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Organisation of seafarers' working time

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Organisation of seafarers' working time

This Directive aims to protect the health and safety of seafarers by laying down minimum requirements with regard to working time. The agreement applies to all seafarers on board vessels registered in a Member State and/or flying the flag of a Member State of the European Union (EU).


Council Directive 1999/63/EC of 21 June 1999, as amended, concerning the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the European Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) and the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST).


This Directive defines the minimum rules for the organisation of work in the marine sector. The specific nature of the sector requires the adoption of specific rules, different to those in Directive 2003/88/EC on the organisation of working time.

Directive 1999/63/EC implements the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Convention on the hours of work of seafarers. This Convention was consolidated by the ILO’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), adopted in 2006.

The MLC aims to create a single instrument to be applied to seafarers * which complies with international labour standards. Member States and social partners may insert more favourable provisions.

Workers involved

This Directive applies to seafarers on board every sea vessel registered in the territory of a Member State, whether publicly or privately owned, which is ordinarily engaged in commercial maritime operations. A ship that is on the register of two Member States is deemed to be registered in the State whose flag it flies.

Hours of work

The normal working hours’ standard is eight hours per day, with one day of rest per week and a rest period corresponding to leave. Member States may not authorise a less favourable collective agreement.

Hours of work * and rest * of seafarers are laid down as follows:

  • either the maximum hours of work which must not exceed:
  • or the minimum hours of rest which must not be less than:

Hours of rest may not be divided into more than two periods, one of which must be at least six hours in length. The interval between consecutive periods of rest must not exceed 14 hours. Musters and drills, in particular fire-fighting and lifeboat drills, must be conducted in a manner that minimises the disturbance of rest periods. A compensatory rest period must be provided in the case of rest periods being disturbed.

The master of a ship must take all measures necessary to ensure that the conditions relating to hours of work and rest are met. The master shall keep a record of the daily hours of work and rest of seafarers. Furthermore, the national authorities may request the shipowner to provide information on the watchkeepers and night workers *.

In addition, the manning levels of a ship shall be determined in order to avoid or minimise excessive hours of work and to ensure sufficient rest. The shipowner must ensure that the master of the ship has the necessary staff and resources.


Seafarers shall receive paid leave. Annual leave shall be calculated on the basis of a minimum of 2.5 working days per month of employment and on a pro-rata basis for incomplete months. The minimum period of paid leave cannot be replaced by financial compensation, except at the end of an employment contract.

Specific conditions

The master of a ship may require a seafarer to perform any hours of work necessary for the immediate safety of the ship, persons on board or cargo, or for the purpose of giving assistance to other ships or persons in distress at sea.

The master may also suspend the schedule of hours of work or hours of rest until the normal situation has been restored. As soon as practicable after the normal situation has been restored, the master shall organise adequate periods of rest.

Non-compliance with hours of work

All necessary measures must be taken to ensure compliance with the hours of work and rest, including the revision of manning levels of a vessel. Vessels must have a team with the sufficient number of personnel and skills required to ensure safety.

Member States shall determine the penalties to be applied to infringements of this Directive.

Age of workers

Seafarers under the age of 18 are not permitted to work at night. Exceptions are possible to enable training organised under the framework of study programmes, if they are carried out in accordance with the rules on health and welfare at work.

No person under 16 years of age is allowed to work on a ship. In addition, the employment or engagement of seafarers under the age of 18 is prohibited where the work is likely to compromise their health or safety.

Certificate of fitness to work

All seafarers must:

  • possess a certificate attesting to their fitness for the work for which they are employed;
  • have regular health assessments.

The medical certificate is valid for a maximum of 2 years or for one year if the seafarer is under the age of 18. In urgent cases, the national competent authority may authorise a seafarer to work for 3 months without a valid certificate until the next port of call, provided he has a recently expired certificate. The certificates of seafarers carrying out international voyages must be provided at least in English.


In order to reduce staffing costs some shipowners may be tempted to register their ships on “open registers” also known as under a “flag of convenience”. These third country flags are less strict, in terms of social standards, than European flags, and do not comply with the same rules on occupational safety and labour law.

In order to limit the effects of registration under flags of convenience, port State control has been increased. It enables the EU to potentially inspect all vessels calling into its ports, regardless of the flag or nationality of the staff.

Key terms used in the act

  • Seafarer: any person who is employed, engaged or working in any capacity on board a seagoing ship.
  • Hours of work: time during which a seafarer is required to do work on account of the ship.
  • Hours of rest: time outside hours of work; this term does not include short breaks.
  • Shipowner: the owner of the ship or any other organisation or person (such as the manager and agent or bareboat charterer), to whom the owner has entrusted the responsibility for the operation of the ship from the shipowner and who on assuming such responsibility has agreed to be responsible for the duties and responsibilities incumbent on shipowners according to the terms of this agreement, irrespective of the fact that other entities or persons take on in their name some of these duties and responsibilities.
  • Night: a period of nine consecutive hours at least, commencing at the latest at midnight and ending at the earliest at 5 a.m.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 1999/63/EC



OJ L 167 of 2.7.1999

The successive amendments and corrections to Directive 1999/63/EC have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Annex – Agreement of the European social partners

Council Directive 2009/13/EC [OJ L 124 of 20.5.2009].

See also

Last updated: 23.03.2011