Crew Visas: Can Yacht Agents Help?

10 November 2009 By Louisa Beckett

The question, it turns out, is not whether yacht agents can help superyacht captains secure visas for their far-flung crewmembers, but how the captains ever survived without them. While applying for visas for a yacht’s crew traditionally is the captain’s responsibility, the increasingly strict immigration regulations in ports around the world, combined with the growing number of countries represented within the crew pool, add up to a time-consuming conundrum.

“The role of an agent is not merely finding a berth; it’s much more than that,” says Laurent Certaldi, director of Catalano Shipping Services, a yacht support services firm headquartered in Monaco. “It’s our job effectively to help secure transit visas in Europe for our clients. We have eight people in the office and we are applying for visas every day.” The firm’s agents routinely meet inbound crew at the airport with the appropriate documentation to get them “stamped” into the country.

In addition to paperwork, patience and perseverance, yacht agents bring an inside knowledge of a country’s or cruising region’s governmental regulations to the table, as well as hands-on experience in dealing with local authorities.

For example, Certaldi describes a “Catch-22” that can arise within the French immigration system. “A lot of crew need an American B1/B2 visa, which can only be done at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. We will make an appointment for the crew at the embassy…but if you don’t have a visa [to go ashore in France], you can’t go to Paris to apply for a visa,” he says. In such cases, Catalano Shipping can apply for “Sauf-Conduit” to be issued to the crewmember, allowing him or her to travel from one city to another within France (such as Nice to Paris) – but only for a specific reason and within a specific time limit.

The bottom line, Certaldi says, is that, “Every country must allow the transit of the seamen.” A yacht agent’s job is to help the captain to navigate the red tape.

Captains en route to the Caribbean this time of year also face complex immigration regulations by the various island nations they plan to visit. “We can effectively provide assistance because the islands have different rules, which we remain abreast of,” says Lucille Frye, an MCV IV captain and owner of Super Yacht Services, who is administrative director of the newly created BWA Yachting – St. Maarten, a yacht agency covering the Caribbean and Florida.

Her firm not only makes appointments for crew to apply for B1/B2 visas at the U.S. Embassies in Barbados and Nassau, but also will assist the crew with complete travel arrangements.

As authorized yacht agents in St. Maarten, Frye and her team also can facilitate applications for the Netherlands Antilles Visa that is now necessary for crewmembers hailing from numerous countries around the world. “It’s a fairly recent requirement,” she says. For a list of nationalities requiring visas, visit

Alternately, providing that a crewmember requiring a visa is in possession of a valid Seaman’s Discharge Book, BWA Yachting can provide an Agent Guarantee Letter permitting entry for 30 days at a time and up to a total of 90 days. Frye adds, “We are also able to assist with the application for a Seaman’s Discharge Book.”

With advance notice, Agent Guarantee Letters also can be provided to owners, guests and crew arriving by air or sea who otherwise require a visa, yet are planning to stay in St. Maarten for less than 48 hours in order to meet or depart from a yacht. This ensures seamless transit, which is a great benefit to captains.

A yacht agent’s services can be particularly important to Caribbean-bound captains when a potential immigration/visa problem arises at a crucial moment. “The value of having a good agent when things slip through the cracks due to human error or misinterpretations can and has saved many a charter from a disastrous beginning,” Frye says.

“I did use agents for visas for some Filipino crew,” reports Capt. Toine van Seumeren, former captain of M/Y Sherakhan. “We needed an Agent Guarantee for them to get a visa to go ashore in the Caribbean.”

Capt. Toine continues, “There are some really good agents out there who do a really good job,” but cautions, “There are a great many bad ones as well. If you know the good ones, they are really helpful in getting visas and it will save you a lot of time and stress not having to go to customs and immigration.”