Although there is a lot said about the seven day work week for crew working on cruise ships, it’s not all work and no play. Whether you stay on the ship or go ashore, crew members have mastered the art of making the most out of their free time. Find out how crew spend their free time onboard and ashore.
How Much Free Time Do Crew Get?
Most cruise jobs work split shifts throughout the day. For example, a Guest Services Officer might start around 7am in the morning, break for lunch, start back to work at 3pm and continue working until 9pm.
A casino cashier or dealer may have the day off in port, but work long night hours and long sea day hours. For example this type of cruise job may start at 6pm on a port day (as the ship leaves port) and work until 2am. When the next day is a sea day, they may work a 12 hour day with limited breaks.
Each department and cruise ship job will have different hours of the day that may be considered peak hours and therefore the majority of the department is working. A supervisor will try to be fair in making a schedule to allow enough time to eat something, rest, relax or go ashore. You may end up with one hour between shifts or you may end up with three or more hours between shifts. It usually balances itself out over the length of a cruise.
What is “In Port Manning?”
How a crew member uses the time off between shifts is up to that individual, unless they are on In Port Manning (IPM). IPM is the term used to specify which crew members must stay onboard while the ship is in port, whether they are working or not. IPM duties are rotated within each department.
According to SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) and the IMO (International Maritime Organization), a cruise ship must have a minimum number of crew in each department, holding designated duties in case of an emergency and for the safety and security of the vessel. This is called safe manning and in port this skeleton crew is called IPM.
One example of pre-IPM regulations occurred in 1979 when a fire started on a cruise ship while it was alongside in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Most of the passengers and crew were ashore when the fire broke out. Had there been the required number of crew onboard, would the outcome be different? Today’s requirements are stricter as per IMO and SOLAS.
Crew Off Hours Onboard a Cruise Ship
Even if you are on IPM or don’t have enough time to go ashore, there’s plenty of ways to spend your off hours onboard a cruise ship. Many cruise ships have facilities [link to article about crew areas] exclusively for crew. Apart from sleeping, eating or making a phone call home [link to phones and internet], crew can use the crew internet cafe, crew gym, crew pool (select ships), crew bar or crew recreation area.
Additionally, special events are routinely scheduled for crew to enjoy their time onboard. There are crew parties, BBQs, bingos, talent shows, and movie nights. Officers can enjoy additional facilities of the ship such as the pool deck, spa, gym, restaurants and bars.
Rules for Cruise Ship Crew Going Ashore
Although you might have time off and are not on IPM, you may still have to wait to go ashore. Here’s why and when you can go ashore along with some other rules to keep in mind as a crew member. The major rule is that passengers must always feel that they come before the crew.
When a ship first comes into port, passengers usually line up to get off the ship, either by gangway or by ship’s tender. The crew must not line up in this line. Typically, all passengers in line get off the ship first then the crew are allowed off. Similarly when you come back onboard, there’s often a separate line for crew.
In some ports there may be a “crew window” in effect. This means that crew are only allowed to leave the ship during specified times. For example, you may only be able to get off the ship between 11 am and 11:30 am.
When going ashore, crew must bring their ship’s ID card and their I95 (Crewman’s Landing Permit). Apart from those necessities, crew should also bring alternate photo ID (like a driver’s licence), cash, a watch (set with ship’s time which is not always the same as the local time) and the phone number of the port agent in case of emergency.
Just as passengers must be aware of the time to come back onboard before the ship leaves port, so do crew members. Normally crew must be back onboard at least one hour before the ship sails whereas passengers are given a 30 minute window to be back onboard before the ship sails. Crew have been left behind and fired for such occurrences.
What Crew Do Ashore
Many crew members get together and go to restaurants ashore. Whether it’s a favorite fish and chips place in Alaska or an ethnic restaurant that brings back the memories of home cooked food, ask a fellow crew member where they would suggest if you aren’t sure.
Other popular things to do ashore are to find free internet, make a phone call from a calling station, and go shopping. Crew members know which ports on their itinerary have a Walmart or Costco to stock up on toiletries, snacks or to buy electronics. Many ports also have a free crew shuttle to take crew members to main shopping areas. Alternatively, crew can share a taxi from the ship to town.
Heading to the beach, taking a hike or booking a shore excursion is another way to enjoy your time ashore. Often times the ship’s crew club will organize excursions for the crew. Or, volunteering to escort on a shore excursion is another way to see the port of call.
Depending how much time you have will determine what you will do while you have some time off. How you will get around will also depend on what transportation options are available. Whatever you choose, crew members are experts in making the most of a short period of time.