This article documents and discusses a local labour control regime employed by Chinese crewing agencies to restrict the mobility of newly graduated officer seafarers. The shipping industry relies on a stable and skilled seafarer workforce on flexible employment, assembled globally with the help of local crewing agencies. A stable workforce and flexible employment do not seem easily compatible. This article examines how Chinese crewing agencies help manage this tension in China through analysing the experience of seafarers. It argues that to cater for the demand of international shipping companies, Chinese crewing agencies adopt a particular local labour control regime that re/produces unfree labour relations. The local control regime is built on existing institutional practices in China, structural weaknesses of seafarers and the disjunctions between the local institutional set‐ups and the global chains of labour supply.