Traveling Sailsman
See the world by sailing

Tips for Plain Sailing

How to be a successful member of the crew

Share Bookmark

There are a lot of things that you need to watch out for when you join the crew of a yacht. With experience you will do the right thing without thinking, but when you take up your first job as a deckhand or a steward there are many things that you will be expected to know immediately. It is worth doing your homework before you set sail so as to avoid embarrassment and rubbing up people the wrong way. If you continue to make mistakes on the boat you will soon be ostracized and the captain or first mate is hardly likely to give you a glowing reference. Here are a few pointers:

If you pay more than $20 a day you really are being duped – you are a passenger that is working. Make sure insurance, visas etc. is all taken care of before setting off. The captain may ask you to sign a medical waiver stating that you have the funds to repatriate yourself from a foreign port if you get sick at sea.

1) When you first get on the boat check all pad eyes, shackles, shackle pins, winches, blocks, sail tracks and reefing gear. Also find all the through hull fittings - it is important to know where all the holes on the boat are.
2) Never get drunk on the boat. A few beers or rum is fine; being incapacitated is not. If any of the crew is getting really drunk at sea alarm bells should start ringing in your head.
3) Be sure to keep your morals and behavior in line with that of the rest of the crew. Drugs, sex and nudity are serious issues on a boat where everyone knows your business. If you are a woman beware of positions for stewards that stipulate ‘only women’. You might be expected to perform duties you are not comfortable doing.
4) Never use the helmsman’s binoculars unless invited. Bring your own.
5) Only wear deck shoes on the boat.
6) Be sure to check as soon as possible if the captain is expecting any type of monetary contribution from you. Some ships have a food kitty. If you pay more than $20 a day you really are being duped – you are a passenger that is working. Make sure insurance, visas etc. is all taken care of before setting off. The captain may ask you to sign a medical waiver stating that you have the funds to repatriate yourself from a foreign port if you get sick at sea.
7) Keep fit and drink 3 or 4 liters of water a day. Get used to sponge showers as fresh water is at a premium on a long voyage.
8) Familiarize yourself with a first aid kit and practice CPR before you start a journey.
9) Ask permission before using any of the equipment and luxuries on board a boat. Some captain’s don’t permit their crew use of sat phones, shower, dinghy with outboard motor etc.
10) On delivery jobs, be certain to get your job description from the owner and not the captain. The captain might have his own agenda and try to leave you holding the can if things go wrong.
11) If something is bothering you then try and express your concerns with the captain. You have to be brave and mentally strong to be at sea for any length of time. If, however, you think your crew mates are behaving improperly and their behavior is being tolerated have it out with the captain and consider abandoning ship at the next port if nothing is done. Sailing requires discipline and ill discipline can get everyone killed.

Core Knowledge

There are many more tips that could be added to this list, but this forms a good core knowledge for the newbie. Sailing can be fun, but not if you continually make blunders or if you have no belief in the ability or integrity of the people you are working with on board a vessel.