Planning to visit ashore?

For seamen and passengers alike, going out of the port for a visit of the city can be interesting and challenging at the same time. All must follow the same rules, obey the same laws and for this reason, it can be easier if passengers and seamen join forces and find together better solution for this problem.

Before going out for a visit, you have to know how long the ship is going to stay in the port, how much time is needed to arrive to the gate and how far the city is. You’ll also have to leave your contact telephone number to the officers on board, so you can be reached in case of some emergency.

A very important thing to consider is that, regardless the time of staying alongside, everybody (seamen and passengers) should be back on board 2 hours before departure. It’s one of the rules you have to comply with if you want to respect the others and not to cause any problems. You have to take it into consideration and think about it as a way of safety for you and for everybody else. All the time, cargo operation can be completed before the predicted time and for this reason the vessel can depart earlier then it was first prognosticated. So, if the vessel is set for a departure at 20:00, everybody must be back on board at 18:00 and in the case of an earlier complete cargo operation, the vessel can sometimes leave the port one or two hours in advance. Immediately upon arrival in the port, after consulting with the agent, the captain has to set the ‘shore leave expire’ which represent exactly the maximum time of returning back on the ship for those who want to go out. Normally, these ‘shore leaves’ can expire 2 hours prior to departure and everybody must return to the vessel in due time. If you are a passenger, you have to understand that any small delay from your side can cause lots of problems to the vessel and, in some, cases, if your delay is longer than one hour, the vessel can leave without you.

Twenty or thirty years ago, vessels used to stay alongside for weeks, even months. Loading and unloading of the cargo took a lot of time and everything was done in a very slow motion. Then seamen could go out as long as they wanted, visit and revisit the cities around the port and even live completely different lives. At that time, there were stories about seamen who used to have ‘families’ in all the ports they were passing through and these stories could have been true.

But those times are long gone now. In the era of big container vessels – when everything moves so fast – you can consider yourself very lucky if the ship you are traveling with (or just working on) stays 24 hours alongside. The bigger the ship and the ports are, the shorter the docking time is. In the big and  crowded ports of China a mid size port container can be unloaded and loaded very fast, expecting a port stay of 8 to 10 hours. These things really happen in China nowadays and it’s almost impossible even to think of the opportunity of going out to visit the surroundings. Only if confirmed that cargo operations last for 10 hours you can have a try and run out of the port for a short sightseeing, taking also into account the fact that you’ll need a lot of time to reach the gate inside the very big ports.

The average docking period for a medium size container vessel can be between 6 and 12 hours. In some bigger ports in Europe or in the USA, 6 hours can be also insufficient to go out. If the vessel stays alongside for at least 12 hours you can be a little more relaxed and try to enjoy the day, as a regular tourist.

If you solved the problem concerning time, you have to focus now on transportation.

In most ports of the world, there are two aspects concerning transportation – one is inside the port and the other is outside.

The rules regarding moving inside the port can be different from one port to another and these rules can change very rapidly. In the last few years, the rules concerning safety increased in most ports around the world and now it is very unusual to see people walking along the piers, crossing over from one terminal to another by walking or even make a 2 minute journey on foot to the gate.

For this reason, most of the ports provide a shuttle bus service (usually free of charge) to take the seamen (and passengers) from their ship and get them to the gate. In some ports, this shuttle bus service is very prompt and helpful, but in some big and crowded ports it can be a real problem of time consuming. Sometimes, regardless the size of the port and the short distance to the gate, you can be forced to wait for this shuttle bus for half an hour (or even more) and waste a lot of your so precious time. But, as walking on the pier is strictly forbidden, you have no other chance to get to the gate than wait for the shuttle bus.

There are still many areas in the world where walking inside the port is permitted. In this case, you do not need anybody to take you to the gate, you only need to know the direction in which to go. In ports like these you have to be very careful. Walking on the pier and crossing the roads inside the port is very dangerous and you are the one who has to pay attention. You have to keep clear of the big trucks rushing everywhere and the machines caring the containers. You’ll also have to be careful while passing under the big gantries. In ports where people can freely walk on the pier and under the cranes during the working hours the safety rules do not concern anybody, but they must concern you. So, if the port does allow you to walk, you have to know that you are doing this at your own risk and the port cannot be held responsible for any injuries you may have. If this happens in ports from Africa, India, Pakistan  or Philippines you have to take real care of yourself and try to comply with your own safety rules: always keep the route which follows the pier, not overcrossing the road and never pass under the working cranes. Paying attention while walking inside the port is the most important rule you have to obey for your own safety.

Also in Europe there are ports where walking is still permitted. For example, in the port of Barcelona, people are allowed to walk from the ship to the gate, but only following some mandatory routes.

In some ports from Argentina, you can walk on the pier freely, but in some ports from USA you are not even allowed to wait for the shuttle bus on the pier. You are not allowed to walk alongside your vessel for 2 minutes and you have to wait for the shuttle bus on the ship, coming on the pier only when the bus has arrived.

Many ports, many rules. All you have to do is find out the rules before going out and comply with them.

In some ports (even in the USA) you can call a taxi to come and get you into the city and the taxi is allowed to enter the port. The driver must have a special permit to do this (but, this is not your concern) and, in this case, going out can be very easy for you as the taxi will pick you up from the ship and take you whenever you want.

As rules and regulations can change very rapidly, it’s important for you to know and understand things in advance, taking into consideration the fact that every port is different. For this reason, you will need to make your inquires before arriving in the port in order to save precious time.

If the crew on board has already made the same route before, they can offer you all the needed information. Otherwise, you can find out everything  you want as soon as the ship goes alongside and the agent or some other authorities come onboard. You will be able to plan your trip ashore and make the best of it, for your own safety and also for the sake of others.

In this case, all you have to do is enjoy the ride and, once you come back home, share your experiences with other people.

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