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Before you board

Before you board

The best guarantee of proper working conditions at sea is to only sign a contract (Seafarers’ Employment Agreement (SEA)) drawn up in accordance with an ITF-approved collective agreement (to find out if your ship is covered by an ITF approved agreement, use the Look Up section, or contact the ITF Seafarers' Support team by email at

If you are signing up to an individual contract, here are some things you must check 

  • Do not start work on a ship without having a written contract. It is a requirement of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) that you can review the contract before signing and seek advice if you want
  • Never sign a blank contract, or a contract that binds you to any terms and conditions that are not specified or that you are not familiar with
  • A list of the information that must be included in your contract can be found on page 17 of the ITF Guide for Seafarers to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (see Downloads)
  • Check if the contract you are signing refers to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA - something a union has negotiated on behalf of the crew). If so, make sure that you are fully aware of the terms of that CBA, and keep a copy of it along with your contract
  • Make sure that the duration of the contract is clearly stated
  • Any change to the duration of the contract should be by mutual agreement, Do not sign a contract that allows the shipowner to change the period without consulting you
  • Always ensure the contract clearly states the basic wages payable and the basic working hours (for example 40, 44 or 48 per week). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says that basic working hours should be a maximum of 48 per week (208 per month)
  • Make sure that the contract clearly says how overtime will be paid and at what rate. There could be a flat hourly rate for any time worked in excess of the basic. Or there may be a monthly fixed amount for a guaranteed number of overtime hours, in which case the rate for any hours worked beyond the guaranteed overtime should be clearly stated. The ILO says all overtime should be paid at a minimum of 1.25 x the normal hourly rate
  • Make sure that the contract clearly says how many days paid leave you will get each month. The ILO states that paid leave should be at least 2.5 days per calendar month
  • Make certain that the payments for basic wages, overtime and leave are clearly and separately laid out in the contract
  • Check that your contract says that you are entitled to the costs of you getting home.  Never sign a contract with any clause saying you are responsible for paying any portion of joining or repatriation expenses
  • Do not sign a contract that allows the shipowner to withhold or retain any portion of your wages during the period of the contract. You should be entitled to full payment of wages earned at the end of each calendar month
  • Be aware that an individual employment contract will not always include details of additional benefits. So you should try to obtain written confirmation of what compensation you will get in the event of:
    • sickness or injury during the contractual period
    • death (amount payable to the next of kin)
    • loss of the vessel
    • loss of personal effects resulting from the loss of the vessel
    • premature termination of the contract.
  • Do not sign a contract that contains any clause that restricts your right to join, contact, consult with or be represented by a trade union of your choice
  • Ensure that you are given and retain a copy of the contract you have signed
  • Check the conditions for terminating your contract, including how much notice the shipowner must give you
  • Remember… if you voluntarily sign up to a contract, the terms and conditions will be legally binding in most jurisdictions 

To find out if your ship is covered by an ITF approved agreement use the Look Up section, or contact the ITF Seafarers’ Support team by email at