Although these documents may be new to crew who have worked for a number of years within the industry, they are certainly not a recent development. There are now digitised records taken from United Kingdom seafarers based upon discharge notes going back more than 100 years. Before the advent of SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW etc., these documents were the principle and central records of the working history of each individual and their approved qualifications. It is this aspect that is now once again coming to the fore.
The requirement for each seafarer to have a Seaman’s Book, formally known as a Seaman’s Discharge Book, is laid down by the flag states. Some flags of registry insist that the seafarers on their vessels have to have their specific seaman’s books, others readily accept the documents provided by other flag states; this makes matters a little more complicated and can defeat the purpose of having a single record of service, but it is better than not having any records at all. To add further complications, the Seaman’s Books from some flag states have an expiry date whereas others last a lifetime.
Despite these complications, which will be removed in the fullness of time, the ability to be able to prove sea service and place of work within a formal document is actually becoming more and more important. Not only for those who have always needed to do this, such as deck and engineering officers who are required to prove qualifying sea service for their qualifications, but with the introduction of the Ship’s Cook qualification it is also very useful for chefs.
Away from the maritime world, seafarers are increasingly asked to verify their working life in conjunction to tax and social charges in their countries of residence and their seaman’s books are a useful way to formally verify their location at any given time in the past.
Despite the huge changes that have come to working at sea, a Seaman’s Book remains a fundamentally useful document because after all, the basics of sea service, qualification and location will always remain the same.
With thanks to Ocean Management, a division of Ocean Independence.
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