Shore Leave for Cruise Ship Crew Improves

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Shore leave for seafarers on cruise ships has improved since the decrease of COVID-19.

Seafarer centers in the United States and Canada report improved access to shore leave provides reduced stress on those working at sea and greater access to support services through local seafaring centers.

Mark Wodka, Director of the Port Canaveral Port Ministry, Florida, reports that cruise ships have increased their shore leave time significantly for their seafarers. On the heels of the global pandemic when seafarers were not allowed off vessels the change is more than welcome. Most cruise ships at Canaveral currently schedule shore leave from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Others are similar. Very few barriers exist at this time, except a rare health-related issue. Seafarers find the change “amazingly freeing” according to Wodka.

Seafarers on cargo ships also experience increased time off their vessels except when Visa issues or an occasional captain’s decision may prohibit.

The Port Canaveral ministry is seeing almost pre-pandemic number of visitors in their center. During October, 5,000 seafarers visited. The busy days are a welcome change from the quiet pandemic days. With the increase, Wodka is looking forward to the arrival of “snowbird” volunteers to run the center or transport seafarers to shopping outlets.

Five Royal Caribbean Cruise ships dock weekly at the Florida port. Greater access to support and care for seafarers has been granted by the cruise line for ministry workers to visit on each vessel twice a month. Such face-to-face visits benefit the seafarers greatly.

“We have plenty of busy days. God is providing,” said Wodka.

The New England Seafarers’ Mission reports shore leave has also improved in the Port of Boston. It is no longer the norm to see entire crews with shore leave restrictions. The excitement of the good news on the mission’s webpage is clear.

“It has been two years, but the cruise ships have returned in full force to Boston this year and the seafarers have filled our center.”

Rev. Steven Cushing says measures show an increase of 11 percent in the center since 2019. He is pleasantly “exhausted” with the center activity. He recognizes the emotional benefit among seafarers.

The challenge Cushing faces at the New England center is to expand the volunteer core. Workers lost during the pandemic may not return. In addition, travel time to the center is a challenge with travel into Boston prohibiting some from partnering with the mission.

Moving forward, Cushing says the mission will need to “work harder and smarter” to best serve its seafarers. 

The Ministry to Seafarers of the Christian Reformed Church outreach in Montreal, Canada, confirms improvements for the crews docking there as well.  

According to Chaplain Michelle DePooter, who manages the outreach, upwards of 95 percent of seafarers are now able to get off their vessels in the Port of Montreal.

During the pandemic, the mission served as a shopping and distribution center for seafarers with very limited mobility. Although seafarers were grateful, the new shore leave opportunity serves them better in multiple ways. Beyond access to a more personal shopping experience, the liberation from the vessels increases personal wellbeing for weary crew.

“We still have some ships where captains do not encourage shore leave, but we have Transport Canada we can turn to if we need,” said DePooter. Transport Canada issued a Ship Safety Bulletin in September stating, “Authorized representatives of foreign ships in Canadian waters are expected to make every effort to approve shore leave for seafarers as soon as possible after a ship’s arrival in port, which is essential for seafarer physical and mental health.” (Transport Canda, SSB, 19/2022)

Beyond shopping, some seafarers are not accustomed to using the mission. Acquainting them with the provisions of the center continues and increasing volunteers who are willing to flex with the ebb and flow of the center is an ongoing reality for the Montreal center.

Passing through the pandemic and its restrictions finds seafarers in a much better place today. Increased shore leave is a major key.

Photo: a busy day in the New England Seafarers’ Mission (Posted Nov. 4 on Facebook).