eHarbour Formalities

Formalities on Arrival

Before entering a harbour, the master should make some practical arrangements such as:
  • ordering the pilot;
  • contact the ship's agent;
  • prepare a number of administrative and commercial documents for the local authorities to allow them to give the ship the necessary clearance.
Practical arrangements for ordering of the pilot depend mainly on local customs and can be found in a number of publications such as: Pilot books, Sailing Instructionsand a number of guides such as: Guide to Port Entry and Ports of the World.

To contact the agent well in advance of arrival is necessary to:
  • find out about berthing prospects (if no berths are available the ship can proceed on slow steaming);
  • take all necessary measures regarding the discharging and loading operations of the ship;
  • make arrangements regarding eventual maintenance or repairs;
  • arrange matters concerning the crew (medical care, repatriation, new crewmembers, etc.) cash to master, etc.
  • provisions;
  • bunkers
  • drinking water;
  • etc.
The necessary documents can be grouped into six categories.


Some of above mentioned certificates may have to be produced to Port State Control, in appliance with the Memorandum on Port State Control. Other authorities like the Marine Inspectorate may also ask to see those certificates. Not having those certificates on board may cause a lot of problems to the ship and also cause unnecessary delays. It will also be a sign that the ship was not seaworthy in the spirit of the law.

In most harbours, crew members must have their seaman's book with them before they can go ashore. In some harbours, each crew member must have a "local pass" delivered by the local authority.

  • A Bill of Health (where applicable).
  • Eventually a Bill of Health for each country the ship has visited or will be visiting. Nowadays, this formality has become obsolete in most harbours as most countries have made bilateral agreements to that respect.
  • Maritime Declaration of Health (International Form) – (1 copy). (See also back of document.) The master has to answer on 6 questions. Generally this document is presented to the master by the pilot.
  • International Certificates of Vaccination for the crew and/or passengers (where applicable).
  • De-ratting or De-ratting Exemption Certificate.
All these documents are necessary to give the ship the necessary "free practice".
As long as the Q-flag is hoisted, nobody on board is allowed to go ashore.
Prepare also all necessary formalities if you suspect any contagious disease on board.


First, check the "Custom's Allowances" in the port of call regarding to the amount of cigarettes, tobacco, wines and alcohol each crew member is allowed to have in his or her cabin besides the "bonded stores" on board. Prepare following documents:
  • General Declaration (5 copies). This document gives particulars about:
    • the ship and the voyage;
    • the crew members and passengers if any on board;
    • a short description of the cargo;
    • the next port of call and where the remaining goods will be discharged;
    • the name and address of the ship=s agent, and
    • the name of the berth where the ship is moored.

      It must be signed by the master and the ship's agent in presence of the officer who presented the document. He will then in turn also sign the General Declaration attesting thereby that he has seen all the documents and/or certificates that had to be produced to him.

  • Clearance to show that all dues have been paid in the previous port of call.
  • Ship's Stores Declaration (4 copies).
  • Crew's Effects Declaration (2 copies), sometimes at the back of the Ship's Stores Declaration.
  • Money List.
  • Inventory of the paint on board.
  • Cargo Declaration (4 copies).
  • Dangerous Goods Declaration .
  • Light Dues.
In some harbours, the customs will also examine some other documents such as the Certificate of Registry, the international safety certificates, the International Load Line Certificate, etc.

In some harbours, some custom officers may be less demanding than in others and may ask for fewer documents than mentioned. However, never take any chances as custom officers who suspect the smallest fraudulency can create substantial delays to the ship. So, always check the Guide to Port Entry or the Ports of the World and any other relevant literature published on that subject (especially the one published by the customs themselves). Also rely on the experience of previous captains who have already called at the port and also check carefully with the Company's Regulations.



The type of documents that must be presented to the Consul depends mainly on the law of the flag the ship is flying (Shipping Act).

As nowadays, a great number of ships sail under a flag of convenience, most of the legal formalities in the port of call are reduced to its minimum, largely neglected, or simply not done at all.

It is however of good practice to produce to the consul a number of documents with the request to sign them and/or to provide them with the official seal as by doing so, the document will be officially registered (important for the date it was presented), and will receive more weight or even power of law in a court, if necessary.

Masters must always act in the best interest of their owners, especially regarding the goods and avoid that the ship or the owner be held responsible in case of damage to the goods.

In that spirit, it is of good practice to make a Sea Protest also called Note of Protestwhenever the ship has encountered adverse weather conditions or whenever any circumstance has occurred which may have caused damage to the ship and/or her cargo and, present this Note of Protest to the consul to certify it.

Following documents should also, whenever possible, be presented and certified by the consul of the land of registration:

IMO publishes standard forms of documents which have to be produced to the authorities in the port of departure and the port of arrival together with the number of copies requested. (See also IMO's Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, also known as IMO's FAL Convention.)