What is a Seafarers Center?

Seafarers' Centers along our nation's coasts and in ports all around the world offer hospitality to the men and women of the sea, serving as a home away from home for visiting seafarers.

Most centers offer telephones, phone cards, and internet access, so seafarers can stay in touch with family and friends. Depending on the route they are traveling, some crews may have been at sea for several days or even a few weeks with no news from home, so being able to use the phone while in port is very important.

Another common service offered by seafarers' centers is transportation - many centers have vans to pick seafarers up from the dock and drive them to stores or area restaurants or to the center if the dock is not close by. In Port Arthur, the Seafarers' Center is within walking distance of the public port, but several other private docks are further out, so the center's two vans get a lot of use.

Recreation opportunities are another feature of the hospitality offered by seafarers' centers, to provide a place where seafarers can kick back and relax, visit, maybe catch a basketball game on TV or challenge someone to a game of pool or darts. At certain times of the year, various ports collaborate to put on sports tournaments between visiting crews from different ships. Port Arthur participates in the SportsWeek of the Gulf Coast with tournaments in ping pong, basketball and volleyball.

Other special programs include a Christmas Gift Box Program, where volunteers collect basic amenities to include in gift boxes, which are distributed to the crew members of ships that visit during Christmas. The Port Arthur center is a distributor for the American Merchant Marine Library Association, which provides 'floating libraries on the high seas.'

There is also an element of spiritual and practical support available. Libraries usually include religious literature, and many seafarers' centers are staffed with chaplains of different denominations who are able to offer spiritual support, coordinate services on-board if desired, or arrange for seafarers to attend religious services locally. Help is also available to seafarers experiencing any kind of trouble; staff and volunteers can advocate for seafarers and assist in contacting organizations that specialize in assisting seafarers with various kinds of problems.
Mostly, staff and volunteers recognize the importance of simply being available to people as

a ministry of presence.