What is a Seaman's Book & How Do You Apply for One?

Jan 11, 2024 · 11 mins read ·

Jobs at Sea
a Polish seaman's book

To become a seaman, or woman, and to work in a seafarer job you need to have something called a seaman’s book before you can join a vessel. But what is a seaman’s book and how do you get one? This blog post has the answers.

From passenger vessel crew to tanker ship seamen, it is estimated that there are more than two million seafarers working on merchant ships today. And depending on what type of ship they own or manage, shipowners require distinct seafarer qualifications and skills.

So as a seafarer, how can you prove your experience and skills to land your next job at sea?

Your seaman’s book holds the answer.

What is a seaman’s book?

A seaman’s book looks similar to a passport - something else you’ll likely need if you are going to build a career working at sea. It’s an official - and mandatory - document that logs information about your licenses and other crucial details about your experience working on a ship and the voyages/contracts you have undertaken.

Basically, it's a continuous record of your service as a seafarer – containing details of when you worked and which vessels you worked on. 

All of the above information is vital when you seek to climb the career ladder through the seafarer ranks and add certificates and licenses to your seafarer resume as the book provides a very clear picture of how your maritime is progressing.

It is important to ensure that your seaman’s book is regularly updated, with updates signed and stamped by an authorized professional person, such as the ship's Master, every time you are signed off from the vessel so that your experience onboard is recorded and certified.

And whether you’re working on a container ship or a chemical tanker, the vessel will need to maintain a copy of all of the crew’s seaman books during the time they are onboard.

The seaman’s book (which you may also see referred to as a seaman’s discharge book or seaman service book) is both issued and maintained by the relevant maritime authority in the country that you applied for it in. 

It also works  as a travel document that can be used with a passport and, in some cases, in lieu of a passport and is a mandatory document, for any port-of-entry that requires a crew transit visa.

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How do I apply for a seaman’s book?

First of all, bear in mind the process for how to apply for a seaman’s book will differ from country to country so we highly advise also checking with your local government or maritime authorities for up-to-date and correct information.

Having said that, in the majority of countries, to apply for your seaman’s book simply requires you to complete and submit an application form - that may even be done online in some cases. 

Keep in mind, however, that because the book plays a very important role in your career, it must be processed through proper means and channels.

You will also need to submit the required documents such as your birth certificate, medical examinations, passport, passport photo and, crucially, evidence that you have undergone STCW personal safety training.

The application and supporting documents will need to be checked and verified and will be accepted based on their validity and your training and experience.

You will also need to pay an administrative fee which will, again, differ from country to country and upon the service - for example if you need to express your application or if you wish to apply in person as opposed to online. And of course you’ll need to pay a fee for the delivery of your new seaman’s book.

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Note that the book may be known by a different name depending on your region. It is recommended to consult with your local maritime authority to correctly identify the document you should apply for.

What information do I need to provide in a seaman’s book application form?

Seaman’s book application forms will require everything from the usual details such as your name, address, nationality and date of birth to your height and eye color (used for identification purposes) to the name of the vessel and port you are about to serve on and have a valid contract with.

You will normally also need to provide proof of residence, a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the employer and your educational certificates.

What information is included in a seaman’s book?

Take good care of your seaman’s book because, whatever job at sea you do and whatever seafarer rank you are, it contains a lot of important information about who you are and what certificates you hold.

Your seaman’s book will include your first and last names, your seaman’s identification number, the place that the book was issued and the date it was issued on, the name of the issuing authority and their representative’s signature, and the date the book expires. 

It will also include your nationality, your address, age and date and place of birth, and your gender.

Back to that expiry date - yes, seaman’s books need to be regularly renewed if you wish to keep working on a ship. More on that in a moment.

And just like how some travel visas are pasted into a passport, your seaman’s book will also include your a number of certificates such as:

  • Your medical certificate - this will have been issued by a certified medical officer or a doctor.
  • Your SQR (Seaman’s Qualification Record) - this is your license and seafaring experience.
  • Your SSER (Sea Service and Employment Record) - a summary of all your voyages and vessels, including info such as the ship’s IMO number and gross tonnage.
  • Your Document of Discharge - issued to a seafarer when the contract/voyage has been completed.

There will also be a recent passport-sized photo of you in your seaman’s book.

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How do I renew my seaman’s book?

Congratulations! You’ve now hopefully got plenty of seatime under your belt and you’ve been successfully working in a seafarer job for a few years now. And that means it’s time to renew your seaman’s book.

Under normal circumstances, a seaman’s book is valid for five years and once those five years have passed and you’ve hit the expiry date noted in your book when it was issued, if you mean to carry on working on ships, you’ll need to renew it. 

The good news is that this is usually a simple process and is virtually the same as when you applied for your seaman’s book in the first place.

Again, the exact process will depend on your country but generally speaking, you will apply for your renewal online with the government or maritime authorities. You’ll also need to include the same information and documents as the first time round; your passport, birth certificate and so on.

You may also need to apply for a new seaman's book if your existing one is filled up within the validity period.

The process remains the same, except that you'll now apply for a seaman's book extension and not for a completely new book.

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Do I really need to have a seaman’s book?

The short answer is yes. That’s if you want to have a long and successful maritime career. There are exceptions to this rule however. For example, if you’re a UK seafarer, you don’t need to hold a seaman’s book if your vessel is not ocean-going or if you’re testing the ship or her equipment in UK waters.

But if you want to find employment on a container ship or other commercial vessel, holding a seaman’s book is mandatory for all seafarers.

As in many countries, such as the Philippines, a seafarer needs a seaman’s book to prove that they've worked onboard merchant vessels and cruise ships. In some countries, it is also mandatory to have one for tax purposes and to receive government benefits.

Are you looking for your next seafarer job?

If you’re already in possession of your seaman’s book and you’re looking for your next contract at sea, take a look at Martide’s seafarer job vacancies.

We’re always looking for different ranks and levels of experience for our clients and currently have Chief Engineer jobs, Master jobs, Chief Officer jobs, Fitter jobs, Second Engineer jobs and more.

We also need crew for a wide range of vessels and usually have everything from container ship jobs to heavy load carrier jobs and from passenger ship jobs to offshore vessel jobs.

It’s free to apply for our jobs at sea (and always will be!) Simply create a free Martide account either on our website or by downloading our seafarer job mobile app and apply for as many jobs as you like.

We hope to see you onboard soon! 

Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer and publishes regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea.

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