Are their limitations on the age of travelers?
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?
American flagged freighters don't carry passengers. Foreign flagged
ships are prevented by U.S. law from carrying cargo/passengers between
How much does it cost?
$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?
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?
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.
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
What is an option?
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?
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
How's the food?
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?
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?
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
What can I buy on board?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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
What about a Visa?
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?
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.