The Third Step: Becoming A Seafarer
Basic Training (BT) a.k.a. Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS)
In the Philippines, to leave the country and go work as a seafarer, it is required to undergo basic training. All over the world, seafarers are familiar with SOLAS or Safety Of Life At Sea. Later on, SOLAS became known as BSC (Basic Safety Course) then BST (Basic Safety Training) then BT (Basic Training). This will cost you around PHP 7,000 – depending on which training center you go to.
I had my training at MTC in 2006; it was 7 days of lecture, 1 day of practicum. Some of the things we had to learn and demonstrate were First Aid, Fire Fighting, Survival Techniques like the ability to stay afloat, etc.
Now don’t be scared. If I survived it, anyone can! 😉
Upon successful completion of the course, you’ll get your certificate which you will need to get your… drumroll please… Seaman’s Book!
The Seaman’s Book (it’s for females, too)
The Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book (SIRB), more commonly called the Seaman’s Book, looks a lot like a passport.
Some territories that ships sail to require crew members to have a Seaman’s Book. That book also helps you prove that you’re a seafarer, so you can ask the airline to allow a few extra kilos of check-in luggage. Note however that some airlines also want it indicated in your ticket that it’s a seafarer’s fare for you to avail of seafarer luggage allowance.
Unimportant but perhaps good-to-know anecdote: I was flying home June 2010 and the luggage allowance was only 30 kgs for Economy Class. I showed my Seaman’s Book when I checked-in and was entitled to the seafarers’ luggage allowance of 40 kgs. Not bad, eh? 😎 Of course, any excess beyond that will be subject to extra fees. And don’t even think about abusing the system. They’ll require proof that your travel is related to your contract, i.e. not leisure travel.
Just like your Passport which shows which countries you’ve visited, your Seaman’s Book will show which ships you’ve been on. Ain’t that cool?
Documents, Medical et al
You should know that you will be required to go through a full medical.
If you have any existing illness or other health conditions, you will need to see your doctor and get a Medical Certificate saying that you are fit to work and travel. Needless to say, any medications you need, you must make sure you have enough of for the duration of your whole contract. Bring extra, as you cannot be 100% certain that your contract will only be for 6 months. Also, keep a copy of your prescription with you when you travel.
Now and then, there will be other mandatory trainings as per MARINA requirements and according to IMO industry standards — e.g. Anti-Piracy Awareness, Crowd Management Training. The Agency will inform you accordingly.
If you are a Filipino citizen and will be working for Image, then you will be needing a valid C1/D U.S. visa.
For more information on U.S. visas, visit their official website as the fees, rules and guidelines may have already changed.
If you feel your chance for getting a U.S. visa is really low, don’t despair. There are cruise lines that do not sail to any U.S. port. Examples would be Asian cruise lines that only have Asian itineraries.
Very important: Be sure to show up for your U.S. visa briefing, as scheduled by the agency (i.e. Magsaysay), and be sure to pay attention and follow instructions. Visa application/interview procedures do change, and the agency people are the best people to ask as they are kept up-to-date on these matters.
A little advice: For your visa interview (or any document-related appointments or errands), always bring a black pen or two, and ID photos in all sizes (1×1, 2×2, passport size) so you won’t feel pressured and get gullible when the unemployed people lingering outside the U.S. Embassy scare you and say, “Get your black pen now… You can buy from us… Be sure you have ID photos… We can do your ID photos now… Do you have any mobile phone or USB flash drives? They’re not allowed inside. You can leave it with me for a fee and pick it up when you come back out.” Believe it or not, you will survive a day without any electronic gadgets. Seriously. Don’t bring them with you. There’s no facility at the U.S. Embassy for you to leave your stuff while you go in for your interview. Do you really want to leave your gadgets with a total stranger? Sure, they’ll give it back to you. But what if they lose your stuff? You don’t really think they’d be liable, do you? Be smart. 😉
So that was Step 3. Now, click here for Step 4. 🙂