How to secure that bunk – a rough guide to finding crew positions on cruising sailboats

So you want to go sailing?

The cruising world is a special one, and you’ll need to know a few basics to make your place in it. Hopefully this will help. What follows is not for crewing jobs or paid positions, it is for joining a boat as crew member for a leisure cruise or voyage.

The basics

It is important to understand first that most wannabe sailors, travelers on the cheap who first consider crewing on a “yacht” to get across an ocean, got a very wrong impression of the cruising world, and a very skewed view of their place in it as potential crew. There is an incredible amount of people who got at the back of their mind a somewhat blurry concept of a “crew” pacing the deck and doing all kind of nautical things, working the ship and such. The ideas that small private sailboats need crew and that crewing on a cruising sailboat is labor worthy of remuneration are concepts that needs to be discarded before you start talking to skippers if you don’t want to antagonize them or be ridiculed for your naivete. Cruising sailboats are different from luxury yachts.

In this day and age, skippers do not need crew like the old ships did. Most modern sailboats can be sailed easily by one or two people and the owners of such boat do not need extra hands to help them, they are fine on their own. The typical ocean crossing 24 hours period is about 85% lounging, 10% house shores and 5% sailing related activity. Most people who take crew do it for the company, for the extra sleep as there are more people standing watch, and also to save a bit of money by spreading the costs between more people. When you talk to skippers, keep in the back of your mind that they do not need you. You are asking them a favor. Crewing on a cruising sailboat is a privilege, the owners of sailboats most likely worked very hard and payed a lot of money to be doing what they do. If they are so kind as to letting you share that experience with them, have the decency to be grateful for it. Your “labor” on board a cruising sailboat will only have value if you have a lot of experience, if you really know what you are doing. It is ridiculous to expect to “work for your passage” with skills and experience you don’t have yet, no matter how much of “a quick learner” you are. It is a bit much to expect people you have never met before to host you for extended periods of time, feed you, bring you where you want to go with several stops in paradisaical spots and teach you the skills of sailing and boat maintenance on top of it, all of it for free. You are not that special to them and there is not that much work to do on a small sailboat.

Another very important thing to consider is whether you want to spend time on a boat, or just get somewhere. There is a difference. Most cruisers want mostly to have a nice trip, they like sailing there but also to spend time in harbor, exploring, diving, surfing, socializing, etc, it is a way or travel, a lifestyle choice. If they wanted just to get somewhere they would probably choose another mode of transportation as sailing is not the most efficient. If you just want to go somewhere you shouldn’t try to do it by sail. Try to find a crew position on a sailboat only if you genuinely want to sail. That seems obvious but it is not, plenty of people have miserable trips and make their skippers’ life hell because they didn’t considered this. Backpackers very often consider crewing on a sailboat as an option on par with taking a plane or a bus, only more romantic, more ecological, more whatever. This is wrong, you should try to get on a sailboat only if cruising by sail, learning to sail and sharing the lives of the others on board actually appeals to you. A crew member on a private sailboat is not a passenger, cruising boats are not ferries.

Costs

Before applying for crew positions, you will need to consider another important aspect: costs.

It is an awkward subject but it is important to know what to expect and what will be expected of you. You need to decide early on what you are willing to contribute. Times have changed, and rare is the skipper that will take you as crew “for free” or “all expenses paid”. It happens sometimes to experienced sailors on bigger luxurious boats upward of 50 – 60ft, and it is usually a bastard situation half way in between a crewing job and a proper crew position of the kind I discuss in this document. You are expected to know what you are doing, work hard for long hours, obey orders and forget about free time, yet you are not really an employee, you do it for free. It works for deliveries but usually doesn’t last as experienced sailors get tired of this situation very fast and either get a crewing job or a boat of their own.

An inexperienced person will be very lucky to find an all expenses paid position, and while miracles do happen, it pays to stay realistic. Old school skippers on cruising sailboat will sometime offer such position but almost invariably are disappointed by their crew and the experience, considering somehow that they are hosting freeloader who are having it very good at their expense, souring the mood on board. If a dream crew position is offered to you, try to understand why it is available, find out why the previous crew left and what happened. Most skippers I have heard of taking crew “for free” were either older single men or women who couldn’t handle the boat by themselves and who imagined they could get cheap crew to boss around that way, or skippers so tyrannical, intolerant, racist, sexist or else, that they couldn’t find crew any other way. Another unfortunate but very common situation(usually in combination with the ones above) is when a skipper, male or female, take a crew all expenses paid in the hope of getting into his or her pants. It is a good idea to avoid those at all costs, even if the idea of getting laid by a sexy (older) skipper appeals to you, the dynamics on board are likely to be strained if you are paying your passage with sex.

For a passage, most normal skippers will at the very least ask you to cover your food, travel to and from the boat, visas and other fees. A contribution toward fuel and harbor fees is also very frequent (and very fair). I repeat myself but the main thing to understand is that in most cases, you are not doing the skipper a favor by crewing with him short term. It is a mutual benefit thing. You are not getting on his boat for no reason, you want to go sailing across that ocean, get that experience, etc. He offers you that opportunity and you should be grateful to him for it. There is no reason for you to consider the owner of the boat owes you anything for you crewing for him. Granted, he gets company, help with the watches and a little financial boost, but it is a more than fair exchange for taking you into his home, out sailing and for teaching you the ropes, not counting getting you to your destination.

Crewing on a boat short term is what is considered boat hitch hiking. It usually lasts for the duration of a passage only, skippers take hitch hikers mostly to have more people standing watch during passages and thus more sleep, but disembark their crew before they start cruising the islands, preferring to be on their own for that. A notable exception is the south pacific as skippers often take crew for the whole trip, from the Americas to Australia or NZ .

If you actually want to spend some time cruising and enjoying remote destinations by sail, then you need to look for boats that are run as what is called a “share cost”. It is different from merely chipping in for food and fuel, as would a hitch hiker on a passage. This is more along the lines of a bunch of friends organizing a trip together, one providing the boat and everybody sharing all the costs involved.

The concept of share cost is to calculate every single cost involved in taking the trip, including putting the boat back in its original shape afterward, and dividing those costs between the people who use the boat. Since some might not stay for the whole duration of the trip, a way to make it fair is to determine how much it costs per person per week to run the ship and have a set contribution. Some boat do it per day, some per month, but I find that per week is the easiest to manage.

Some one time expenses can be shared fairly that way, such as the fuel bill for example: fuel is bought at the beginning of the trip, stored in the tank and used as needed. The crew member who stayed on the second half of the trip, when no fuel has been bought, should reimburse the others about the cost of the fuel the boat used since he wasn’t there when the fuel was bought. That fuel expense is calculated as a weekly fuel bill each have to cover to reimburse the original fuel bill. Add the other various expenses together and you have the total per week each has to cover, providing a very fair and simple contribution system even when people come and go.

The weekly contribution usually covers everything (fuel, harbor fees, maintenance costs, etc) but not always the food, as it is much simpler and easier to share the food separately, lest the crew starts bitching that the skipper doesn’t spend enough of the boat money on fancy foods. If the food is included in the boat expenses, the crew doesn’t consider he is paying for his food for some reason, and is more likely to think there should be more food, or food of better quality. If the food is shared separately, the problem doesn’t exist as everybody knows exactly how much goes into the food bills and cannot bitch it was insufficient.

The costs should not be excessive as sharing costs is not chartering. They vary from boat to boat, depending on the overall costs involved, the location, type of boat, etc, but should be made clear from the very beginning. As a rule, the bigger the boat, the higher the costs but the more crew it can take so the shares are divided between more. The smaller the boat, the less the costs will be but there will be less people to share them. It means that the contribution remains pretty standard for most normal cruising boats, small or big. Tall ships are a different matter as their costs are astronomical and they are usually run as a business.

On a normal sized cruising boat, say between 40 and 50 ft with 3 or 4 people on board, the costs per crew, not including food, is usually between 100 and 150 US$ a week. Less than that and the owner is paying a lot more than his share of the costs because the crew is contributing no funds to keep the boat in shape. It is estimated that around 10 000 dollars a year is a bare minimum to keep a standard boat cruising long term in the tropics. It is certainly possible to do it for much less money, but it will be at the expense of the safety of all on board and the integrity of the boat. Most boats over 35ft spend significantly more than that every year. The concept of a proper share cost boat is that the skipper gets a portion of that sum from the various crew using the boat. If a boat needs an estimated 10 000 dollars a year, that’s about 850 dollars a month. To be fair, for any given month of sailing with 3 people on board, each should contribute more or less 280 dollars a month just to keep the boat in shape. On top of that each needs to contribute a share toward the running costs, fuel, harbor fees, etc etc.

A real share cost is non profit for the skipper, the money the crew contributes is for the running of the boat only, in the same lines of a non profit association. The skipper provides a boat in seaworthy shape, ready to go, all equipped etc etc, as well as his expertise and knowledge of seamanship, and then take crew to use that boat on a joint cruising trip. The crew’s contribution is calculated to cover the relevant percentage of the costs of the trip itself, fuel, marina fees, etc, as well as routine maintenance to keep the boat in the shape it was in at the beginning. On top of his share, the skipper usually takes upon himself to cover the cost of heavy maintenance and of replacing gear after major failures, he assumes legal responsibility for the boat and all on board, deals with authorities as representative of the boat and generally takes the brunt of the stress and worries associated with cruising offshore, he is the one the crew wakes up in the middle of the night when something goes wrong. He also does the majority of the maintenance work on board. It is also worth noting that he was the one who paid for the boat and worked his ass off to get it seaworthy to start with. In consideration of this, sometimes it is more fair to exempt the skipper from contributing his weekly share financially, since everything else he does is already valuable in itself. That way everybody on board participate fairly, financially and with labor, to keep the boat in as good a condition as it would be if the trip was not happening.

All that said, I hope you don’t get the wrong impression, the share cost concept is a way to make such trips more affordable to the impoverished skipper, but it is also much more than that. One of the benefit of the share cost concept is obviously that everybody, skipper and crew alike, can enjoy amazing sailing trips for a fraction of what it would cost if they were doing it on their own. Skippers on share cost boats could, for the most part, do it on their own, but prefer to do it with crew as it enables them to do it on a bigger, nicer boat, with less worries about finding money to get going, less work to keep the boat in shape and running(the workload is shared too), and most importantly with plenty of cool people to share the experience with on a more or less equal level. A well run boat with a lot of crew working together to make the trip happen is a lot more fun than solo sailing, hands down. The social aspect is probably the main reason behind a skipper’s decision to take crew on a share cost basis as opposed to be on their own or even to taking “guests”.

Some people take extra crew only occasionally, for the expressed purpose of making some money when the need arises. It is easier to manage than a true share costs and can be profitable. It is more suited for people who do not want to have strangers in their home all the time. The people they take are more “guests” than “share cost crew”, and it is fair when it is upfront and clear to everybody. Their “rates” are usually in between those of share costs and those of legal chartering. Chartering a bunk on a boat costs at the very least 100 or 120 dollars a day. Beware of the skippers who tell you you are a share cost crew but charges you enough money that they can make a profit out of you. Contributions in excess of 250 – 300 dollars a week can not be considered “share cost” but are some kind of “paying crew opportunity”. When upfront and clearly defined, those opportunities can be great sailing experiences too, usually for people with more funds available but limited amount of time to go sailing and who want a more genuine experience than chartering a boat. The experience still has more of a commercial slant than what you get on a true share cost boat, with talks of “clients” and “rates” and less of a “floating community” feel. Guests and their skipper hosts are more likely to be a little bit older, financially stable and more exigent about comfort. Share costs boats are usually more “roots”.

True share cost boats will be very selective in choosing their crew, as they expect them to stay a long time and become, in a way, “family”. Share cost boats look for crew mostly on the internet, as it permits more in depth conversation before having to commit as well as a broader selection. Backpackers picked up on the dock are notoriously unreliable as crew, more likely to jump ship with no notice and much less likely to have researched the realities of the cruising life and thus more likely to be disappointed by them, as opposed to a crew who went through the process of looking for a boat on the internet and exchanging countless emails before actually flying a long way to meet the boat. If you are walking the docks and are looking for a long term crew position on a share cost basis, make sure it is clear to the skippers you talk to that it is the case and that you are fully aware of what it entails. You will get more respect and stand a better chance. Boat hitch hikers who know nothing about sailing and care little about it, just wanting to get across an ocean on the cheap, have a very low status among sailors.

Finding boats

There are two main approaches to finding a crew position: internet and walking the docks.

I don’t think either is superior to the other, each has it’s pros and cons.

Internet offers the opportunity to get in touch with skippers who are not in your immediate vicinity. There are several crew finding websites on line with listings from skippers looking for crew, so that you can browse around and look for what is available from a broad selection. The problem with internet is that if you do find a skipper willing to take you as crew, it is a leap of faith to get on a plane and go meet him. It is hard to tell online if you will get along with somebody and if he has been lying to you about his experience or the state of the boat, for example. And skippers are wary of applicants for the same reasons. On the internet you have two complementary options: browsing the “crew wanted” pages and post a “position wanted” advert of your own.

Walking the dock is the opposite, you can see directly who you are dealing with and even visit the boat, talk to the other crew and to the other sailors who might know him, but you will have only a limited selection to choose from amongst the boats in the anchorage and it might take time to find somebody willing to take you, and it might not be the right one for you.

Regardless of method three things are essential to consider:

1 – The right time

Sailboats are dependent on weather and various parts of the world got different sailing seasons. If you try to go cruising in the Caribbean in September, for example, you will find hardly any boats to crew on, because it is the middle of the cyclone season there and they are all either secure in a marina or gone somewhere else. If on the opposite you start looking for a boat there in November, that’s when most boats start moving around again at the end of the cyclone season, and there will be more opportunities to find a crew position. Skippers will actually be looking for crew before they get moving again. On the other hand, in April, most boats will be out cruising and they will be scattered all over the place so it will be harder to find one to take you along. You will find more boats willing to take you as crew at the beginning of the sailing season, and virtually no boats during cyclone/hurricane/typhoon season.

2 – The right location

Some bodies of water are more popular than others, and as a result have more facilities for sailboats and that makes them even more popular and so on. As a result the vast majority of cruisers tend to gravitate around these areas, either for local cruising or as stepping stones between major passages.

Cruisers sail mostly in the tropics along the general direction of the prevailing winds, and all of them stop at some select locations to regroup and prepare for their next leg. That is when they are more likely to pick crew. The best places to find crew positions is where cruisers hang out between major crossings, doing repairs, resting, getting ready. While they are out cruising they are hard to reach and usually they will have already thought about their crew needs and have full boats, so you need to catch them at the transitions. The Panama canal or the Canaries islands are prime examples but there are many others. On the other hand, Patagonia, for example, is a wonderful cruising ground but you have little chance of finding a crew position there because there are so few boats going. It is even worse for the north western Indian ocean, it is superb cruising but the area is closed due to the Somali pirates and there are virtually no sailboats there.

3 – The right direction

Another thing to think about is the direction of travel. The crew finding websites are littered with posts from wannabe crew trying to sail along unlikely routes. For example, going from India to South America across the South Pacific is a ridiculous idea that very few skippers would ever entertain. Ditto for the passage between the Carribean and Sub Saharan Africa. In the tropics the winds are mostly pushing boats toward the west. As a result, very few boat ever sail eastward. A trip from Central America to the South Pacific is a pleasant downwind run, but the South Pacific to Central America trip is a nightmare of contrary winds and contrary currents. Some other places, like the Indian ocean, have winds reversing depending on the season. Outside of the tropics, winds are more variable and in the high latitudes, winds are westerlies, meaning they go from west to east, the opposite as in the tropics. You have much more chances of finding sailboats going with the wind than against. There are also some places who are affected by currents, for example very few boats sail south along the Pacific coast of South America as they would have to battle against the strong (and cold) Humboldt current on top of the south east trade wind.

To gather information about all this the best resource is a book called “World Cruising Routes”, by Jimmy Cornell. Here is a free Pdf version.

http://www.libramar.net/news/world_cruising_routes/2014-06-09-1479

or find your own online if this link is obsolete.

For the popular harbors and anchorages, you can find all the information needed on www.noonsite.com in the “countries” section.

Walking the docks

Walking the docks is the favored method for boat hitch hiking, short term crew positions.

Walking the dock is not actually only walking the docks, as most sailboats looking for crew will not be in the marinas but at anchor in the harbor.

Once you are in the right place and time and there are many cruisers around getting ready for the next leg of their trip, you then have to get in touch with the skippers. The best trick is not necessarily to talk to each and every one of them, although it does work even if it is time consuming and can be extremely annoying to the skippers who are not looking for crew, especially in locations with a lot of crew wannabe pestering them all day long. The best trick is to get known far and wide as somebody interesting to hang out with. You need everybody in the anchorage to know that you are around and looking for a crew position, but also that you are a great person.

To get into the scene, first you need to locate the cruisers hang outs, where they go for “happy hour” drink, where they get online (usually the same place), where they shop, where they do their laundry, where they park their dinghies, where they have meetings, etc, then post a “crew available” note at all those places.

Your note reflects your personality. That is what people will think. If you are very formal, write small, and put it in a corner of the notice board, people will assume you are not confident, shy, etc. If your note is huge, with many colors, a big photo of you and is plastered everywhere over other notes, well, people will interpret that too. So think about it so you can influence what image you want to project. What seems to appeal the most to a majority of cruising skippers is confidence, neatness, efficiency and humility. It always pays to be original too, dull and drab is not appealing and if your note stands out it is a plus. Wacky and weird will scare people off. A good photo will definitely help.

To get on a cruising boat, avoid excessive formality, as you are applying for a position on somebody’s private boat for a sailing trip, not for a job. Despite it’s popularity, avoid at all cost the classic “inexperienced but hard working and willing to learn”. Everybody claims that and it is meaningless, as hopefully you understand now if you’ve read carefully the rest of this document. Avoid generalities and focus on the positive. You cannot lie your way on a boat and expect to have a good time afterward. Honesty is primordial. Don’t say you are willing to work hard unless you mean it (and be aware that there is not that much work to do on a sailboat, people do not choose that lifestyle so they can work hard, quite the opposite). Don’t claim to be experienced if all you did was visit your uncle on his boat when you were a kid. Another thing of importance are skills, not necessarily related to sailing but on a sailboat, people are usually self sufficient to a certain extent and any knowledge and skills could be useful. Think of what could be of use on a sailboat and use it as a selling point (i.e.: cooking, electricity, plumbing, diesel or outboard engines, fishing, playing music, fixing surfboards, diving, kitesurfing or crochet, whatever…). Personal knowledge of the destination and of the language spoken there is also a big selling point.

Try posting your notes at the busiest hour, when most cruisers will be around. Do not be discreet, try to make sure people see you posting your ad. Spend some time re reading it, looking from afar how it looks, repositioning it, etc, and inevitably, somebody will notice and natural curiosity will make him come closer to see what you posted. It is like fishing and your note is the bait. Engage the conversation, explain, give more details , ask for advice (skippers love to give advice), etc. The first guy might not be looking for crew, but he might know somebody who does and you can move on from there. The most important thing is for skippers to think of you as a person, not just another piece of paper on the wall, especially if there are already plenty of notes posted. Most crew available notes are merely glanced over, yours needs to be there as a reference on how to get in touch with you, while word of mouth is how you get known(“- Hey Dave, are you still looking for crew? I met that french kid yesterday, he has a note on the board, he seemed like a nice guy, he said he will be at “happy hour” tonight, you should talk to him…”. )

It is also possible to look on the same notice boards for notes from skippers looking for crew, but in my experience, those are rare. If there is any on the boards you post your notes on, try to contact them before anything else. It is also a good idea to ask the people around if they know who is the skipper who is looking for crew, not only he might be around but you get to tell somebody else you are looking for a boat as well…

The second technique is to get on the VHF radio. Most boats are equipped with VHF and in popular cruising harbors there is what they call a “morning cruiser’s net”. It is a moderated information exchange between skippers, with such entries as weather, local news, where to find supplies, swaps and trades, etc etc, and there is also a “rides and crew” section. You need to find a VHF radio and be on the right channel at the right time, wait for the “rides and crew” time and then say your bit. Do it everyday as long as you are looking, as boats come and go all the time. When talking on the radio, you need to do it right, too many wannabe crew burn themselves by breaking radio etiquette without even realizing it. The moderator will ask “-any rides and crew today?” or something like that. Wait for a second and if nobody talks, say your name. The moderator will then tell you to go ahead, talk only if you have the moderator’s green light. Say your bit slowly and clearly, cheerfully, in an engaging, confident way, but as concisely as possible. Most people don’t care about you so don’t bother them with your life story. State your name, nationality, age, intended destination, level of experience (without details), and ways to get in touch with you (phone number, email, location ashore), and nothing else. Say “over” at the end. When somebody wants to talk to you (or you hear somebody you want to talk to), the correct procedure is to say, “—-, talk to — after the net”. Then after the net you contact that person by calling their name twice and yours once, then decide quickly on a free channel, switch to there and talk freely there without bothering everybody else.

It can take weeks to find the right boat, so you need to be relentless in your search. A good trick if time is dragging on is to ask a skipper you got friendly with to stay on his boat while you are searching for your crew position. Some skippers will not be able to take you out sailing but will be happy to have you on board for a while, especially if you can help with maintenance, provisioning and such, as well as supplying him with booze and nice meals. The advantage is that not only you get a place to stay right in the harbor, but it is also a foot in the door, as all the other skippers will then see you ride the dinghy, work on the boat, show you face regularly at the cruiser’s hang outs, be friendly with other sailors, talk the talk and walk the walk, etc etc as well as getting first hand experience for helping the boat you will actually sail with. That gives you a huge advantage over the other wannabe crew who are still landlubbers… If no boat can offer you a place to stay, it still pays to offer to help with anything, for free. Remember, it is a foot in the door. And you’ll make friends too…

The internet

Finding a crew position on the internet is a radically different process. You are browsing ads from skippers all over the world, for trip that might not happen for a while. It takes a lot of applications and emailing to find the right boat.

The best way to start is to look for crew finder websites on line. A search for “crew wanted” in google will have many results. There are paying crewfinders, usually specialized in paid positions, and you don’t really need to bother with those. Then there are two types of free crew finder website, the local ones and the global ones. The local ones are usually run by a yacht club or a local cruising magazine, and most of the crew position available will be for local sailing and week end racing. The global websites are getting fewer and fewer, with many of the successful ones converting to a commercial style and offering paid positions as well. They tend more and more to require bothersome registration. The few left that I know are 7knots.com, floatplan.com, crewbay.co.uk, and there are also some good ads on couchsurfing.com in the “groups” . There might be others I haven’t heard about but I doubt it. English is the language everybody uses so website in other languages are not usually very useful unless you are trying to sail locally. Only 7knots and couchsurfing offer anything like a craigslist style listing. I think it is time a good soul starts a new “rootsy” free crewfinding website with basic features, if you are reading this and know how to set something like this up, let me know…

Browsing the ads, you will find some that attract your interest, so write to as many as possible asking for more info. At the same time you are sending feelers to a bunch of boat who are looking for crew, you can post an ad of your own. It is up to you what you want to put into your applications and your posts but try to avoid cliches (“inexperienced but hard working and willing to learn” is just the wrong thing to say) and try to make your utmost to stand out. Check spelling, avoid highlighting words in MAJUSCULES, it is super annoying. When writing to a skipper in answer to a post online, there are no rules. Write what you feel like writing and just remember to be yourself and not to embellish or lie, honesty is very important. Skippers want to hear from people who are motivated, enthusiastic, curious, confident, etc… I have received hundreds if not thousands of applications from people who wanted to come crew on my boat and I selected over 100 crew in the last ten years. I also did my fair share of crewing and have written to many skippers in my time. I can’t say one approach works better than another. Just try to stand out as “the one” the skipper will want to select.

Photos are a definite plus, especially well chosen photos. Try not to put a random photo of you partying with a bunch of friend and saying “i’m the blond one second from the right” for example, choose a good photo of you doing something interesting (standing atop mount Everest, holding a massive fish you just spearfished, playing an instrument on stage, or best of all : at the wheel of a sailboat…). Lately it is becoming increasingly common to have some sort of profile published on line, such as on couchsurfing or even facebook, so let your potential skipper access those. The more he knows about you the more likely he is to consider you. A facebook wall tells a lot about a person so send a friend request on facebook to the skipper with a short message explaining who you are and why you are sending the request.

Girls, don’t put a sexy picture of you in your bikini if you don’t want to attract attention from old lechers, but it is a fact that pretty young girls find crew positions much more easily than old bearded guys, so don’t hide your loveliness either…

Most of the skippers are male and if they are by themselves on their boat, chances are they are lonely. Skippers looking for “female crew only” are mistaking a crew finding website for a dating website. What they really mean is that they are looking for a female to have sex with and if she wants to stick around she’ll have to be able to stand 6 hours watches, change the oil on the engine and take a reef in the mainsail all by herself, beside doing all the cooking and all the dishes. Don’t answer those ads if this is not what you are looking for. Girls should try to avoid joining a boat where they will be the only crew beside the male skipper. If this situation arises, it is because the skipper made it happen and the unsuspecting female crew who join in the hope of having a great sailing trip might find herself fighting off the skippers advances the whole trip. It happens all the time. Most skippers consider you owe them something to be sailing on their boat. Make sure he doesn’t want you to contribute with your body.

Once the dialogue is engaged with a skipper, you need to tell him as much about yourself as possible. The exchange of information should be two ways, the skipper should be telling a lot about himself and his boat as well. If the boat you are interested in joining has a website or blog, make sure you send the time to read as much of it as you can. Not only it shows interest and the skipper will be agreeably surprised if you knows everything that happened to him, but the website will also give you a good indication as to what type of boat and skipper you are talking to. If the skipper put information on line and referred you to it, he will probably think less of you if it become clear you haven’t bothered reading the website.

With modern technology, it is very easy to make small videos and publish them on line, on youtube for example. A link to a short video introducing yourself goes a very long way as they are much more personal that just text, but do not share random videos of your life with strangers, it is likely to merely bore them. It is better if the video is targeted specifically to a skipper you are in contact with. On the other hand, skype is not really adequate for the kind of information exchange needed. Some people like it but it is hard to organize given the time differences and a skype conversation is not recorded so it can not be watched again and referred to later on to be compared to what other applicants are writing. It is also harder on skype to hide the fact that you are not interested by the person you are communicating to. It should be used exclusively for having a feel of each other late in the process, not to exchange info between the skipper and the potential crew, which should be the first step. The applicant also needs to keep in mind that the boat might be in a remote location where internet is slow and difficult of access and/or very expensive, making it difficult for the skipper to be on skype.

It is okay to ask a lot of questions. You will potentially spend a lot of money flying to meet the boat and then put your life on the line when you sail out, so everything should be clear before you do. You can get to know somebody quite well over the internet. It is important to assess whether the skipper you are talking to has the same “style” as you do. In extreme cases, a young hippie might be uncomfortable on a retired couple’s fancy shiny yacht or the opposite can happen, with straight edge people finding themselves on a dirty rusty boat with a bunch of unwashed vagrants… It also reflects well on an applicant if he or she asks a lot of pertinent questions, questions that show that the applicant is serious about this and knows a thing or two. Questions about routes and expected sailing conditions, skipper’s experience, past and present crew, condition of the boat, equipment on board, safety gear and boat performances are normal to ask. If a skipper is reluctant to talk about those things, be careful, he might be hiding something.

Once you have found your crew position and are flying to the boat, keep in touch with the skipper, especially if you are not flying to the boat right away. Every couple of weeks or so before flying, send the skipper a message asking for updates, etc. I had people who didn’t write a word to me for weeks and just showed up one day, after I had given them for lost. What would have happened if I had changed my plans?

Do not say you will come crew to a skipper if you do not mean it. Many people “play” at crew position finding and change their minds or back off at the last moment, and it is the most annoying thing for a skipper, who then feels he has been wasting his time with those people. Before committing to a crew position, make sure all is clear with your job, your finances, your dog, your family, you partner, your health, etc etc so you don’t have to cancel last minute.

Once you got the crew position:

Do not pack a hard suitcase. You might have to store your luggage in your bunk.

For the same reason, ask before bringing bulky gear such as surfboard and guitars.

Do not, under any circumstances, bring bed bugs on board. Abandon your clothes, backpack and sleeping bag and buy new ones if you have to. Being stuck on a boat offshore with bedbugs and no poison to kill them could potentially drive sane people to keelhaul the person responsible.

If the skipper is in a remote far off place, bring some food delicacies and a bottle or two of booze (ask what he would like first) and offer to pick up parts and stuff for the boat.

Before taking off for a long passage on a boat, spend some time on the boat (at least a week or two) and insist on a trial cruise.

Expect departure delays before major crossings. I have never heard of a boat leaving for a major crossing on the date set for departure, there are always last minute delays, sometimes as much as several weeks.

Skippers usually underestimate the duration of a trip, mostly because they want to pretend their boats are faster than they really are and also because they do not want to consider the possibility of contrary conditions… Plan at least a week or two extra to be on the safe side, especially on long offshore passages, if you have to take a return ticket.

How to be a good crew member – ideas and suggestions

  • Try not to break anything
  • Think about the consequences of your actions
  • Do not bother the captain with trivial things you can sort out on your own
  • Show initiative and make decisions but do not be reckless
  • Find solutions, do not ask for them
  • Ask for advice, not for orders
  • Listen to criticisms and do not take them personally
  • Be clean and don’t leave your stuff laying around
  • Clean your bedding before leaving the ship (this is not an hotel)
  • Do your dishes and take your turn in the kitchen (this is not a restaurant)
  • Entertain yourself (if you are bored, it can be safely assumed that you are not working enough)
  • Learn to do everything, nothing is out of bound for you
  • Push your perceived limits, they are arbitrary and probably way below what you can achieve
  • Fix, mend, repair, improve, modify or build at least one thing a day, no matter how small
  • If you have a problem with somebody, talk to him/her about it immediately and solve it
  • If you have a bad day and just want to be on your own, just say so
  • Do not fuck your crewmate’s lover (no, not even is she -blip- your –blip- and says -blip-blip- )
  • Turn lights and fans off when you are not using them, save energy
  • Turn off the gas safety valve after each use
  • Be very economical of water
  • Do not go down below dripping wet
  • Do not fall overboard (clearly, someone who falls overboard does not belong aboard a boat)
  • Learn your knots and their uses
  • Do not throw away anything without asking first, what you think is trash might be invaluable spare parts or somebody’s treasured collection
  • If you are not a good singer/poet/harmonica player, just wait to be ashore to practice
  • Discuss this list of suggestions with your skipper and take note of which ones he likes best and which ones he can add
  • Have fun and enjoy yourself
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