Freighter Cruise FAQ's

What is a freighter cruise?

Freighters are one of the lifelines of the world economy, but of the approximately 29,000 large ocean-going ships in the world, only about 1 % carry both passengers and cargo. It's a special niche servicing those travellers with the time and temperament to sail long itineraries - from a few weeks to several months - and who don't mind doing without the amenities of a modem cruise ship.

What are the ships like?

Working ships that set aside cabins for passengers fall into three basic groups:
  1. Container ships carry shipping containers stacked like so many building blocks on their immense decks. They account for the bulk of ocean-going trade today.
  2. General cargo ships that are used to transport large or unwieldy goods. You may be sailing with some luxury yachts sitting on the deck.
  3. And, finally, there are supply and mail ships that regularly travel to isolated coastal communities and islands.
How large are the freighters?

To-day's container ships range from 20,000 tons to over 100,000 tons or, when expressed in container capacity, between 2,000 and over 10,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). General cargo ships are approximately 20,000 to 40,000 tons while supply ships vary depending on the size of the ports they are servicing.

What flags do they fly?

Many freighters fly "flags of convenience", meaning that the vessel is one where the nationality of the owners is different from the country of registration. Today, more than half of the world's merchant ships are registered under the so-called flags of convenience, more commonly referred to as "open registries." Most ships available for passengers do not include the flag in their data unless it is specifically requested. But they do show the nationality of the owners or managers, as well as the senior offices and crew members and the charterer for whom the ship is running its operation.

How safe are the ships?

Every ship is supervised during its construction and checked and tested for seaworthiness throughout its life by a classification society. These societies include the Lloyd Register (LR), the American Bureau of Shipping (AB), Germanisher Lloyd (GL), Bureau Veritas (BV) and Norske Veritas (NY). The initials of the Society responsible for the ship appear on the hull as part of the Plimsoll mark. The Plimsoll mark, or line, indicates the depth to which the ship can be safely loaded during various seasons and in various locales. Port authorities on every voyage ensure the ship's compliance with this law and with respect of the security of people aboard and the cargo.

What about pirates?

Piracy has been with us through the ages of shipping, but today it is confined to a few specific regions. Pirates usually do not target large and fast ships and the smaller expedition mail and coastal ships offered to Maris passengers operate outside the known dangerous areas. The International Maritime Organization (the United Nations specialized agency responsible for maritime safety) monitors, investigates arid reports on all piracy incidents. Their website is www.imo.org.

How many passengers do the freighters carry?

Usually up to 12, but in many cases not more than four or five.

What will my fellow passengers be like?

They are often quite affluent, but unpretentious, preferring the quiet life aboard a freighter to the extravagant amenities and glitzy entertainment on cruise ships. You may find that some passengers are, or have been, small-yacht sailors who now feel a bit too elderly to undertake the rigours of sailing alone, or wish to visit far-away ports.

Which language is spoken on board?

English is the lingua franca of all freighters. Officers and crew use their own languages amongst themselves but will always address the passengers in English.

How do passengers spend their time aboard?

Relaxing and watching the sea pass by, reading, writing, playing games, watching movies, using individual computers, drawing and painting, visiting the officers on the bridge, taking photographs (especially in the ports), planning port visits, and, of course, socializing with the group during happy hour and meals.

What is the accommodation like?

Passenger cabins are located on the upper decks and have the same facilities as officers' cabins, including en-suite bathrooms and air-conditioning. They are usually more spacious than cabins on the average cruise ship. Some provide additional amenities such as a mini fridge and TV /DVD and CD players. Cabins are cleaned and linens are changed by the steward at times that vary with the ship. Front and aft-facing cabins may have their views obstructed by the containers stowed on the deck. Usually passengers and officers share the dining room, lounges with TV and libraries, exercise room, saunas, swimming pool and other facilities. Self-service laundry facilities are available. Deck space can be limited, but there is always room for the deck chairs.

What are the meal arrangements?

Passengers share meals with the captain and officers at set times. They are included in the cruise price. Complimentary wine is offered on many ships and the pantry is usually open for light snacks. Complicated dietary needs cannot be met but most chefs will try to prepare an alternative if the menu of the day is not to someone's liking. Dining rooms are normally smoke-free, but the lounge/bar may not be. There may be a small onboard shop selling basic toiletries, beverages and cigarettes. Bars are usually self-service with accounts settled with cash in US dollars or Euros.

What about tipping?

Tipping is at the passenger's discretion and is limited to the cabin and dining room stewards (often the same person) who will share it with the chef. A guideline is to allow between $3 and $5 per day, per person.

Do freighters have telephone, fax and e-mail connections?

Yes, they do, but they are satellite connections and telephone and fax fees can be as high as $5 per minute. Internet is not available, but e-mail can be arranged with the captain free of charge.

What about electricity?

Electricity is 220V/50 cycles. A two-prong round adapter and converter are needed for North American appliances.

Do the ships have stabilizers?

Freighters run deep in the water, which slows their motion in rough seas, thus serving them better than any stabilizer. However, even in calm weather, expect a gentle roll. Most passengers adapt very quickly to this movement.

What clothing should I bring?

Bear in mind that weather can change during any voyage; take layers of practical clothing, good footwear suitable for deck walks and trips ashore and a hat that can be fastened onto your head. Old, dark coloured clothing is a good idea, as work is constantly underway on board: washing, painting, greasing etc. Eventually, these can be donated as cleaning rags to the oilers in the engine room, leaving luggage space for your shopping. Two suitcases per person are allowed. Arrangements can also be made to transport larger items, such as your car.

What about passport, visa and medical matters?

Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond your anticipated return date and all necessary visas must be obtained before departure. Vaccinations may also be necessary; these vary from time to time and for different parts of the world. A doctor is required on board when the passenger group exceeds 12. For smaller groups there is no doctor and all passengers must ensure that they are fit to travel. A medical questionnaire must be completed and signed by your physician and International Health and Accident Insurance is mandatory. Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance is not required, but is highly recommended. There may be elevators on board, but passengers who require an elevator and who are not fully mobile cannot be accepted.

What services are available in port?

The Captain, officers and port agents may be able to offer some advice about shore visits, but don't count on this. It's best to be well-informed about your ports of call and what you want to see. Average port time is one day; longer for general cargo ships and those ports lacking modem facilities, and less for mail and coastal ships making frequent calls. Vessels dock at terminals which are often outside the centre of town, so passengers usually have to take a taxi. However, you'll usually find your fellow passengers heading in the same directions, so sharing is easily arranged.

Do itineraries change? And do I have to pay extra if the voyage takes longer?

Yes, ports of embarkation and debarkation, as well as the itinerary, may change so passengers are advised to keep this in mind when budgeting and making pre-and post-freighter travel arrangements. It is recommended that you plan to arrive at or near your embarkation port a day or two ahead of time, when you can contact the port agent to verify the vessel's arrival, its location in the port and your boarding time. Unless otherwise stipulated, there is no extra charge for an extended voyage, nor refunds for shortened ones.

(Source: The Travel Society, Maris Freighter & Specialty Cruises (since 1993) and Freighter Travel Club International (since 1958). To investigate freighter cruising farther, log on to www.jreightercruises.com or call I-800 99-MARIS. )

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