a hotel and are awake, then I suggest you get out and be a tourist for a bit, it's what I've always done and will continue to do every time I'm sent somewhere new. Don't just hit the bar (will explain more about that later).

    When you get around to actually joining the vessel, then the agent will normally first take you to an immigration department. There is normally one based at the port. Basically, because you are now joining the ship, technically you're leaving their country, so they need to stamp you out. Depending on where you are it can take either 5 minutes or a couple of hours. Once that's been done, then you're in the port and being taken to the vessel. Normally your agent will take you directly to the ship and gangway, but there have been rare occasions where the agent has dropped me at the dry-dock gate and waved his arm lazily saying "go that way". In theory, your agents representative will have complete access to the port or dry-dock and you should ask very politely for them to show you the way (especially if you're a first trip cadet). Ports/drydocks are busy industrial areas and not the best place for a lost and jet-lagged cadet to be wandering around on their own (it looks bad for all concerned if they have to scrape what's left of you off a passing forklift).

    Once you arrive on the ship, then make sure you tell the gangway watch who you are. Normally you'll have to go past them as you board, but they will let the Master know you've arrived and will let you know where to go (if you're lucky, then another of the deck crew will come along and guide you to the accommodation block and your cabin). If you're in port, then chances are the Master will be a rather busy man with port officials, customs officials, loading masters, agents, etc all wanting to talk to him at once. My advice would be to wait until he is free and then go along to him and give him your documents and what not. Usually at this point they've just told me to go unpack and settle in, but me being me I normally get my PPE out and go and find the Engine Room and get stuck in (My record was 15 minutes from Port Gates to Engine Room via cabin). As you're joining the ship and it's crew, there are a few legal requirements that the ship's company have to complete. The first will be the safety tour. Normally the Bosun or 3rd Mate will come along and give you a complete tour of the vessel, advise you of where your muster station is and what your duties during a fire drill will be. Make sure you pay attention. You will also need to officially "sign on" the vessel. This is simple, at some point the 3rd or 2nd Mate will come along and put the "Ship's Articles" in front of you. All you have to do is fill in your name, address, next of kin and sign the articles and then you will have officially joined your vessel.

    I did mention earlier about not hitting the bar. Most companies will not be bothered if you have a drink or two whilst you're enroute to the vessel. They will, however, have a problem if you turn up to the vessel completely trollied or hungover. To keep it simple: from the second you leave to the second you're back at your front door you are a representative of your company and as such, they will expect you to behave in a decent manner. Annoying flight crew, hotel staff, agents or dancing along a deck stark naked whilst singing "I'm too sexy for my..." will most likely result in you being given a warning of some kind or even being sacked completely and turn you into a rather good story that the crewing departments like to talk about after a few drinks. The basic message here is behave yourself!

    Good luck with your trips, and hopefully we'll see you all back here soon where you'll have either had an amazing time or be a really good anecdote...

    Image of ship and gangway by MrHayata from Flickr, kindly licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence. Image of gangway sign by TheGirlsNY from Flickr, kindly licensed for re-use under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. OFFCAD's Avatar
      OFFCAD -
      You will need to do a full induction on safety, shipboard management and security (ISM/ISPS Code). Your life, and that of others, may depend on it. Before you leave port, you have to know your safety duty as per the muster list.
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