What You Need to Know About Sea Time

What You Need to Know About Sea Time

If you’ve ever heard the term sea time being talked about, you may have thought that it refers to the time seafarers spend at sea. And you wouldn’t be completely wrong, however, if you aspire to be a seafarer and you want to join the merchant navy, you’ll need to know that sea time actually refers to a seafarer’s time spent working on a vessel.

This is very important to a seafarer’s professional career, as how much sea time you have plays an important part in getting hired.

If you want to learn more about sea time, you’ve come to the right place.

What is sea time?

When we talk about sea time, it is not the time spent by seafarers at sea but it pertains to the total time spent by the seafarers working on the ship that is actively sailing for cargo transportation.

cargo ship

Sea time requirements for seafarers may vary from one country to another because it depends on the minimum qualification criteria that is determined according to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) 2010 guidelines.

Sea time is the document that the department head – a chief engineer or the ship’s master (the captain) – hands to the seafarer that confirms their presence onboard the vessel and stating that they have sailed for a specific period of time. The sea time certificate also covers remarks on conduct and the professionalism of the seafarer while onboard.

It also contains essential details such as:

  • Name and official number of the ship
  • Date of service (from sign in to sign off)
  • Total number of days worked on the ship
  • Gross tonnage of the ship
  • Engine type and specification, including horsepower
  • Number of days sailed in coastal, inland, or river waterways
  • Average number of hours worked per day
  • Description of duties performed onboard
  • Brief specification of watchkeeping duties
  • Professional behavior onboard ship
captain steering a vessel

This document must have the official ship seal and the master’s signature to prove its authentication. It is crucial for the seafarer to gather and retain all of the sea time certificates since the company and examination officer will need them for the Certificate of Competency exams.  

It must be obtained on a ship before signing off from it or when the department head is signing off. Therefore, the number of sea time certificates that a seafarer can acquire varies depending on the number of sailings.

The sea time certificate is somewhat comparable with a reference letter that people in land-based jobs need when switching companies.

What is the importance of sea time?

Sea time plays an important role in your seafarer rank. Merchant navy jobs operate under a strict chain of command that will remain the same regardless of shipping company or ship.  

female seafarers of differing ranks
Courtesy of the IMO #MaritimeWomenPhotoShare Campaign

Since many seafarers are continuously planning and preparing for their next promotion, after passing an exam for a Certificate of Competency, they might get an endorsement as an officer of a higher rank by an approved government authority.

Keep in mind that to qualify for exams, there is a minimum sea service requirement depending on your current rank and the COC you are applying for.

Shipping companies use a Company Matrix System that includes their promotion criteria – take note that this system requires candidates to complete specified sea time that differs depending on the rank and position.

If you have an agreement with the company and have met all the requirements, a promotion may be awarded to you either onboard the same ship or on the next.

aerial view of cargo ship

Furthermore, if you have been working with the same organization for a long period of time then your sea time is recorded in their official system, but if you decide to switch companies, this is where sea time certificates come in handy to prove your work experience.

How do you calculate your sea time?

Congratulations, you’ve been hired! What’s next? Well it’s time to start calculating your sea time once you get onboard and the master has stamped your document thus confirming you have joined the ship in a specific rank or role.

The calculation starts at the date of stamping – now, countries’ calculations differ with one another, some countries determine sea time in days while some in months. It depends on the nationality of the seafarer and the chosen COC.

You might be wondering if the days that the ship is in a dry dock or laid up with no voyages are still counted. Yes, they are counted as valid and included in the sea time certificate if the period is less than two months. A certificate will be issued by the master to those onboard.

a vessel in a dry dock

Take note that a day of work requires eight hours of assigned or watchkeeping duties.

What you need to know about sea time: conclusion

To wrap things up, as an aspiring seafarer, sea time refers to your time spent working on a vessel. It is also the certificate you have to collect to be able to acquire a higher rank in the same firm or in a different one (if you decide to switch companies) – that is if your head gives you a promotion and endorses your performance.

This document is crucial to any seafarer’s career since it is a big part of the requirements, whether you’re just a newbie or a veteran, and it tells employers the duration of your experience. And don’t forget that it also contains remarks on your conduct and professionalism from your master.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for your next contract in your seafarer career, we can help. Don’t hesitate to visit our website and create an account so that you can start applying for our seafarer job vacancies.

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