Everything You Ever Wanted to know about ‘Shore Leave’

Shore leave is defined as the period during which a sailor is allowed to take a leave from the ship while the vessel he is working on is docked in the port. The period of the leave can vary from a couple of hours to a few days depending on the time the ship is scheduled to be on the port.

Though it is important to dedicate a considerable amount of time for recreational activities of the crew while the ship is on the port, the concept of shore leave is commonly ignored by ships because of several reasons.

Technically, shore leave is a part of the sailor’s work time on the vessel. However, recently, because of several safety issues the concept has been jeopardized. As the news of regulations regarding shore leaves make rounds, let’s take a look at the things in broad perspective.

shore leave
Photograph by Captain Manish Nayyar

Why shore leaves are important?

Just like in any other profession, professionals working on ships also require a break to relax and unwind. Shore leaves, a practice which is gradually fading away, has been followed because of several good reasons.

  • For sailors who have been holed up on same vessels for months, the shore laves come as a much needed break
  • During the shore leave, a sailor gets a chance to explore the port city for a brief amount of time. The change in the physical environment that comes with it is much needed for the well being of sailors who work under severe conditions aboard.
  • The mental health of sailors is boosted through the shore leaves.
  • According to research, sailors working without adequate shore leave are more vulnerable to mental exhaustion which gravely affects their work efficiency.
  • Confined spaces and monotonous routine leads to acute boredom on ships. Living constantly under such circumstances results in stress, depression, and home sickness.

What are a seafarer’s rights for shore leave?

The seafarer’s right to shore leaves has been legally recognized. International Maritime regulations state that every seafarer is entitled to a shore leave, as granted by the master of the ship. Other rights of seafarers in regard to shore leaves are as mentioned below:

  • A seafarer can be provided a shore leave as per the discretion of the ship’s master.
  • However, the decision regarding the shore leave, as made by the ship’s master should only be based on orders from the port authority


  • No seafarer can be denied his right to shore leave as a punishment for an activity aboard, unless mentioned so legally.
  • As mentioned by the International Maritime Organization Convention on Facilitation of Maritime Traffic, foreign crew members shall be allowed ashore by the public authorities while the ship is in the port, provided that the formalities of arrival of the ship have been fulfilled. If all the formalities are satisfactorily done, the public authorities have no reason to deny the permission to seafarers on grounds of public health, safety or order. This convention is followed in all the ninety-two countries that ratified it.
  • ILO- 185 also states that port authorities are deemed to allow permission of shore leave to all seafarers. The only legally allowed reasons for the denial of the same can be done in name of public safety, health and order.
  • International convention codifies that mariners shall not be required to hold a visa for the purpose of shore leave. However, he or she must have a CDC and permission given from the port authority.
  • The Seafarer’s Identity Document Convention, 1958 requires the government to issue every seafarer a Seafarer’s identity document. This document alone shall be enough to enable seafarers to go for shore leaves, without need of additional documents.

What are the problems arising with the shore leave?

Despite having pointed at several occasions, the importance of shore leaves for seafarers, the issue of shore leaves remains under discussion. Recently, several cases have come up where seafarers were denied access to port.

At the thirty-sixth session of the Facilitation Committee, the issue regarding difficulties encountered by the seafarers who had been refused shore leaves and access to shore based facilities were raised. The main reason behind these complications was identified as divergences in the implementation of the IMO instruments adopted to ensure uniform execution of SOLAS and ISPS code. Maximum numbers of such cases have been noticed on the US ports where the seafarers were denied access for:

  • Not possessing D-1 visa
  • Not being granted access through private terminals
  • Not allowed entry for safety purposes

The major controversy on the subject was sparked after September 11, 2001 when in lieu of security reasons, the idea of unregulated access to foreign personnel into the country was raised.

At present, the conflict remains between the human rights and the security issues of several member governments.

To address the much sensitive issue of shore leaves, discussions are being carried out.

–          ISPS code provides a Port facility security Plan (PFSP) which, as per the ISPS guidelines, must contain procedures for facilitating shore leave, crew changes and access for visitors including representatives of seafarers’ welfare and labor organizations.

–          As per the Conference 11 resolution of the SOLAS Conference, all the contracting governments are being urged to consider the human element in the marine industry, along with a special protection to the rights of seafarers and critical importance of shore leave.

–          IMO members are being urged to devise procedures and establish measures to provide better coordination and cooperation among the public authorities, administrators, ports and terminals to enable full implementation of conventions.

–          MERPAC recommends specifically for the US Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security to modify the present CFR’s to conform to the ISPS code for shore leave, as part of the US’s signatory obligations.

Shore leave is one of the basic rights of every seafarer. It not only gives seafarers the much needed break but also increase their work efficiency.

Have you ever been denied shore leave at any port? We would like to know about that. Please share your experiences.

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  1. please my company denied me access to sign up this site because they have banned the site on there network, is there any way i can get access please as i am highly interesting to be part of this latest development.

  2. some points i would like to highlight with shore leave ,
    1. the seafarer returns exhausted and is unable to perform his duties during his watches and god forbid there are critical operations going on.
    2. Today with skeleton crew, with max 2/ 3 persons on deck during watches and a non performing crew member due to exhaustion of going ashore, leaves the cargo operation officer in a critical situation.
    3. Watches can be adjusted within crew members but what is duration of the stay is very short. What about rest hours compliance.
    4.Shore leave is great way to ease the mind off, but most of the ports either the nearest city is so far that to reach there, takes about 2/3 hours even more including waiting for the transport then travel etc.
    5. Slowly crew are realising its not worth it , to spend money and come back exhausted.

  3. most of the ports /terminals a seafarer is seen as a liability on their asset. to put it in simple words, what if an accident happens inside the installation/terminal/port who pays for his compensation. the port authority ? forget the company. It is the liability reason which terminates the seafarers shore leave , thereby making it a jail like situation.

  4. Mr Baba Bakri i don’t know who are you but because of people like you atmosphere on ships is getting worthless as you only think about work work and work and remember you will never be able to have great work efficiency from people because i am sure if you are chief engineer or master people will be abusing you all the time.So plz increase your mental caliber and be optimistic seamen are humans not animals. they need rest and also recreation.

  5. Been at anchorage for total of 6 months now.cannot go to shore because the company is quite hesitant to pay for the launch to take us there. But now quite some people onboard are finished their contracts and still the company wants to wait for the next port(which maybe a month more waiting) to relieve them because the boat/launch is very expensive here in australia.

  6. I am engine crew member, we (all engine crew) have been denied to go ashore by our chief engineer as punishment due to the verbal fight between two engine crew members. The second punishment (for me and my assistant only) was after we go ashore and we didnt return on time (time that I told to our boss to come back) due to we loss our way. Is this right?

  7. Hello can anyone explain, i have shore leave more than 24 hours, let say, i shore leave today and come back tomorrow, my company charged me jump ship, so i will be blacklisted. Anyone can advise?

  8. It seems times have changed, since, during my tour of duty (1969-72) we really didn’t have the concerns present today. I was unmarried, and much of shore leave while on a Middle East or Red Sea cruise, with port calls in Recife, Brazil; Monrovia; Luanda, Angola; Sierra Leone, Mozambique;Mombasa, Kenya; Madras and Bombay, India,; Karachi, Pakistan; Bahrain, Seychelle Islands, Mauritius and Madagascar had little of the security issues that are present today. We were all, pretty much, typical of the naval stereotype. We rushed off to one of slews of bars/cat houses, drank, then drank some more, while a smaller percentage of the guys visited those fabulous opium dins of India and Pakistan. If such dins existed here at home, I believe the anxiety and stress levels in Americans would fall dramatically. Overall, my shore leave, in those days, wasn’t necessarily something to write home about, but it sure was very stress reieving.

  9. We are currently in Ghanaian waters working out of Takoradi, many of the crew have been on board the vessel for over 60 days, we have made several port calls to pick up project equipment and every time we come in we are denied shore passes by the SRI EMAS management on the beach. I am pretty sure this constitutes a breach of the rights of a seafarer, no valid reason has been given, we just get a flat reply of ‘No’

    How can we report this to the relevant authorities, many of us just want to stretch our legs, have a change of scenery and purchase some essential toiletries.

  10. CBP is denying shore leave for crew tomorrow in Bayonne, New Jersey.
    This includes US citizens. Is this allowed?

  11. The port can do it if they feel there is any security issue. However, the details should be provided to the master of the ship.

  12. Our company continues with a shore leave ban from midnight to 6am. It is a legacy internal rule that was introduced in an attempt to minimise excessive alcohol consumption and pre-dates the Maritime Labour Convention. It remains in force for all ships on every day in every port. I believe it is now in contradiction with the workings of the MLC not to mention the inherent labeling of all seafares as alcoholics!! .

  13. Algeria, even after ratification of MLC in 2016 is not able to grant shore leaves for crewmembers.

  14. Not Only Algeria, There are many such ports who cite security reasons for not granting the shore leave.

  15. I would like to issue a question. We are currently in USA for about 3 months, shore passes are expired and the company claims that it is not possible to disembark from USA because we need to get port clearance from USA to be issued again shore passes. A guy from port facilities told us today that it is possible for crew change without shore passes,since we have American visa for working on board but with an escort. However the company claims that this is not possible. Which one is the true case. Also I would like to ask for a link which states the methods in accordance with the existing laws for this situation.

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