Looking to take your #adventurelife to a whole new level in the new year? Or dreaming of spending the winter in a tropical paradise but want to avoid the high price tag and monotony of a typical cruise or Caribbean vacation? Maybe it’s time to add crewing on a sailboat to your adventure bucket list.
Thanks to a growing number of online services that matches potential crew members with boat captains, adventurous souls looking to take their adventures to the open seas have a slew of opportunities for crewing right at their fingertips—even the least experienced landlubbers. That’s right: You don’t need sailing skills, and thanks to the internet, you don’t have to show up at a dock with your thumb out to hitch a ride and start exploring the world via boat.
All you really have to do is free up some time in your schedule (two weeks at a minimum) and have a solid understanding of what’s out there and which opportunities are best suited for you. Here, how to reel in an unforgettable adventure crewing on a boat.
The 411 of Crewing on a Sailboat
Already imagining yourself hoisting sails, reeling in fish, and sleeping in a new cove each night? All of these fantasies could be reality if you get a job crewing on a boat—as could spending your days cleaning, cooking, and sleeping in a stuffy berth while the boat rocks violently. In fact, there is no average job or experience working on a boat. It all depends on what type of boat you work on, which tasks you are assigned, where you are traveling to, and who you are.
Maybe you’ve never set foot on a boat before. Maybe you grew up sailing on lakes and are ready to test your skills on the open ocean. Perhaps you’re an experienced sailor who’s always dreamed of moving onto a boat and traveling the world. Whatever your situation, the boats and positions open to you will vary drastically.
Arrangements on boats also run the gamut. Many crewing gigs operate with a shared economy principle, similar to Couchsurfing or WorkAway, in which you pitch in in exchange for a place to sleep. Even so, you may still have some costs while living on the boat. It is common for food to be a shared expense among the crew; in addition, some captains expect daily contributions from the crew (a typical range is $10-$20 per day per person).
On the other hand, some boats offer paid positions for applicants with experience sailing or in another niche. With a standard crewing gig on a sailboat, tasks usually consist of cleaning, maintenance, and cooking, as well as the sailing-related work such as shifts of night watch.
How to Find a Crewing Gig
Decided to give the sailing life a go? Next up is digging into the process of finding a position. There are a surprising number of online sites dedicated to connecting captains and potential crew members, and many have hundreds of active posting and users communicating on a daily basis. Start out by browsing listings and proceed to building a profile and corresponding with captains. A few of the top sites for finding sailing gigs include the following:
Most sites are free to get started, but some also offer paid premium versions.
How to Stand Out, Regardless of Experience
Many captains care more about the personality of the person they are inviting on board—and into their floating home—than about sailing-specific experience. Most tasks on a sailboat are basic household chores with a twist, so they are easy to pick up on for anyone with life skills and a good work ethic. Your profile should emphasize your agreeable, up-for-anything spirit and hardworking nature, as well as whatever skills you bring to the table outside of sailing. For instance, if you are an expert at filleting fish, mixing cocktails, or playing the guitar, be sure to include those.
That being said, it is important to be honest about your sailing experience and skill level. If you’ve never been sailing before and don’t know whether or not you get seasick, be sure to disclose that. It is in everyone’s best interest to know what they are getting into.
Which Boat is Right for You?
In addition to your sailing experience, another critical factor to consider when you begin searching for a gig is what type of trip you’re looking for. Some captains are preparing to make a passage (which, in sailing lingo, means they’re planning a sail across a stretch of open ocean) which are obviously a better fit for more seasoned sailors. Others will be be sticking closer to shore for some coastal cruising, which are a better bet for amateurs. This is a great way to test the waters, so to speak, and still have the option to back out the next time the boat stops at a port (often just a day or two down the coast).
Second, consider what type of boat you would like to join, since the size of the boat and crew will play an important role in shaping your experience, from small sailboats to yachts. Ask the captain beforehand about group dynamics, amenities, sleeping arrangements, and safety and navigation features on board. Some boats have refrigeration, desalination systems (a way to convert saltwater to freshwater), and showers, while others are far more rustic. Either experience has its own advantages, but it is important to know what you are getting into and what your options are beforehand.
Just as important as getting a feel for the boat and journey is getting to know the captain before you move on board. Ask about his or her experience and expectations for crew members. If the captain has other crew members currently on board, try to get their insight, or speak to former crew if you can, so you can get a different perspective on the environment and make sure it seems like good fit for you.
Of course, regardless of vetting the captain or choosing a coastal trip where you can leave sooner than planned if need be, there are inherent risks to both sailing and moving in with strangers—especially into a small and isolated space. But even if it’s a one-time gig or kicks off a new passion, you’re all but guaranteed to have an unforgettable adventure—and stories that are far more exciting than any typical Caribbean vacation.
Written by Juniper Rose for Matcha in partnership with RootsRated.