The Hidden Benefits of a Seaman’s Book

12 January 2021 By Claire Griffiths

Claire Griffiths is Dockwalk’s contributing editor in the Mediterranean. She fled to the sunny south of France from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Claire has a background in journalism for national and regional UK press and a career in political and corporate PR prior to that. Claire’s hobbies include eating, sleeping and dancing at inopportune times. She tries to avoid sheer drops and Olympic bobsled runs. Email Claire at

A Seaman’s Book is issued by a yacht’s flag authority and provides a record of service — and it's now more important than ever.

Rumors 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. “Queen of Visa Applications” Laurence Thary, yacht agent at Logic Yachting Solutions, Monaco, insists a Seaman’s Book helps her when she is negotiating with the authorities. “Seaman’s Books are 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.”

And the little book is now more important than ever, says Thary. ’I’m having a hard time when crew don’t have a Seaman’s Book, especially now with travel restrictions. In some circumstances, seamen are exempt from quarantine if they have their Seaman’s Book,“ with the exception of those arriving from red-listed areas such as South Africa, Brazil, Chile, India, Bahrain, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.

What is a Seaman’s Book?

A Seaman’s Book is the common name for a Discharge Book or Service Book. They can be issued by the yacht’s flag authority for the purpose of proving onboard service, including a record of career certification and experience. 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 U.K.-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 of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (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. Former 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 Ron Strathdee, principal surveyor in charge of standards at Isle of Man Shipping Register. “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.”

Do I Need a Seaman’s Book?

You will need a Seaman’s Book if you are a crewmember who works on a ship or large superyacht or a crewmember employed on a registered ship or large yacht.

How Do I Get a Seaman’s Book?

To obtain a Seaman’s Book you will need to submit an application, the process of which can vary depending on the yacht’s flag authority, along with copies of your STCW, ENG1 Medical certificates and Certificate of Competency, a copy of your passport, and any other relevant qualifications.


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