Rumours are rife within the industry that a Seaman’s Book can carry weight to back up or even replace visa applications or passports. But legally speaking these claims don't hold much water; after all, a Seaman's Book is not a travel document, it's a record of career certification and experience.
But instances abound where a Seaman’s Book has helped people to get out of tight spots with the authorities. Ron Strathdee, principal surveyor in charge of standards at Isle of Man Shipping Register, agrees. He’s heard that Saudi Arabia is more interested to see a valid Seaman’s Book than a passport.
“Queen of Visa Applications” Laurence Thary, yacht agent at Catalano Shipping, Monaco, insists a Seaman’s Book helps her when she is negotiating with the authorities. “Seaman’s Books are absolutely essential for crew who do not form part of the EU and they help our work enormously. In most cases we are dealing with difficult or exceptional cases to try and help arrange visas, so all documentation you can lay your hands on is important.”
Seaman’s Book is the common name for a Discharge Book. They can be issued by the yacht’s flag authority for the purpose of proving onboard yacht service. The British Seamen's Discharge Book, (not to be confused with the now almost now obsolete Seamen's Card) is the official MCA and Red Ensign Group log book, for which any British citizen (or any non-British citizen employed on a UK flagged vessel) can apply.
“There is no strict policy for having a discharge book on board yachts as far as I know, but crew applying for certificates of competency must have a record of signing on and off the yacht,” explains Nick Salter, SMarT deputy manager (Support for Maritime Training) at the MCA. “This can be in the form of a Discharge Book or a Certificate of Discharge.”
The MCA also accepts other approved service record books, such as the Professional Yachtsmen’s Association (PYA) Service Record Book. PYA Administrator Bridget Featherby points out that, “The PYA Seaman's Record Book is part of the PYA membership package and all certificates are sighted and stamped and all sea time testimonials verified and stamped – a procedure accepted by the MCA relinquishing the need to send testimonials to the MCA when applying for or revalidating a Certificate of Competency.”
Generally speaking, you do not need to apply for a new Seaman’s Book from a different shipping registry each time you change to a different flagged yacht, explains Strathdee. “Many yacht crewmembers apply to us for an Isle of Man Discharge Book if they are joining one of our yachts and have never had one before. If they already have one issued by another flag state and the information relating to their sea service is available in English then we will accept that document instead.”
In addition to their purpose of recording sea time and the benefit of helping with visa applications, Seaman’s Books also allow for crew to travel on marine fare tickets which are often heavily discounted and fully refundable with additional luggage allowance.
In addition, Thary warns that recent administrative changes in the Mediterranean now mean that customs (Les Douanes) rather than police officials are in charge of passport control at Nice airport and the “douaniers” insist on Seaman's Books for crew seeking entry.
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