The first voyages on board cargo vessels started in the ’70 when people could also ‘work their way’ across the oceans without paying anything, but working a little in exchange. ‘Work your way’ across the sea is not allowed anymore, but more and more people choose to travel on board port container vessels nowadays as part of an adventurous holiday.
They are choosing this type of voyage because they love the sea and everything it brings along, but also because they want to find out interesting things about life and work on board cargo vessels.
Travelling As Passenger On Cargo Vessels
A voyage on board a port container vessel (cargo vessel) can offer you a lot more than just moving from one place to another, admiring the beautiful sea and visiting new territories. It can offer you the possibility to relax and recharge your batteries in a completely quiet and tranquil environment, away from any distraction that usually consume your life while ashore. A voyage at sea can help you rediscover yourself, offering you the time to enjoy the simple beauties of the world, the company of others and the pleasure activities you like best – reading, taking photos, bird watching, walking, exercising. Moreover, a voyage at sea can help you expand your horizons, test your limits and find answers to some of the most intrigue questions regarding different aspects of a seafarer’s life – his work, his expectations, challenges and thrills.
Useful information for people who want to join a port container vessel as passengers
How to book a trip on a container vessel
If you decide that a voyage on board a port cargo vessel is what you want for your holiday, all you have to do is visit a travel agency. There are many travel agencies around the world that can help you find the most suitable voyage according to your budget, available time, desired destination and other important aspects (the size of the ship, nationalities on board, number of passengers on board).
You have to know that not all shipping companies allow passengers on board their vessels and some companies – which have more than 40 years of tradition in this type of ‘tourism’ – can allow up to 10 passengers at the same time to join their big vessels.
Where can you go
Voyages on board cargo vessels can cover almost the whole world with the exception of some risk areas where passengers are not allowed to travel (e.g. some countries in the East and West of Africa).
The most common and popular voyages are those between different ports in Europe and the East Coast of the USA. The shortest voyages can include two or more ports in Europe and can last for only a few days, the longest voyages are ‘around the world’ trips which touch – more or less – all continents, except Antarctica and can last for ~ 3 months. A passage across the Atlantic – from one port in Western Europe towards the East coast of the USA (New York, Boston or Miami) – can last between 7 and 10 days depending on the speed of the vessel. A voyage between Western Europe and Australia – via Suez Canal – can last ~ one month, with a few stops along the way. From the East Coast of the USA towards Australia (via the Panama Canal) and across the Pacific, the voyage can last ~ one month without any stop or with 1-2 stops under way.
What are the costs and required papers/documents
One day voyage on board a port container vessel can cost between 90 and 120$ in a double occupancy cabin or a little more in a single one.
The prices can differ from one travel agency to another, but they all include full board (three meals per day, coffee and snacks). There are some extra taxes that you must pay together with the booking – prior to embarkation – and these can include immigration fees for embarking and disembarking, transfers to and from the vessel, travel insurance, deviation insurance.
A medical check up can also be requested, especially for passengers older than 65 and some vaccinations – for example, yellow fever – if you travel to some ports in South and Central America, Asia or Africa.
In terms of papers and documents, the most important one is the passport. Depending on your itinerary, you may be requested to obtain some prior visas and you will have to support these costs as well. Take into account the fact that entering USA on board a vessel requires a visa regardless of your country of origin. So, you may not need a visa when entering USA by plane, but you will always need a visa when entering by vessel. With some other countries visas may be required in advance as well (China). Some can be obtained on arrival and others are just simple internet formalities which can be requested and obtained only a few days before arriving.
Another important paper you will have to sign upon arrival on board is the ‘Letter of Indemnity’ which states that you take full responsibility of your own actions while on board and not held anybody else responsible in case you get injured.
How the accommodation on board looks like
The cabins designated for passengers on board port container vessels can be 1st class cabins and 2nd class cabins. They all include a bedroom, a bathroom and at least one window. The average cabin is ~ 15 square meters and the 1st class cabin can include a living room as well. Most of them are located on superior decks – E or F decks – and, even if they are far from being luxurious, they offer everything you need. Most of the cabins include a sofa – apart from a bed – a desk, a wardrobe, a chair, a small fridge, a TV and some other entertainment gadgets like a DVD player and a music compound, a coffee maker and an electric kettle.
Another important place where you will spend some of your time on board is the Messroom. There are, usually, two separate messrooms on board – one for the officers and one for the crew – and passengers are usually invited to have their meals in the Officers’ Messroom. This means that you will be offered the same food and treatment as everybody else on board (e.g – if you are a vegetarian, the cook will prepare special food for you).
Is there any fun on board?
During your voyage at sea, you will need your precious time to be spent as wisely as possible. So, after enjoying all your favourite leisure activities, you will probably want to spend some time in the company of the seafarers because this aspect of your voyage can make the difference between a trip on board a port container vessel (cargo vessel) and one on a cruise vessel. You can join the officers and the crew in their Recreation Rooms after working hours and find out interesting stories about their lives at sea, about their adventures and experiences. As most of the people working on the vessel may belong to different nationalities, races and cultures you will discover that the hours spent in their company will enrich you in many ways, will open up your eyes towards the world and teach you a lot of interesting things.
You can also spend some time on the bridge during sea passages and find answers to all the questions you might have about daily work around the vessel, nautical equipment, maritime words and phrases, route planning or just spend your time admiring the surroundings from the highest level of the accommodation area.
You can also witness the entering and departure maneuvers from the bridge or wings, visit the engine room right down in the ‘belly’ of the ship and take part in any drill which is required. If your voyage is longer, you may take part in some on board parties, celebrations and outside barbeques together with all the crew and officers. Here you will discover other interesting things about people’s routine, fun activities and special food grilled in the open air.
After doing all these activities, you may still find some more time to play ping pong or other games – cards, darts, chess, backgammon, mahjong – go to the gym, swim in the inside or outside swimming pool, watch movies, listen to music.
You will never get bored and your voyage will finish sooner than expected.
At the end of your trip you will have lots of photos to take home, many stories to share with your families and friends and a lot of incredible images that can fill up your dreams for the next few years.
For those working on cargo vessels, having passengers on board may seem a little strange at the beginning, but it may prove to be a wonderful experience as well, especially when the number of guests does not exceed four. The crew and officers on board cargo vessel do not have the responsibility to entertain the passengers and they can do this only by their own will and at their own pace. During the long watches – on the bridge and in the engine room – when work allows it, officers can ‘show off’ a little while talking about their duties and responsibilities, about challenges and difficulties, worries and dangerous situations. The passengers will always be grateful for any piece of information they can get and the officers will feel proud about their work and happy to share their knowledge with people who are interested. The most important rule the passengers must obey is that they have to respect the work and the rest time of all officers and members of the crew. They will be respected and treated like important guests only if they do the same, if they behave in a proper way and never ask for more than they are entitled to receive. The rest will come in a natural way and they will soon feel that they belong to a wonderful family. In the end, this experience may prove to be a win-win situation where everybody has something to gain – spectacular moments, amazing adventures, great memories and new friends.