The UK Rules
Seafarer Working and Living Rights

Seafarer Working Conditions and Practices

Various laws protect seafarers' rights in the United Kingdom. This help guide explains how to respect and observe seafarer working and living rights while working at sea.

Topics covered include conditions of employment and living conditions for seafarers. Check the practices on health and medical care and working at sea with potentially dangerous cargo.

The working and living rights that all seafarers have entitlement to include:

The definition of a seafarer is a person who works on board a seagoing ship.

Typical examples include the master, crew, and self-employed contractors.

But, bodyguards, entertainers, shopkeepers, and hairdressers can also meet the classification of seafarers.

The definition of a seagoing ship relates to any vessel that is heavier than 500 gross tonnes, or one that is on:

Note: The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) came into full force for the United Kingdom in August 2014. The 'MLC 2006' sets forth minimum standards relating to the working and living rights of seagoing personnel.

Seafarer Working Conditions

To work at sea as a seafarer you will need to meet some minimum requirements on things like minimum age and medical certification.

Minimum Age for Seafarers

As a rule, the minimum age to work as a seafarer is sixteen (16) years old. The age limit extends to eighteen (18) if the work involves any hazardous tasks or night work.

Many of the manual tasks conducted on a ship can be hazardous if they are not carried out properly. Hazardous tasks can include hauling, lifting, mooring, and towing.

Thus, as an employer of any seafarers your responsibilities will include ensuring that your staff:

Note: Being in charge of a ship means you need to have an ENG1 seafarer medical certificate. Likewise, some seafarers will need to possess a Certificate of Competency (CoC) to carry out certain duties on board.

Conditions of Employment

In the United Kingdom, the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 provides minimum working rights for seafarers.

Working Time Regulations (WTR)

Working as a seafarer on a seagoing ship means you would be entitled to:

Note: The Merchant Shipping Regulations 2002 provide further details on working time regulations for seafarers.

Human Behaviour in the Shipping Industry

The term 'human element' is used a lot in the shipping industry. It covers anything that relates to the interaction between humans and any system aboard ships. Thus, the topic represents high importance in maritime safety and security.

Typical factors affecting the human element on board ships include:

Note: The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) website has further information on 'The human element: a guide to human behaviour in the shipping industry'.

Seafarer Safe Working Practices

Under maritime regulations, all UK ships need to carry copies of the 'Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen'. An exception to this rule applies to fishing boats and pleasure vessels.

The Safe Manning of Ships

As an employer of seafarers you must ensure the ship has enough properly trained and certificated officers. The vessel must operate safely at all times and there must be sufficient food to cater for the number of seafarers serving on board.

Note: Further guidance is available in section 2 of the 'Merchant Shipping Notice 1767 (M) Hours of work, safe manning and watchkeeping'.

Ship Noise and Vibration

Seafarer employers must also carry out certain types of risk assessment. As such, you would need to identify who may be at risk from noise or vibration during the course of their work. Risk assessments help to show what steps to take to reduce or remove this type of risk.

Protective Personal Equipment (PPE)

Employers of seafarers must provide them with suitable protective equipment if they will carry out dangerous or hazardous tasks. Read chapter 4 of the 'Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen' for extra details on PPE.

Living Conditions

Since the 7th of August 2014 in the United Kingdom, the living conditions of workers at sea have been covered by the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006.

Health and Safety

MLC law covers seafarers' food and catering conditions as well as health and safety rules on ships. As such, as an employer you must provide your seafarers with:

Risk Assessments on Ships

Either the employer or the ship owner would need to conduct a risk assessment on any vessel that has seafarers working onboard.

New or Expectant Mothers

Women of childbearing age may be employed as seafarers. But, you would need to conduct a risk assessment to identify any potential hazards that are likely to affect a new or an expectant mother.

What if you find a risk that you are unable to remove? In this case, the employer can suspend a new or expectant mother who is working as a seafarer on full pay, if (any):

The Seafarer Safety and Health Branch of the Maritime and Coastguard Authority (MCA) has extra information on the specific health and safety rules for new and expectant mothers working at sea.

Seafarer Safety and Health Branch
02380 329 247
Information on call charges.

Note: The rule applies no matter whether any females are pregnant at the time of the risk assessment or not.

Additional Dangers Onboard Ships

Petrol Generators

It is not uncommon for large ships to use petrol generators. Any that do, need a risk assessment to ensure that the generator provides:

Fumigating Cargo Spaces

The employers of seafarers working on ships with pesticides on board must make sure:

Note: Review 'Marine Guidance Note (MGN) 86 (M)' for further recommendations on the safe use of pesticides onboard ships.

Illegal Drugs

There are severe legal implications for seafarers and for employers if authorities find the unauthorised presence of drugs on board a ship. As a rule, the most serious cases can result in:

Note: Review 'Marine Information Note (MIN) 375 (M+F) Occupational health and safety leaflets and posters'.

Potentially Dangerous Cargo

There are specific requirements for the employers of seafarers on board who need to deal with certain toxic cargo or equipment. You can find further information and guidance from:

Health and Medical Care

The responsibilities of employers extends to the protection of their seafarers, by:


Seafarer Working and Living Rights in United Kingdom

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