Information about seafarer working and living rights – working conditions, conditions of employment, safe working practices, living conditions, dangerous cargo, health and medical care, maritime labour convention, human element
Seafarers may face additional dangers when living onboard ships.
Ships that use petrol generators must have a risk assessment carried out to make sure they provide:
- sufficient power for accommodation and lighting
- adequate ventilation
- adequate alarms, eg for carbon monoxide alarms
Fumigating cargo spaces
If pesticides are on board a ship, employers must make sure:
- adequate breathing aids are provided for seafarers checking fumigated cargo bulks
- the ship’s destination port is told 24 hours in advance of receiving this cargo
- properly trained personnel check the relevant cargo bulks at port
The unauthorised presence of drugs on board a ship can have serious legal implications for seafarers and employers, potentially resulting in:
- heavy fines
- detention of a ship
- the death penalty
If seafarers deal with certain toxic cargo or equipment on board ships, their employer must follow a number of specific requirements.
You can find further information on specialist ships in section 4 of the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen.
Employers must protect their seafarers’ health by:
- providing immunisations for certain infectious diseases
- making sure hygiene measures are effective and minimise the risks of infection
- making arrangements for infection control
- having the right medical supplies
- knowing the routes and destinations of their ships
The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) comes into force for the UK on 7 August 2014. It sets out the minimum working and living rights for seafarers.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has produced draft guidance for how employers and seafarers can prepare to meet the MLC.
The MLC doesn't cover seafarers serving on the following boats:
- ships navigating inland or sheltered waters subject to port regulations
- fishing vessels
- warships and naval auxiliaries
- traditional ships, such as dhows
The MLC sets out minimum standards for seafarers to work on a ship, including:
- minimum age
- medical certification
- training and qualifications
The minimum age for seafarers will be 16. Night workers have to be 18 or over.
Exceptions can be allowed for:
- training purposes
- where the seafarer’s duties require it, as long as their health and safety isn't affected
All seafarers must have the right medical certificate to work at sea before they can work on ships.
Training and qualifications
Under the MLC, seafarers will need to:
- be trained and qualified to perform onboard duties
- receive personal safety training
- for training to conform to International Maritime Organisation standards
Find out more about seafarer training and qualifications on the MCA website.
Conditions of employment
Under the MLC, seafarers will have minimum working rights covering:
- employment agreements
- hours of rest
- entitlement to leave
- compensation for a ship’s loss or foundering
- manning levels
- career and skills development
- employment opportunities
The convention makes sure contracts between seafarers and shipowner provide fair living and working conditions.
Contracts should be in English and include:
- shipowner’s name and address
- seafarer’s name, date and place of birth
- place and date where agreement signed
- conditions for the termination of agreement
- health and social security protection benefits provided by shipowner
- seafarer’s right to repatriation
Seafarers must also be:
- allowed to read and consider contracts before signing them
- given a record of their employment
- given their own copy of their contract (the shipowner should also have a copy)
Under the MLC, seafarers’ wages will be:
- paid regularly, ie monthly
- include monthly statements of accounts
- allow seafarers to transfer part or all of their wages
- keep currency conversion charges to reasonable limits
Hours of rest
Hours of rest must be at least:
- 10 hours in any 24 hour period
- 77 hours in any 7 day period
Crew exercises, eg lifeboat drills, must cause minimal disruption to rest periods. Seafarers called out in a rest period are entitled to a rest period to make up for it.
Under the MLC, seafarers will be entitled to paid leave calculated at 2.5 days per calendar month of employment.
Read more about holiday pay for seafarers in the Merchant Shipping Regulations 2002.
This gives seafarers the right to be returned to their home country:
- when their employment contract ends or is cancelled
- when they're no longer able to carry out their duties
- in the event of shipwreck
- if their ship is bound for a war zone they haven't agreed to go to
Shipowners cannot request advance payment for repatriation from seafarers. If a shipowner doesn't make repatriation arrangements, seafarers on UK ships can be repatriated by the MCA.
Accommodation and recreational facilities
The Maritime and Labour Convention (MLC) will make sure seafarers have access to decent accommodation and recreational facilities when living on ships.
These will cover seafarers’ rights to:
- decent on board health protection facilities, including essential dental care
- the right to visit qualified medical personnel while in port
- access to a qualified medical doctor on ships carrying more than 100 people on international voyages lasting more than 3 days
- where there is no doctor on board, there must be designated and able seafarer(s) to provide first aid and medical care
Under the MLC, if a seafarer suffers accident or disability because of their work the shipowner must provide where necessary:
- assistance and medical care
- burial or cremation, if they die
The shipowner must have financial cover in case they are liable for compensation for long-term disability or illness.
A shipowner is not liable when an injury is not related to a seafarer's duties, when it's caused by wilful misconduct or when a seafarer intentionally hides an illness or disability.
Health and safety protection
Under the MLC, seafarers’ work environments on ships must:
- have regular risk assessments of workplace hazards, eg from machinery
- take steps to prevent work accidents
- have a system for reporting accidents and occupational diseases
Under the MLC, the MCA can withdraw a ship's maritime labour certificate if seafarer living and working conditions are breached.
Seafarers can complain if the MLC hasn’t been followed. On board a ship seafarers can complain to a manager. On shore seafarers can complain to an MCA surveyor.
Food and catering
Health and safety
Employers of seafarers must follow health and safety rules and provide:
- safe working places and environment
- safe machinery and equipment
- health and safety training, instruction, supervision and information
- a health and safety policy
- protective clothing and equipment where necessary
- information for workers about the findings of their risk assessment
- information on what qualifications any temporary workers must have
- information about their activities and staff to the company
Any vessel seafarers work onboard must have had a risk assessment carried out by their employer or the ship owner.
New or expectant mothers
Where women of childbearing age are employed as seafarers, a risk assessment must take place of any potential hazard likely to affect a new or expectant mother.
It doesn't matter if they are pregnant at the time of the assessment or not.
If a risk is found that cannot be removed, a new or expectant mother working as a seafarer can be suspended on full pay providing they have either:
- told their employer they're pregnant
- given birth in the last 6 months
- are breastfeeding
For more information on health and safety rules for new and expectant mothers, contact the Seafarer Safety and Health Branch of the Maritime and Coastguard Authority (MCA).
Seafarer Safety & Health Branch
02380 329 247
Find out about call charges
All UK ships must carry copies of the 'Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen', unless it's a fishing boat or pleasure vessel.
Safe manning of ships
Employers must ensure their ships have enough properly trained and certificated officers so that it can operate safely at all times.
There must also be sufficient food on board for the number of seafarers serving.
Read more in section 2 of the Merchant Shipping Notice 1767.
Noise and vibration
A seafarer's employer must carry out risk assessments to identify who's at risk from noise or vibration in their work and what can be done to reduce or remove these risks.
Protective personal equipment (PPE)
A seafarer's employer must give them suitable protective equipment if they're performing dangerous tasks.
You can find further information on PPE in chapter 4 of the ‘Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen’.
There are minimum requirements seafarers must meet to work at sea.
Until the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) becomes part of UK law, the minimum age for seafarers is 16, although this is 18 if the work involves any:
- night work
- hazardous tasks
Manual tasks on a ship can be hazardous if not done properly, like:
Employers of seafarers must ensure their staff:
- know how to operate any equipment correctly
- are aware of safety procedures
- have access to protective personal equipment if needed
Medical certification for seafarers
Anyone in charge of a ship must have an ENG1 seafarer medical certificate.
Until the UK makes the MLC law, seafarers’ employment agreements are covered by:
Certificates of competency
Some seafarers will need a certificate of competency before they can carry out certain duties.
Until the UK makes the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 law, seafarers’ employment contracts are covered by:
Working time regulations
All seafarers on seagoing ships are entitled to:
- a minimum of 10 hours’ rest in any 24 hour period
- 77 hours rest in any 7 day period
- at least 4 weeks’ paid annual leave
Read the Merchant Shipping Regulations 2002 for more information.
The term ‘human element’ covers anything to do with the interaction between a human and any system aboard ship, and is of high importance in maritime safety and security.
Factors which affect the human element include:
- recruitment and selection policies and methods
- crew competence, training and experience
- conditions of service, motivation and morale
- design, construction and ergonomics
- standards of build and certification
- stress and fatigue
- living and working conditions
- manning levels and hours of work
- management policies
- safety management systems
- operational systems
- organisational and safety culture
- culture of continuous improvement and workforce engagement
For more information read ‘The human element: a guide to human behaviour in the shipping industry’ on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) website.
All seafarers have working and living rights that include:
- employment contracts
- food and medical care
A seafarer is anyone who works on board a seagoing ship, including:
- master and crew
- self-employed contractors
- shopkeepers and hairdressers
A seagoing ship is any vessel:
- on an international voyage or from a foreign port
- on a domestic journey from the UK coast
- more than 500 gross tonnes
The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 comes into force on 7 August 2014. It will replace all existing laws on seafarers' rights.