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8 things for the checklist before joining your first ship

What to include in the checklist before joining your first ship

Rain is such a lovely affair. It always brings back the nostalgia of good old days. Clouds in their dark coming in formation, seizing the sun. The changing temperament of the wind past the trees. The first soft drizzle making the earth let go of its heat leaving behind the petrichor.

As the nature used to prepare for its pour, I used to get busy tearing pages off used notebooks to raise my fleet of paper boats. Back then, who knew, I will be doing boats (read: ships) more than just in the usual rain. My fondness for boats eventually paid off.

In the year 2008, at the port Mumbai, I set foot on my first ship as a cadet. It is a fond memory that will always be etched in my mind. I was a trainee and trainees are a nervous lot. He / She gets to stay on board a ship anywhere between 6 to 9 months. It is a long time (still better, those months used to in double digits in good old days) and at a far away distance from home.

But before you set foot on that weather deck, you have to prepare yourself – psychologically and physically. It is a different world and the obvious question is – how do you prepare for something you have never ever seen before? The answer to that is – Like for all other things, it is one step at a time.

[blockquote author=”Felix Riesenberg”]No literature is richer than that of the sea. No story is more enthralling, no tradition is more secure.[/blockquote]


8 things to include in the checklist before joining your first ship

Here is a seafarers packing list which serves as a heads-up to anyone joining a ship for the first time.

  1. Documentation
  2. Physical Fitness
  3. Orientation – company’s culture and management tools.
  4. Shopping for self – Food, clothing, medicines
  5. Forex exchange | International credit/debit card
  6. Emergency contact list and Copy of all documents for home
  7. International sim card / Skype credit/ Whatsapp / Nymgo / IMO
  8. Extra room in luggage

Let’s look at each one in more detail.

1. Documentation

It is very important that all your required documents are in good shape and are at least 6-12 months within the validity date. This is the first thing you should take care of in your preparation for joining a ship.

It is common among employers to keep a record of every seafarer (employee) and inform him well in advance about any pending documentation and provide with checklist for all needed documents. It is very helpful for a first time joiner.

However, the onus lies on you and on you alone. Make your own checklist and confirm all your documentation is in order.

Here is a list to get you started –

  • Passport with at least one year validity
  • Relevant Visas as per the ship’s trading area
  • Continuous Discharge Certificate with at least one year validity left.
  • Vaccinations and Immunizations – Cholera, Yellow Fever, etc, one year validity left.
  • STCW 2010 Certificates( Basic or Basic + Advanced as per requirement) with one year validity left
  • Any Relevant Dangerous Cargo Endorsement(depending on ship type) with one year validity left
  • Employment Contract letter (signed by both employer and employee)
  • Employment Service Terms and Conditions (signed by both Employer and Employee)
  • Emergency Contact and Beneficiary Registration (provided to Employer, copy to you)
  • OK to Board/Guarantee Letter (provided by employer)
  • Medical Certificate from DG Shipping approved Doctor with at least 1 year validity left. (assistance from employer)
  • Flag state Continuous Discharge Certificate (normally Employer applies for it and provides you this)
  • Maritime Union of India Registration Card (copy to be left with beneficiary)

This list is not exhaustive but will definitely get you started. Reach out to your employer and nearest Marine Mercantile Department office for more exhaustive checklist.

  1. Always have extra passport size and stamp size photographs in your document folder. Photographs to be preferably in smart formals (coloured shirt) and in white background.
  2. Carry Blue and Black ball point pens.
  3. Carry spare photo copies of all of the above documents (at least 1 set)


2. Physical Fitness

This is not just about joining a ship. Actually, fitness should be part of your life like tea and politics (pun intended). Your pre-sea training must have introduced you to fitness (if you are not into it already). Keep that going for yourself. You could explore more activities like – trekking, diving, cycling, yoga, etc while you are onshore.

Before one joins a ship – junior or senior, a thorough medical check-up is under taken. An active life style minimizes the chances of any unexpected finding.

As a trainee you will be expected to be like Tweety (from the Tweety – Sylvestor story) – always on the run. So, best is – be prepared.

3. Orientation – company’s culture and management tools

Usually, every new inductee goes through an orientation programme a few weeks before joining his first ship with the company. The orientation gives out company’s brief history, present management structure and ranks, geography, services offered (Maritime is primarily services industry), futures prospects and more.

Moreover, All shipping companies follow international laws and guidelines laid out by IMO – International Maritime Organization. Some even go a notch up to set more strict norms. The orientation talk briefs about how these laws are engraved within the company’s ethos and operations.

Furthermore, training sessions are undertaken on company software for sharing information with you related to performing shipboard operations and documentation for those operations. Personal login details for software, reference material and notes for future reference also handed out.


Apart from regular questions during the session, there are intermittent and final Q&A sessions to address any doubts and concerns of the inductees. Make the most of them.

4. Shopping for self – Food, clothing, medicines

Is living on a ship like living in a hostel? The answer to that is yes and no. Yes, the accommodation space in like a upright match box with port holes and carries 30 odd cabins sticking next to each other. There is a common kitchen and dining space, common laundry, common WIFI (if you are lucky) even central air conditioning (yep, yep).

But yet, not a hostel – You will be floating above far and wide stretches of blues. No supply runs to make, when you need to. No ATM to withdraw chips. No date to go to.

Therefore, It is important to be prepared and stocked up with your supplies.

Here is a list of must have’s on your first tour of duty.

  1. Socks : 10 pairs at least
  2. Underwear : 10 pairs at least
  3. Vests/ plain fit t-shirts : 5 pairs
  4. Formal uniform :
    Epaulettes(as per rank) : 1 pair
    Shirt : 3 pcs
    Trousers : 2 pcs
    Shoes/socks : 1 pair/2 pairs, shoe polish
  5. Casual wear : 
    Collared T-shirts : 3 pairs
    Pants/Jeans : 2 Pairs
    Night wear : as per preference
  6. Winter Wear : as per your preference
  7. Sewing kit.
  8. Stationary : Regular items like – pen, pencil, glue, etc and some specific items like paper clips, A4 size folders, small notepad, packing tape, 1-2 old newspapers, plastic carry bags, etc.
  9. Books : Curriculum and leisure.
  10. Laptop/tablet/phone: preferably smartphone for using on board/ashore WIFI.
  11. Intrinsically safe pocket flash light.
  12. Personal Utilities like: soaps, creams, oils, shaving kit, towel, deodorant, etc
  13. Eatables – Snacks, MTRs, dry fruits, mother’s love, etc.
  14. Personal Medicines: Check your company policy on prescription and over-the-counter medicines and carry accordingly. Always carry first aid kit, crepe bandage and hot water bag for personal use. Though everything is available on board, it is best to be prepared.
  15. Something for the ship: Always carry something for the ship personnel on your own. It can be sweets, latest collection of movies, latest magazines, etc. Anything you think will bring a cheer to the crew. This will not only bring you a good will and make a lasting impression but will also reflect your care for your colleagues.
  16. Tip:

    If you have on any jewellery, especially on your hands or around your neck, it is advisable to put them away once you are on board. Due to hazardous working conditions on board, this is for your own safety.

    5. Forex exchange | International Credit / Debit Card

    A necessity. Like most seafarers, you will be seeing foreign shores first time in your life. For your own convenience carry at least US$ 200. This buffer money will come in handy – if you cannot find your pick-up person at your destination airport or if you miss your connecting flight or if you did not get that ‘veg. meal on flight and want to quench those hunger pangs with a bucket of French fries the moment you land and many such ‘if’ scenarios. US dollar is the most used and exchanged currency worldwide.

    An international credit/debit card comes handy when the cash falls short. Due to limited availability of cash on board a ship, a card gives you the flexibility to handle your finances better.


    From 200, keep at least one 100 dollar bill in smaller denominations of 5s, 10s and 20s.

    6. Emergency contact list and Copy of all documents for home

    In all awe and excitement of joining a ship, this important step is usually missed out. Ironically, I forgot it too on my first tour of duty. However, it is really important that you keep your next of kin abreast of your employment’s terms and conditions. They need to have all the relevant documents with them in case you are in distress and need assistance.

    A commercial ship has a very peculiar and dynamic work environment and goes without saying how dangerous it can be. Be smart – keep a copy of your all employment documents, employer address, contact numbers, email with your parents/guardian/immediate family.

    7. International sim card / Skype credit / Whatsapp / Nymgo / IMO

    As I have emphasized in my earlier write-up, personal communication on board is a kind of luxury. Calling cards are almost always available on board but they are very expensive. You could, however, choose from other economical options to avoid a deep cut in your savings.

    Research for the ship’s frequent route through custom searches on websites such as – ,, etc.

    Ask your employer’s liaison officer for ship’s trading area. Based on your search result – choose an international sim card to keep you connected to the world at foreign shores. Telecom revolution has led to plenty options in the market.

    Furthermore, more and more shipping companies are providing internet services on their ship. Find out about the ship you are joining from your liaison officer. Install and ‘login’ the commonly used communication apps such as Whatsapp, Akype, IMO.


    1. IMO works really well for audio and video calls on a restricted bandwidth.
    2. The US dollars you are carrying will help you get a calling card right away. No need to wait for issue of ‘cash advance’ (On board, you get upfront cash, usually once a month. It is deducted later from your wages).
    3. Keep a Pair of Clothes and Boiler Suit with You While Boarding the Plane

    Airline companies manage huge volumes of luggage every day. Cases of lost or misplaced luggage happen more than you would believe. To salvage the situation wherein you walk out a foreign airport with just your documents and luggage claim form receipt, it is advisable to carry a full pair of clothes in your hand bag. An extra pair will save the day for you until you misplaced luggage arrives. One thing to worry a bit less about when you are already struggling with the shipboard life. Right!

    Note: Makes sure all your original documents and important papers are with you in your handbag which you would carry along with you.

    8. Extra room in luggage/ Extra pair in hand luggage

    Your employer might sometimes hand you a parcel or a bunch of magazines/movie DVDs, or may be a couple of boiler suits (only in a desperate case, of course) on the day of your departure for your tour of duty.

    You would be requested to carry them with you to the ship. This is only a polite courtesy you might need to extend to your employer. Pack your essentials nicely, use a bigger suitcase, keep that room in your luggage.


    Always ask the employer what is he handing you over, papers are ok but do not accept any sealed items(boxes, packets, etc) without verifying what is underneath the cover.
    These checklist items will help you reach the ship safely and prepared. What comes next? How can you make the most of the time on your tour of duty. Here is a simple list of tips and suggestions to help you get settled in and make the most of your time on board.

Watch this video to learn how you can become an entrepreneur at a young age

Shubham Somani
About Shubham Somani
Shubham has been to the shores of 24 countries and worked with 14 nationalities. He enjoys fixing things and reading Oscar Wilde. He loves mountains and works as marine engineer on board merchant ships.

2 thoughts on “8 things for the checklist before joining your first ship”

    • Hi Hein,

      The guidelines for luggage to carry onboard are not defined as such. Nevertheless, The carrybags/suitcases etc should not be put the safety aspects of a ship in jeopardy. for eg- a metal based suitcase(or metal rollers in a suitcase) is not safe to carry on oil/gas tankers(risk of spark on deck- fire hazard)

      The guidelines for luggage are defined by the country you are flying to and the airline you are flying with. Usually, seafarers can carry upto 40kgs in check in baggage ( or two suitcases of 23-24kgs each). Hand baggage allowance is 15 kgs.

      All these allowances are applicable when you are traveling internationally to join a ship.

      Ideally, you should carry 1-2 check-in bags for all your stuff and 1 handbag for documents with 1-2 pair of clothes + safety gear(as applicable- provided by the employer) in it. Keeping extra pair of clothes in hand baggage helps if by some unfortunate coincidence you lose or misplace your check-in luggage during airline transfers.

      Unlike other work places, ours is a moving one and there is no guarantee that your ship will touch the same port (the one you joined from). So best is to be prepared for such ‘what ifs’.


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