What is a "Seaman's book", and can it really replace a passport for some or all immigration purposes? Even Wikipedia the all-knowing does not seem to know, although it contains many tantalizing references.

UK immigration enforcement:

Seaman deserters may not have a passport but rather hold a Seaman's Book, (a national identity document issued to professional seamen that contains a record of their rank and service career).

Visa policy of Hong Kong:

Possession of one of the following documents is sufficient to demonstrate [right to abode] ...

  1. Hong Kong Seaman's Identity Book
  • 5
    I looked into this a bit more and am increasingly confused about the fine gradations between a Seaman's Card, a Seaman's Book, a Seafarer's Identity Document, Ordinary Seaman's Certificate, Merchant Mariner's Document, Merchant Mariner Credential etc. Here's hoping a salty sailor comes along to sort out the mess... Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 12:37
  • 2
    I'm primarily interested in what the deal is right now, but I'm secondarily interested in everything travel-related :) Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 12:44
  • Wikipedia knows about the 1958 convention and the 2003 convention.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 13:03

1 Answer 1


The 'Seaman's Book' provides a travel document that can be used instead of a passport in some cases. In order to be used as a passport, the situation must be appropriate (i.e., joining or leaving a vessel) and the book itself must contain all of the information that a passport would normally contain.

But the big selling point of having a Seaman's Book, comes when it is presented by a person who would ordinarily require a visa to enter the country. If the seaman can show that he is joining or leaving a vessel then the border official can waive the visa requirement.

Example: A Nigerian national with a Seaman's Book is joining a vessel currently anchored in Marseille and due to sail somewhere else. He can present his Nigerian passport along with his Seaman's Book and enter the zone without having to get a Schengen visa.

This will work in every country that is a signatory to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 108 (and in limited circumstances ILO No. 185). The linked site contains all the provisions and details.

So they are a great thing to have, but hard to get.

  • 1
    Can a civilian get one?
    – JoErNanO
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 13:36
  • 8
    @JoErNanO, yes. see maritimeskills.org/careers/merchant_navy/mn_quals.htm for how to get started
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 13:48
  • 5
    @JoErNanO given the ILO angle, I suspect that only civilians can get them.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 17:11
  • GayotFow, if my edit is incorrect, please advise and/or roll back. Thanks.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 20:35
  • 3
    In practice, an invitation letter/printed-email from employer is also needed along with seaman book and passport to enter one country
    – Him
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 4:34

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