Cruise Ship Work & Rest Hours


No matter your role on cruise ships, you’ll be working a lot! Early mornings, night shifts, safety training and meetings at whatever time suits your manager – we’ve all struggled with our alarm clock going off at the worst possible time. Thankfully, there are rules in place that tell us what hours we can and cannot work on cruise ships. And there are processes to help us if these rules aren’t being followed!

Your Seagoing Employment Agreement

One of the first documents you’ll see before signing on to your ship is your employment contract. As with any contract you sign, you must be given the opportunity to review the agreement (including the collective bargaining agreement), and to seek advice if you wish.

Your contract includes information about your particular role;

  • The date your contract starts and ends,
  • The pay you’ll receive for the duration of your contract, including paid leave,
  • Your accommodation arrangements (single or double berth cabin),
  • What travel is covered by the ship, and what you’ll be responsible for,
  • Any medical, insurance and retirement benefits you may be entitled to,
  • How the contract may be terminated by your company or yourself,
  • The base hours you’re expected to work, fixed and variable overtime,
  • A note that the Captain or designee can require additional hours be worked for the safety and security of the vessel.

Your contract may refer to a Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is an agreement between your company and an independent labour union used to cover all the general details for employment with the company, and it will generally apply to everyone on board.  The contract you sign will have specific details for your role.

This contract will give you a good idea of what’s expected of you regarding your working hours.

Maritime Labour Convention, 2006

In recent years, the international community has recognised that the rights of everyone employed at sea need to be upheld. The International Maritime Organisation, a branch of the United Nations, has created the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to accomplish this. By binding countries to these international laws, this has helped raise the living and working conditions for crew members not only on cruise ships but on every type of commercial vessel.

For our work and rest hours, MLC has given clear rules for how they are calculated and recorded. When putting MLC into their own laws, each country can choose to enforce either maximum hours of work, or minimum hours of rest.

There are five countries with the vast majority of the worlds cruise ships registered;

Country Number Of Ships

These countries have all decided to enforce minimum hours of rest – but what does this mean?

For rest hours, MLC requires a minimum of 10 hours in any 24-hour period and a minimum of 77 hours in any seven-day period. However, this doesn’t mean that you get a 10 hour break every day! This can be split into 2 rest blocks (but not more than 2!), and one of those must be at least 6 hours.

Over a seven-day period, you could work up to 91 hours and still be in compliance. That’s 13 hours. Every. Single. Day!

What counts as ‘Work’?

There are often questions about what counts as working hours. Essentially, anything you’ve been told to do by your management should be logged as work hours. If the ship or the company is benefiting from your time, it should be work, right!

Carrying out duties without being clocked in can cause problems down the line. These problems can include accidents where you were tired, but the hours you’ve been working aren’t shown accurately in the logs. Working ‘off the clock’ can also affect coverage or compensation with insurance etc. if there is an accident, not only for your care on board but long term if you are injured or disabled.

Safety Training and Drills

Safety drills and training are critical to the operation of the ship and the company’s compliance with international law. These include guest drills, crew abandon ship and fire drills and classes for your assigned emergency function. Every drill or training should be logged as work hours, as it is clear you’re carrying out the ship’s business while participating.

Training and drills should be planned for a time that is least disruptive to resting hours (though we all know how hard it can be to work around the many schedules on board!). Because they involve so many people, a schedule should be made available well in advance, allowing teams to plan their work hours. If a drill or training is going to affect your compliance with rest hours, speak with your manager ahead of time to work out your schedule.

Cruise Ship Emergencies

At sea, we know things can change quickly and we all need to respond. If there is an emergency on board, action needs to be taken whether you’re working or not. The Captain is always allowed to demand work outside of your normal or scheduled hours to ensure the safety and security of the vessel, and those on board.

These hours should still be recorded as you would any other working hours. Where your rest hours are no longer compliant, ‘Emergency Response’ may be noted on your records and you need to be given additional rest time to bring you back in line.

Records of your Work and Rest Hours

The importance of managing work and rest hours has been recognised internationally. Being able to prove that a ship and everyone working on board is in compliance with these international laws means keeping accurate records.

Many cruise lines do this using a computer-based time clock system. You need to log in each day using a code or your ID card, enter your working hours and confirm them. At the end of each week, you’ll need to review your records and confirm them.

If you notice that your hours don’t allow you to comply with the required rest, SAY SOMETHING! The sooner the problem is addressed, the sooner you can get back on track and avoid complications later on.

Your manager will be monitoring your work and rest hours. They may question you from time to time if they think there’s a mistake, or if they see a problem developing with your schedule. Mistakes can be corrected with your permission, and this should be recorded properly. Remember, this is a legal document!

Bad Practice on Cruise Ships

There are two scenarios that I’ve heard about on ships, that should NEVER be allowed.

A manager telling you to clock out, then keep working to finish a job.

As we mentioned previously, recording your working time accurately helps protect you. A manager should understand this, and should never put you in a position where you’re expected to work while clocked out. If you cannot work longer, then somebody else needs to finish that job, or it needs to wait until the next day.

A manager adjusting your clock in/out times just to fit compliance.

Your work and rest records are legal documents. You MUST enter your hours as an accurate record of what you actually worked. This is for both your protection and protection for the company. A manager mustn’t adjust these records just to make them fit with the requirements. If you aren’t in compliance, then the reason why should be recorded and additional rest should be provided to bring you back into line.

How To Get Help

Now we know what should and should not be happening with our work and rest hours, what do we do if we have a problem?

Each ship has a chain of command and a structure for reporting problems on board. This generally works as follows;

  1. Supervisor (it may be a simple misunderstanding that is easy to fix).
  2. Departmental Manager.
  3. Head Of Department or Human Resources Manager
  4. Captain

The Captain might seem scary, but they will always want to know if someone is falsifying work/rest records!

Hopefully, your supervisor will be able to fix the problem, but you should always be able to approach any of the other managers on the ship to help. If you raise your concerns in good faith, you are protected from retaliation no matter the outcome.

MLC Complaints Procedure

This is a policy that must be in place for ships to be compliance with MLC. It gives the process for ANY seafarer to lodge a complaint, and to have it resolved in a timely manner. You can approach your Supervisor or Head of Department, the Captain or the shipowner directly as the situation demands, depending on the complaint you have.

A complaint is usually raised using a form or in an email, and the policy will describe what information to include and where to send it.

Designated Person Ashore

Every company has someone appointed as their ‘Designated Person Ashore’. This person is an important link between the ship and shoreside management, particularly for dealing with safety concerns or emergency situations.

As such, they must be contactable at all times, usually by phone or email. This means that if you aren’t able to have your concern heard on board, and you’ve tried the other options available to you, this is another way to make sure your concern is addressed from the top of your company.

While these procedures will be slightly different in each company, it must be made known to you. You can usually find information on the MLC Complaints Procedure and your Designated Person Ashore with your ship’s crew office, HR team or in the ship’s policy manual.

Now Get To Work!

Ships are hard work, but they also afford an amazing opportunity to meet new people and explore new places. You now have all the tools you need to work on a ship while being mindful of what is required of you and your managers.

Remember, all these laws and regulations give YOU protection, not just your company! By knowing what is required, and what to do if something is wrong, you can keep yourself safe and well throughout your time at sea.

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