Checking your fitness to work at sea
After a successful interview, your cruise recruiter will inform you that you need to get a medical exam done before you are officially hired. Learn the reasons why it is required, what it involves, what you will need to disclose and which doctors are authorized to conduct a Seafarer medical exam.
Why You Need a Medical Exam to Work on a Cruise Ship
Over 70 years ago, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) decided that uniform regulations concerning the medical examination of seafarers were needed. Convention No. 73 declares that a person employed on a ship must have “…a certificate attesting to his fitness for the work for which he is to be employed at sea signed by a medical practitioner.”
The ILO also states that the crew member be “…in good health and not likely to endanger the health of other persons on board.” Consider that crew members live close to each other on board and may have contact with passengers. Therefore if a crew member had a contagious disease it would endanger the health of their fellow crew members along with passengers.
All cruise ship crew must be medically, physically and mentally fit for the job that they are employed to do. This includes being fit to perform emergency duties if required and able to deal effectively with isolation from friends and family. The doctor must attest to the overall fitness of the potential employee and sign a certificate saying so.
Overview of Medical Exam for Crew Members
There are two main types of medical exams for working on cruise ships. The pre-sea exam is very stringent as it may prevent a person from starting a career at sea if they don’t meet the requirements. Alternatively, the periodic exam certifies that the seafarer continues to be fit for sea service taking into consideration the intended cruise job that the person will be doing on board.
The actual name of the medical exam depends on the country you are taking the exam. In Canada, for example, it’s called a Mariner’s medical certificate. In the United States it’s called a CG-719K. You can find the Merchant Mariner Physical Examination instruction guide located here (pdf). The UK and many other countries call the exam an ENG1.
These medical exams are conducted to identify medical conditions, examine previous medical history, detail any injuries, identify substance abuse and overall make an assessment that the crew member is fit to work on a cruise ship. Doctors will also assess a crew member’s mobility, balance, strength, and endurance. There must not be any physical disability issues.
Cruise Industry Approved Doctors
It’s important to know that not all doctors are authorized to conduct a seafarer medical examination. Your recruiter will give you a list of doctors available in your area. They may also send you specific forms that need to be completed by you and the doctor. Here are sources for cruise industry approved doctors in Canada and the United Kingdom:
What to Expect During a Cruise Ship Jobs Medical
You must make an appointment with an approved doctor. Although you may not be informed by the doctor’s office, there are some items that you need to bring with you. Here is a brief list.
- Glasses or contacts (don’t wear contacts to the doctor’s appointment since you will be required to remove them)
- Copy of vaccinations (World Health Organization – International Travel and Health)
- List of medications that you take
The exam typically starts with the crew member completing a health questionnaire, detailing medical history, ailments, diseases, vaccinations, surgical operations, injuries and current medication. It includes personal information such as age, height and weight.
Next, the crew member is weighed, measured and given a urine test. Some doctors may also conduct blood tests including a blood glucose test. Hearing and vision tests are also given along with testing blood pressure and pulse rate. A chest x-ray may also be taken.
The doctor conducts a physical examination that includes asking questions based on the answers provided in the questionnaire. When you are given the medical certificate will depend in part on how long it takes to get the results of your blood and urine tests. The certificate is valid for a maximum of two years and typically costs from US$50 up to US$250, depending in which country the exam takes place.
Questions to Expect During Your Seafarer Medical Exam
The health questionnaire can be intimidating. It is usually a couple pages long and there may be questions that challenge your willingness to be perfectly honest. After all, you really want to work on a cruise ship—so you don’t want to fail the medical exam! The best advice, however, is that you should be completely honest. So that there are no unexpected surprises, here are typical questions that are on a pre-employment medical exam for a cruise ship job.
- Do you wear glasses or contacts?
- How much do you drink per day/per week?
- How much do you smoke per day/per week?
- What medication do you take?
- How much exercise do you do per day/per week?
- Have you suffered from a major depression?
- Have you ever had substance abuse issues in your life?
- Do you have diabetes?
- Do you have asthma?
- Have you ever had a seizure?
- When was your last seizure?
- Do you suffer from migraines?
- Do you have any allergies?
- Do you have any skin infections?
- Do you suffer from varicose veins?
- Do you have any STIs (STDs)?
- Do you have AIDS?
- Do you get nose bleeds?
- Do you suffer from seasickness?
- What vaccinations have you had?
The doctor will address your Body Mass Index (BMI) based on your height and weight, paying attention for symptoms of diabetes. A person with a high BMI may be unfit because they may not be able to perform their emergency duties.
Hiring Process after the Seafarer Medical Exam is Complete
Once you have been given your medical certificate, you need to send a copy to your recruiter and keep the original for yourself. You will need to bring the original on the ship when you join, but you should also keep another copy for yourself. If you have been denied the medical certificate, then you won’t be allowed to join a ship. You do have the right to appeal, though.