How Many Hours a Day Do Cruise Ship Employees Work?

Cruise Ship Docked
Image by: Rob Lilley

Passengers often see the same crew members all day long and wonder how many hours cruise ship employees actually work.

Regardless of the job position, a cruise ship employee generally works between 8 to 12 hours on a “sea” day and sometimes less on a “port” day. This does not include breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks, which can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more. And, certain job positions have almost no hours on a port day.  

For example, as an Internet Cafe Manager, I worked the following:

8am – 12pm9 am- 12pm
2pm – 5pm4pm – 6pm
7pm – 11pm8pm – 11pm
Total: 11 HoursTotal: 8 Hours

As an IT/Communications Officer, I worked the same number of hours on sea and ports days.

Sea and Port
8am – 12pm
4pm – 8pm
Total: 8 Hours

If you’d like to know how many hours a crew member SHOULD be allowed to work by law, why some crew members work less on a port day, as well as other insider information about crew hours, please continue reading below.

But first, a little about sea days and port days, and why this is important to know in order to understand the hours a cruise ship crew member works.

Sea days versus port days

“Sea” days are the days the cruise ship is at sea, often between two ports that are quite far apart. There are usually only one or two sea days in a row for most cruises, but there can be as many as 6 days or more if crossing the Atlantic ocean for example.

“Port” days are the days the ship is visiting a port, and can sometimes be every single day of a cruise.

Logically, because all the passengers are on board during sea days, and fully using the ship’s amenities, the crew are working at their maximum number of hours.

On port days, most passengers are off the ship and therefore fewer crew hours are needed.

When I was an Internet Cafe Manager, the Internet Cafe was full every sea day, but almost empty on port days, so I wasn’t needed.

During my time as an IT/Communications Officer, I would love sea days because they were one of the few chances I had to catch up on sleep and be able to nap during my 4 hours off in the afternoon.

Some positions work the same hours every day

Some positions onboard are not affected by sea and port days. For example,  the Laundry department works the same hours every day because there is a constant flow of laundry each day.

As an IT/Communications Officer, my duties remained consistent as well, so I worked the same hours each day too.

Which cruise ship jobs hardly work on a port day?

If you’re lucky, you might be able to get a job on a cruise ship where you work very limited hours on a sea day.

These positions include both the casino staff and the shop staff.

This is because laws in many countries forbid the casino and the shops to be open, as they consider these revenue centers to be in competition with the ports or violate gambling laws.

But, this doesn’t mean you’ll have these days off completely. The casino and shops may be open earlier in the morning before the ship arrives in port, and late into the evening after sailing again.

During the time in port, the managers may also be balancing the books and staff are restocking the shelves or doing inventory.

Overall though, you’ll most likely get a lot of time off during port days, which makes one of these positions a great way to see the world.

You can read why I think a Casino Dealer and a Shop Worker are two of the best jobs at sea.

Special hours off

Very rarely I saw certain sub-departments getting “special hours off”.  On one ship, all the carpenters got Sunday afternoon off.

We were all quite happy for them, as the carpenters on any ship generally work very long hours (if not a lot of overtime) and an extra 4 hours off makes a huge difference.

How cruise ship employees can get additional time off

Get sick!

Unfortunately, this is usually the only way and it’s not great for your health.

On one ship, I had what was most likely the norovirus, keeping me quarantined in my cabin for 2 days. But after nearly 4 months of working every day straight, and despite throwing up continuously, it was welcomed time off!

Once, while working on cruise ships…

We were at the bottom of the world in Ushuaia, Argentina, and I desparately needed some dental work.

Every time I would chew, searing pain would travel along the roots of my upper teeth, to the point I couldn’t chew any more.

As I didn’t speak Spanish, my taxi driver became my interpretor to the Spanish-only dentist.

I was a little unsure if he explained my situation correctly, as the dentist decided the only thing to do was pull my wisdom tooth!

I was warned by the ship’s doctor that all medical procedures are paid for by the ship for crew – except dental work. Not only was I doubtful about this procedure, but I also knew it was going to come with a big bill.

Luckly for me the pain go away instantly, and I ended up finding out later that tooth extraction was the ONLY dental procedure the ship did pay for!

And, I was granted a full day off – dentist’s orders, which I took full advantage of by sleeping in for the first time in 3 months. Luxurious!

How many hours a day should a cruise ship employee be allowed to work?

Thankfully, the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (‘MLC’) is in place and acts as a watchdog to help make sure cruise ship workers aren’t overworked.

The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (‘MLC’) says that for a cruise ship worker the maximum hours of work must not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any seven-day period; or the minimum hours of rest must not be less than 10 hours in any 24-hour period, and 77 hours in any seven-day period.

Hours of rest may be divided into two periods, one of which must be at least 6 hours. The interval between periods of rest must not be longer than 14 hours.

Keeping to these rules makes sure employees are not overworked and have adequate rest to perform their jobs well, ensuring the safety of both the crew and passengers.

But having worked on a number of ships, I know first hand these hours aren’t always kept, and there are ways around them.

Many cruise ship employees work more hours than they are supposed to

The truth is, cruise ship workers often work more hours than they should.

Sometimes the overages are due to inspections, sometimes the weather. Other times it’s poor planning or there’s just too much work for a limited number of crew.

Regardless of the reason, the ship’s crew are often pressured to only report the hours they are legally allowed to work, or else the ship comes under scrutiny.

Even if the reporting system is designed to promote honestly, whether through time cards, spreadsheets, or another way, there’s always a way around it.

In my experience, on some ships, we had to fill out a spreadsheet that showed the hours we worked and rested each day, which we and our supervisors had to sign.

You’d think we would always report our true hours, but the reality is we did not. If you “stir the pot” and don’t go along with the status quo, chances are the ship will find a reason not to hire you back. It’s not right, but it is the way it is. And none of us wanted to lose our jobs.

You can read more about how challenging some schedules can be in this excellent article from

If you’re considering work at sea, please understand it’s very possible you may be put in a position to under-report your hours in order to keep your job. Always do what you feel is right.

All in all, working on a cruise ship can be an amazing experience, but chances are you’ll be working some long hours!

A Little About the Author...

Rob Lilley is passionate about working on cruise ships, and spent 5 years of his life travelling the seven seas and touching ground on all 7 continents.  With the experience of 2 different job positions in multiple contracts with different cruise lines, from explorer ships to full-sized cruise liners, Rob is keen to share his insider insights with all of those interested in working at sea! More…

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