Missing ‘All Aboard’ On Your Cruise Vacation


One of the best things about a cruise vacation is waking up in a different place every day! The downside of this is that you must leave that place again at the end of your day. All ships keep a tight schedule to make sure every part of the operation runs smoothly, so the ‘All Aboard’ time is incredibly important. What happens if you miss it?

Preparing A Cruise Ship For Departure

When a cruise ship is ready to depart, there are often more than 60 people standing by. This includes a full team staffing the Bridge and Engine Control Room, the Hotel team finalising the clearance documents, Security is ready to close the gangway and our mooring stations are ready to untie the vessel. And that’s just on the ship! Add to this the port operations including security staff, tug boats, linesmen to let our mooring lines go…

In the final preparation for leaving, the ship’s engines and propulsion will be started and tested. Having these generators running while we wait for guests and crew who are late burns extra fuel, an unnecessary expense and also extra pollution in the port. Our later departure will also mean we need to travel faster to the next port to arrive on time, consuming still more fuel. In some cases the ship is simply unable to travel fast enough, and the delayed arrival will inconvenience potentially thousands of guests looking forward to their day in the new port.

Did you know: a mid-size cruise ship with everything started and ready for departure will burn more than half a tonne of fuel every 10 minutes while it waits – enough to fill up 10 cars!

You can see why the schedule for arrivals and departures is so important for the ships operations. Therefore every cruise line will make sure that the ‘all aboard’ and ‘departure’ times are clearly communicated.

What happens if you are late arriving back to the ship?

Firstly, the ‘All Aboard’ time posted for the ship will usually allow some leeway before the official departure time. This is in case there are tours or guests running a few minutes late, and to allow time for the gangway to be removed before we need to leave the dock. In any case, cruise ships will aim to have all mooring lines let go and be officially ‘under way’ at the official departure time. These few minutes between an ‘All Aboard’ time and the departure time might be just enough to save you!

Use a phone to take a photo.

Crew’s Ship Tip: Use your camera phone to snap a photo of the ‘All Aboard’ notice before you leave the ship. Not only is it a great reminder of what time you need to be back, but it also makes a useful divider in your ‘Camera Roll’, separating photos from each port!

Cruise Ship Tours

If guests or crew are late returning to the ship, one of the first things considered is whether they’re on a company provided shore excursion. When purchasing a tour on board, you also purchase the peace of mind that the tour has been properly vetted by the cruise line, the operator has the proper safety measures and insurance to protect you, and they’re in communication with the ship’s shore excursions team. If there is any delay in returning to the ship, not only can the tour operator let us know, but with many cruise lines the ship must wait for you, or make other arrangements at their expense.

It is a very different experience if you are ashore on your own or with a privately arranged tour. There are no such checks or guarantees, and communication can be much more difficult. If you have a cell phone that works in the country you’re visiting, be sure to register the number when you embark the ship so they can reach you if required. The ship’s agent can make calls to local police and hospitals, but beyond this there isn’t a lot we can do! While the ship will wait up to the official departure time, often the itinerary won’t allow a further delay without affecting the arrival time at the next port. In this case the process to sail without you will begin.

Leaving Guests Behind

The requirements for leaving a guest or crew member behind in a port will vary widely from country to country, and even between cruise lines. This is due to different immigration requirements that need to be met. Guests will usually have visa-free entry to most countries that we call in, or will hold a tourist visa where required. This makes it easy to temporarily ‘disembark’ the guest from the ship, and arrange transport to the next port. Crew members are working on board, and aren’t afforded the same freedoms a tourist visa allow, so if they’re late to the ship things can be more complicated.

The ship’s agent is an expert in the immigration requirements for both guests and crew. The cruise line employs them to be a local contact in the port, and they oversee the entire process, working with local authorities to ‘clear’ the ship for departure. This process may cause a delay in the ship leaving port while the paperwork is prepared, and the guests documents are collected. In rare cases this clearance won’t be granted, meaning the ship is held in the port while further measures are taken to track down the guest or crew member.

Passports, where left on the ship, will be handed to the agent who will wait for the guests arrival. (CC0)

Where a guest does get left behind, they aren’t left alone. The ship’s agent will hold their documents until they arrive at the port, and will assist them with making arrangements to meet the ship at the next convenient port. This will include any transport or accommodation required, and unless the company’s shore excursion conditions say otherwise, will be at the guests expense. In many cases the guest can fly or drive to the next port, have a night in a hotel and re-join the ship the next day to enjoy the rest of their cruise vacation!

Crew members who get left behind aren’t so lucky. They will certainly have arrangements made to meet the vessel, but it likely won’t be to continue their contract! Because of the difficulty with immigration as well as the expenses incurred due to a delay, missing the ship’s sailing time is usually grounds for immediate termination.

Due to crew being late back, or even ‘jumping ship’ where they go ashore and disappear in a new country, ports can impose strict limits to crew members going ashore. These limits may include the use of crew windows – time slots during which crew may leave the ship, or a curfew for all crew members, which can be several hours ahead of the guest all aboard time. Countries with the strictest visa requirements usually have the most restrictions on crew shore leave, even when all crew have qualified for the relevant visa.

So there you have it – the full story of what happens if you (or one of us!) is late back for the ship. My advice? Don’t try it! We work hard to make your vacation incredible, and we want you back on board every port. Make it easy on yourself by planning to be back well ahead of the ‘All Aboard’ time, or enjoy the peace of mind that comes with booking an excursion on board.

Tell your cruise ship story, or ask more questions at CrewsShip.com on Facebook!


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