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.

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.