Superyacht law for yacht crew: Visas, rights and regulations
Last updated: 13/03/2017
As an aspiring yacht crew member pursing a career aboard a superyacht, you may find that you are left to sort out the many aspects and arrangements of your new lifestyle for yourself. Working alongside your captain, you'll navigate the crew training, accommodation and marine finance sectors yourself, but are you aware of the legal aspects that rule over your career?
Often problems arise for yacht crew members from a lack of legal knowledge, and it is becoming increasingly important that crew know just what legal requirements they face. Read on to find out how to make sure you’re covered to ensure that you don’t run into any trouble during your time at sea.
Depending on the position that you are seeking on board, there are many crew training courses offered in order to help to prepare you for a career in yachting. However, the only two that you may be legally required to complete are the STCW95 and the ENG1.
STCW stands for Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers; it was ratified by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 1995. The qualification, typically referred to as “STCW95”, comprises of four modules:
- Personal survival
- First aid and CPR
- Personal safety and social responsibility
The course takes one week to complete and all modules must be completed to obtain the license.
A recent development in the industry means that all personnel on board a superyacht will be required to have completed a security awareness course, so it's a good idea to ensure that your STCW95 includes a security module, and if your previous certificate did not cover this, you will need to complete the security course.
From January 2014, IMO introduced the course for all personnel employed or engaged on board a vessel; this includes anyone from a mobile hairdresser to entertainment crews. Although it was announced that Port State Control (PSC) would not take action against non-compliance until June 2015, there have been stories of vessels being fined and held in port before this date. This has been added to many STCW95 courses, as John Davies, managing director of Beyond Limits Training explained, “We have recently added Proficiency in Security Awareness to our STCW95 Basic Safety Training Package at no extra cost.”
Seafarer medical certificate/ENG1
As well as the STCW95, you will need to obtain a Seafarer medical certificate, known as an ENG1, before you are able to work at sea. This is a basic examination performed by an MCA certified doctor and costs approximately €100.
There are also a range of other qualifications which can certainly help. View the Yachting Pages guides on crew training for full details.
The International Labour Conference's (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, which entered into force worldwide on 20th August 2013, provides the first comprehensive protection for working seafarers, whilst also promoting conditions of fair competition for ship owners. The 'Holy Bible' for crew at work on a superyacht; this act includes details on all rights and regulations. It gives crew the right to:
- A safe and secure workplace
- Fair terms of employment
- Decent living and working conditions
- Social security protection, medical care, sickness benefit, employment injury benefit
- The opportunity for crew to join the trade union of their choice, should they desire
- If applicable, allow the trade union to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement on the crew’s behalf
The following rights are available for crew:
- A Seafarer’s Employment Agreement (SEA), consistent with the standards set out in the code
- Sufficient time to examine the SEA prior to joining the yacht with the right to seek advice prior to signing
- The SEA to be signed by both parties before employment starts
- The SEA should provide decent working and living conditions as set out by MLC 2006
- Salary to be paid at monthly intervals and a monthly account of such payments to be sent
- The maximum hours of work shall not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any seven-day period
- Leave shall be calculated on the basis of a minimum of 2.5 calendar days per month of employment
- Crew have the right to be repatriated at no cost to themselves, under the conditions specified in the code
- Crew will be provided with food and water free of charge during the time they are on board
- Crew will be covered by adequate measures for the protection of your health while on board at no cost to yourself
Commercial yacht vs. private yachts
If you join a commercially registered yacht as a crew member, you will be protected by the MLC 2006 convention. However, if you are employed on a private yacht, it’s important to be aware that you may not benefit from the same rights. It’s important to request a copy of the contract prior to joining the yacht to ensure that the working conditions are safe and acceptable.
General terms of employment
Working on a yacht is not comparable to any land-based industry. Many, but not all yachts, may ask you to sign crew agreements, non-disclosure agreements and/or comprehensive job descriptions. Crew are normally paid on a monthly basis and are rarely compensated for overtime. Many yachts offer benefit packages that can include health insurance, paid vacations (from two to eight weeks per annum), annual flights and education allowances, although your crew coordinator can make recommendations regarding your conditions of employment, you are responsible for all employment-related negotiations.
Visas are incredibly important if working on a superyacht and not having the correct visas could cost you your job.
Many foreign flagged yachts will only hire non-American crew if they hold a B1/B2 visa for the United States. This is a specific, non-immigration visa which is essential for any potential crew to hold if they wish to work on a luxury yacht which is either a U.S. flagged yacht and/or enters U.S. waters:
- B1 Visa = Visitor for business
- B2 Visa = Visitor for pleasure
The Schengen States are 26 European countries who have signed a treaty allowing holders of a Schengen Visa to travel freely between them. These countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Crewing on a luxury yacht will almost certainly involve you entering and travelling around the Schengen States, so obtaining a Schengen visa, from the Embassy of the Country you will be first visiting, is essential.
Australia provides a superyacht specific visa for crew visiting its shores. The superyacht crew visa allows for the crew of a superyacht to work on board vessels based in Australia for up to one year.
According to the Australian Government immigration department, you must be employed as a superyacht crew member and be sponsored by an approved superyacht crew sponsor or supply details of a potential sponsor who has applied for approval.
If you are granted this visa, you can:
- Stay in Australia for a period of usually no more than 12 months
- Enter Australia as many times as you want while the visa is valid
- Work on your sponsor’s superyacht while you are in Australia
You cannot however do any work that falls outside of the usual day-to-day routine maintenance or business of the superyacht.
Once you have a job, you should apply for a Seaman’s book, which is a personal log book containing all information on your previous job roles and time at sea. Though not officially required, a Seaman’s book will help prove what experience you have and what qualifications you have gained. It’s also recognised by many as a form of proof that you are working on a yacht.
To apply for a Seaman’s book contact the flag registry that the yacht is registered to. A Seaman’s Book is also a compulsory document for applying for transit visas.