Crewing on OPB (Other People’s Boats)

By Derek On October 5, 2011 Under Post

You don’t have to buy your own boat to go cruising. Many people see the world from the deck of someone else’s ship. Some even get paid to do so. Not a bad gig for a young adventurer. However, the focus of this blog is cruising which does not include superyachts with paid crew in fancy uniforms. That is one way to do it, of course, but those people are in a different league and in a different game.

“Can you give me a lift?”

You can find crewing positions on other people’s yachts. This is particularly true for longer passages – trans oceanic – where another pair of hands and eyes is useful, especially if it is just a couple sailing. There are websites such as Crew Seekers International or that can help here. There is a blog dedicated to the subject that has a lot of information: 

Here is an interesting ad for the brave:

“Must fit in with family crew + dog, prefer someone willing to contribute to primary education of children, language, history or geography knowledge a huge bonus. Sailing experience useful but not essential – we are planning on starting very carefully. Suit gap year planning on teaching in future? Older boat – expect hard work.”

Latitude 38 is one of my favorite magazines – and it’s free. They also have a great website. Latitude 38 (San Francisco is on the 38th latitude north) is a US west coast institution that takes an irreverent and relaxed look at sailing, cruising and life in general. They run an annual event called the “Baja Ha Ha” (which tells you they don’t get too serious) that gets west coast cruisers together at the end of October for a rally down to Mexico, jumping off from San Diego. Many cruisers use this as the prep and jumping off point for a world cruise. Before the rally, Latitude 38 hosts various crew and crewing social events so potential crew can meet captains and find boats. This is worth looking into if you are near the west coast.

Walking the docks

However, the best way of connecting with a potential yacht is to WALK THE DOCKS. People like initiative. Just walk the docks and look for a likely cruising boat. What does a likely cruising boat look like?  The dead giveaway is all the gear on board – especially a big dinghy. What the dinghy is to the cruising boat the car is to the suburban house. Every cruiser has one. If the boat only has a kayak for going to shore don’t expect many creature comforts aboard and keep looking.

While boats with just a couple on board are good candidates for those that want crew, also look for cruisers with young children. The parents will be busy with the boat and the children and may appreciate someone else to take watch, or cook, or even help tutor the rugrats. It never hurts to ask. Even if that particular boat doesn’t need crew they may know someone who does. Or even better, if they like the cut of your jib (as they say), they may introduce you to someone who is looking for crew.

No slobs, please

It will help your case if you turn up in presentable clothes. Don’t go looking like a slob. A cruising boat is someone’s home and you must treat it as such. Would you invite some unknown slob into your living room?

You don’t need to know how to sail

If you don’t know how to sail, that is not a deal breaker – believe it or not. They can teach you how to sail. What they can’t teach you is a good attitude. Having a good attitude and being keen on the whole enterprise is the most important attribute captains look for in potential crew.

This is what I have heard time and again from cruisers who have taken on crew. Knowing how to cook is probably weighted even more than sailing skills. If you are a gourmet cook you will be welcome everywhere you go. If you can play the drums, well, that might not help so much. Learn to cook!

My crewing story:

I worked a season salmon seining up in Kodiak, Alaska many years ago. At that time I didn’t know anything about fishing salmon or boats but I talked my way on board (the good attitude part). When I moved my duffle bag aboard to my bunk and started looking around I ended up in the galley. Upon opening a cupboard, about 200 cans of SPAM tumbled out. Uh-oh….

This is what we are going to eat every day, I thought!? Definitely, not on. So I appointed myself the galley slave and taught myself how to cook. It was worth the effort just to avoid all that SPAM. I baked bread, made cakes (all at sea!), roasted chickens, introduced the Alaskan captain to Mexican food (“How do ya eat this stuff?”). By the end of the season he told me, “Derek, I’ve been fishing almost 30 years here and you are the best damned cook I ever had.”

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