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FAQ's ABOUT FREIGHTER TRAVEL

Are their limitations on the age of travelers?

Yes. Usually the upper age limit is 79, the lower is about 14 years. These upper and lower limits may vary from one shipping company to another. If you are over 65 you will be required to get a medical certificate from your physician certifying you are fit to travel.

Can I work on a freighter for all or part of my passage?

This is the most frequently asked question I get via Email. The answer is simple. NO!

Are their freighters from any U.S. ports to Hawaii?

No. American flagged freighters don't carry passengers. Foreign flagged ships are prevented by U.S. law from carrying cargo/passengers between U.S. Ports.

How much does it cost?

Between $65-$125 U.S. per day. The average of a voyage is just about $100.00 US per day, for a single person traveling in a single cabin. It is always more expensive for a single to book a double cabin and always cheaper per person for double occupancy of a double cabin. There is an additional charge of about $262.00 for deviation insurance and for US passengers a custom charge of $12.50, per person for departing or entering the country. Keep in mind that more than one owner/charter may have vessels on a given route. The fare charged by different owners on the same route can vary considerably. Shop around.

Beginning January 1, 2002, some agents may be quoting prices in dollars and Euro's. If you want to convert Euro's to dollars, you can use a currency converter. Agents located outside of Europe or the United States will probably quote prices in their local currency, dollars and Euro's.

How do I book a voyage?

Most travel agents do not book freighter voyages. You will have to book through an agent that specializes in this type of travel, such as one of the agents listed on the "agents page", or directly through the ship's agent/manager. Remember that there may be voyages available that the travel agent is not advertising on the Internet or elsewhere. If you want to go on a particular voyage, ask the agent what they have available. Remember also that not all agents offer the same voyages.

When should I make travel arrangements?

Unlike an airline, you cannot call your travel agent on a Friday evening and expect to leave on Monday. Allow several months to plan your trip. I usually start early in January to arrange for a mid April departure. However, some routes are very popular and you may have to arrange for your voyage many months ahead of your desired departure date. New offerings are becoming available every month, so it is possible you can schedule a trip on short notice, but it is better to plan far in advance. Remain flexible with your travel plans. I recently booked a voyage only to be notified the ship I was to board in Los Angeles had grounded and would be unavailable for more than a month after my planned departure date. Luckily, I was able to hop another ship leaving a few days earlier than I had planned.

I have gotten email inquiries wanting to know if it was possible just to go to a port and go from ship to ship seeking passage. The answer is no, even if cabin space is available. I suspect the primary reason for this is that the ship's P&I coverage (protection and indemnity) does not afford coverage. Coverage is probably endorsed on a per voyage bases.

What is an option?

An option is a period of time within which the pre-payment of a portion of the cost of a voyage must be made. Once your travel agent tenders your voyage, your agent will ask for payment of $500.00 , to be paid with in a couple of weeks, if you live in the US, to secure your cabin. Full payment is due usually 60 days before the ship's departure. If you live in Europe it is customary to be required to make a deposit equivalent to 25% of the cost of the voyage. One agent told me that it is customary in some European countries for the agent to expect payment in full once you have contracted for a voyage, even if you are required to cancel the trip.

What size of ship is best?

Having traveled on small container ships (those carrying 1,000 or less containers, under 15,000 d.w.t. and about 485 feet) and large ones (4,500 containers or more, over 63,000 d.w.t. and 950+ feet in length) I much prefer the former. Traveling on large ships is like being on a cruise ship. By this, I mean it is very stable. The majority of time you are unaware of the fact that you are at sea! So, if you like to the feel of the sea, think small. Another potential disadvantage is the possibility that a very large container ship may berth at a newer pier and thus it may be inconvenient (or distant) to get from the ship to the port city (for example, the Port of Kaohsiung, Taiwan). The downside of small freighters is that the size of the cabins are much smaller.

Large ships obviously have larger engines. Accordingly, the engine air intakes, usually on the "A" deck, generate a lot of noise outside of the vessel. These large engines produce a lot of carbon discharge, making decks D and E, where passenger cabins are usually located, quite dirty.

Where can I go?

From just about any major port in the world to any other port. Most lines have regular routes. Frequently you can catch a "tramp" that has no fixed ports of call. It goes where the cargo is found. Americans can not travel between one U.S. port and another.

Can I take a segmented trip?

Many people do not like to take a round about voyage, having neither the time nor the money. Segmented trips are possible with a stop over in port for as long as you want. You can resume your voyage or fly home by plane. These kinds of voyages are popular with people who only have a couple of weeks vacation.

What is the average length of a voyage?

Usually 40 to 50 days, though there are some shorter trips available last a couple of weeks. A round trip from the U.S. West Coast to Australia/New Zealand and return is about 46 days. An around the world voyage lasts generally 80 to 100 days, or more. A westbound voyage from Los Angles, CA. to Hamburg, Germany is about 41 days.

How about accommodations?

Rather nice, equal to, or better than, deluxe accommodations on cruise ships. Almost all ships will have a small refrigerator in each cabin, but not necessarily a TV or VCR. There are no elevators on most ships, so get used to many stairs. All freighter carry less than 12 passengers. Some carry as few as three passengers.

So, what do you do on a freighter?

Read, get some sun, hang out on the bridge. There is no such thing as a cruise director or any kind of activities other then watching a VCR or doing your laundry. Meals are something I looked forward to as they provided an opportunity for some interesting conversation with the ship's officers. Remember, that a freighter is a working ship, passengers are secondary. Some ships have pools, often below the main deck. One smaller containerships I was on was only able to fill the pool half full to prevent the water from sloshing out in rough weather. Bring plenty of books or tapes. You can buy all the beer and hard liquor you want to mellow out, tax free. But, don't expect to find your favorite Scotch or Rye whiskey on board. Selections are limited, but there is enough booze on board to keep any hard core alcoholic happy. A carton of Marlboro's is about $10.85.

Will I get seasick?

Could be. Unlike cruise ships, there are no stabilizers on freighters. Accordingly, there can be a significant amount of pitch and roll, depending on the size of the ship, amount of cargo, and weather. Most of the time waves do not exceed 15 feet (about 3 meters), usually less. There are two things to remember about being seasick: You feel like you are going to die and then you realize that you won't! As a general rule, the bigger the ship and the more cargo aboard, the smoother the "ride". I recently sailed on the Cho Yang Atlas, a 965-foot, and 4,500 T.E.U. container ship and usually was not aware of the fact that I was at sea.

How's the food?

Generally pretty good, but there are good cooks and bad. The food may not be what you are used to, but there is plenty of it. Passengers eat in the officer's mess. The mess steward serves food. There is no choice as to the menu; however, there are some exceptions. Often the crew will have different meals, depending on their country of origin. Passengers can opt for whatever the crew is eating. In fact, you can eat with the crew in their mess, but you serve your self. On my last voyage I was unlucky enough to get the world's worst cook. Everything tended to look and taste the same, but the steward would always inform us that the main entry had some fancy name.

Electrical appliances, will they work?

Most all ships have a 220 volt power supply. The U.S. standard is 110 volts. Accordingly, you should check to see if your computer, razor, radio, etc., have a 110-220V-option switch. If not, you will need a converter. If you are from the U.S., you will need a plug converter (square to round prongs, but you can usually find one on the ship). A small, portable, AM/FM/SW radio is nice to have a long so you can stay in touch with what's going on in the world.

Can I take my pet?

No. However, you can ship your four or five favorite polo ponies from here to there in a container. Of course, the owner is required to have them accompanied by a trainer/keeper, and they will be subject to quarantine regulations.

What can I buy on board?

Cigarettes, beer, soft drinks, tooth paste and the like. All transactions are in U.S. dollars, no checks, or credit cards; often the price of these items is quoted in the currency of the country of registry or vessel ownership, but there may be exceptions. There is no tax on items purchased on the high sea, however the ship's "slop chest" is locked while the ship is in port.

What should I wear?

Depends where you are going and the time of year. Attire is very informal. Jeans, T-shirts, and shorts will work. Leave your coats and ties at home as well as any dresses, unless you want to wear them ashore. Rubber soled shoes (not boat shoes) are a must. Leather soled shoes should be left at home. Since shoes are removed in all carpeted areas of the ship they should be easy to take on and off. This is important as often the deck is wet or has residue from the engine's exhaust.

Is there much noise?

Not really, unless you like to hang out in the engine room. There is a much higher noise level than on a cruise ship, but, like vibration, it is minimal. One exception is the noise generated by the engine intake fans located on the main deck or first deck. Engine exhaust noise is felt and heard on large ships, though not to the extent that it is annoying.

What language is spoken aboard ship?

English, but not necessarily American English. On my last cruise, the Belgium Captain spoke excellent English, but the Ukrainian officers had a limited ability with English. Most of the Filipino crew had a decent command of the language.

Ship board etiquette?

All members of the ship's crew are addressed as "Mr.", unless they tell you to call them by their first name. Do not go on the bridge without asking permission. Usually passengers have access to the bridge at all times. The only exception may be during the period the harbor pilot is aboard. As you will be in an entirely new environment, it will take a few days to get a feeling for the ship and its crew. It is a good idea to learn the name of all officers and crew (there are only 17-20) as soon as possible. It is also recommended that you learn a few words or phrases in the native language of crew members.

If you want to learn a few words of just about any language, go to the link on the "Odds & Ends page. Be sure your speakers are turn on!

How long are port times?

Not very long, usually no more than 18-24 hours, if you are traveling on a container ship. Longer port times are found with general cargo ships. Most travelers travel by freighter because the like the experience of being at sea, not sight seeing in port. It is possible to make voyage from say, Los Angeles, CA. to Auckland, NZ, lay over a week or two and return on the same ship when it again stops in Auckland (having sailed to Australia in the interim). On my last voyage to the South Pacific we laid over in Pago Pago for 2 1/2 days.

How many passengers on an average freighter?

Most ships carry a maximum of twelve passengers. This is the magic number, as ships carrying twelve or less passengers are not required to employ a physician. One or more of the officers has some training in emergency medical treatment, but should you have a medical problem requiring surgical intervention, on an immediate basis, you are just out of luck. I am not trying to scare you, just pointing out the reality of the situation.

What about a Visa?

Check your travel agent to be sure of the visa requirements of the various countries. Non-US citizens must have a visa to enter the United States by cargo ship. Australia requires a visa for all foreign nationals arriving by ship. Ditto for China, but not Hong Kong. The fact that you never leave the vessel is of no consequence. Most countries do not even bother to stamp your passport, though they do check it. It has been my experience that the Capt. will ask for your passport after you board and you may be invited to his cabin for a "chat" with immigration officials after docking, though in this is not the case in most large ports, such as Hong Kong.

Will I need any inoculations?

Depends where you are going. None are required for travel between Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. However, for transit of either the Panama or Suez Canal you will need an inoculation for yellow fever and cholera. In the U.S., these will cost $50 to $60 each. To find out the physicians in your area that provides inoculations your best bet is to call your local Public Health Department. Your travel agent will advise you as to the inoculations you will require.

Restrictions to travel:

Any impairment that would preclude a passenger from climbing stairs. Usually there is an upper age limit of 79. The lower limit is 5. However, this can vary. Some companies require a physical for passengers over a certain age. Pregnant women are usually not permitted. Since all of the passenger carrying containerships are sailing under a foreign flag they are not subject to American laws requiring accommodation of disabled individuals. If you have difficulty negotiating stairs, this will preclude you from travel on a freighter.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Plan what you are going to need on your voyage; bring a short wave radio, videotapes, reading material, a camera, or whatever. A portable computer makes for a handy companion. The ship might have one available for your use, but do not count on it. Once your ship leaves port, that's it; there is no going back. Remember that items such as film are going to cost more than in the U. S., so bring a few rolls with you.

Ships have many stairs and they are steep, so hold on at all times. A few have elevators. After a couple of days (weeks) you will get use to them (smile).

When booking a cabin, get one as high as possible in the super structure, assuming you have available options. If you do not, containers will block your forward view. All most always cabins are outside with a view forward, port, or starboard; some have two views. Of course, the down side to higher cabins is that you will have to go down several flights of stairs to get to the officers mess, which is usually located on the poop deck (one deck above the main deck on ships not stowing containers aft of the super structure) or the main deck. Usually passenger's cabins are on the fourth or fifth deck.

Tipping is optional. Outside of the mess steward there is no one to tip other than the cook, and then only if the food is exceptional. The steward may make up your bed and empty your wastebasket daily; then again, it might be only on a weekly basis, so tip accordingly, if at all.

If you need information about shipping cargo, such as you car (in a container), household goods, etc., here is the place to start to get information. Cargo can be transported on the same vessel you travel on, however, you are probably better off shipping with the line usually used by the freighter forwarding company.

This FAQ is based on my own personal experiences, which may differ from yours.

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