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Advice

Making life aboard safe and enjoyable

We’ve put together some advice, much of it is common sense, that should keep everyone on board happy and safe.

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Whether it’s a short passage down the coast or a longer ocean voyage, being part of a yacht’s crew is exciting and should be great fun for everyone aboard. 

For skippers, help with watch-keeping, maintenance and domestic chores is an obvious bonus, but there’s also the camaraderie and the sharing of experiences. For the crew, there’s the chance to sail on someone else’s pride and joy for a fraction of the cost, and in most cases experienced skippers love helping crew to learn and develop their sailing skills.

You’ll be living together in a different environment to what you're used to and with people who you may not yet know very well, but if things are managed carefully there’s every reason to expect it to be plain sailing.

Boat Owners/Skippers

Before you post your sailing opportunity decide the level of sailing experience you are looking for in potential crew – an ‘expert’ or a willing learner? Don’t forget that you will all be sharing a small space, so personality and compatibility should be judged as highly as sailing skills.

In your profile describe your own your sailing skills, and when drafting your sailing opportunity be clear about the type of sailing you will be doing and what kind of crew you’re looking for.   Are you on a non-stop delivery or pottering among the backwaters.  Will you be in a marina every night ashore exploring the town or is a quiet anchorage more likely?

You may want to include any personal preferences or dislikes that are relevant; i.e.; is this a non-smoking boat, only vegetarian, what are the onboard drinking rules, etc.

Be clear about the level of any crew contributions that you’re looking for.  It’s best to agree on these in writing beforehand to avoid any misunderstandings and arguments later on, (see our feature on Crew Agreements).  If you are intending to charge more than a ‘reasonable contribution to daily onboard expenses' then this would be considered as a commercial charter and you should post this type of sailing opportunity in our Crewseekers Directory section.  You should also check that your vessel has the required specification and that you are suitably insured if you intend to operate commercially.  There is more detailed information in our feature How Much Should Crew Contribute?

You should ensure that your boat is suitably equipped for the voyage you intend to undertake and consider all aspects of safety carefully.  Is your liferaft big enough for the number of people who will be aboard and is it ‘in service’?  Do you have a lifejacket and tether for everyone aboard and have you checked that all the lifejackets are functioning correctly.  Make sure that the crew know how and when to wear and how to stow their personal safety equipment.  Brief the crew on and practice man overboard recovery drills – does the crew have the skills and knowledge to get back to you if you fall in?  Instruct them in how to operate the VHF and how to start the boat's engine?  Be prepared to answer any questions the crew may have about your boat and its safety equipment and make sure you do so honestly and openly.

Give the crew a full briefing on responsibilities – time on deck before watch changes, what to record in the log book, when to call the skipper, etc.

Be clear about your expectations of what is expected of crew – will everyone be expected to cook, clean and stand watches?  Try to use any special skills that crew may have. 

New crew joining your boat are likely to feel nervous and excited and it will help everyone if they are made to feel immediately welcome rather than if they are intruding on your private sanctum.

Every skipper has a different style, but there is no doubt that a well-briefed crew who have a good understanding of the passage will work most effectively.  See our feature on How To Be A Good Skipper for more advice.

Crew

You should be completely honest about your previous sailing experience and abilities. RYA Qualifications (or equivalent) are a good indication of your skill level, but for many skippers, this will not be the only consideration.  Remember to include details of any other transferable skills you may have when contacting skippers.  It is important to tell the skipper of any medical issues or dietary requirements.

Once onboard don’t brag as there is likely to be someone else who has sailed in bigger winds and seas, or further and longer than you, so you will be caught out if you’re embellishing the truth.

An eager and competent crew member is preferable to an annoying ‘expert’ who believes they have nothing left to learn.

Long distance passage making puts additional pressures on crews; you’ll be living, eating and sleeping in a small space with strangers. See our feature on How To Be Good Crew for more advice.

Crew members should be willing and flexible and accept that they are sailing onboard someone else’s boat. Most skippers will be happy to listen to your opinion – however, any decision is ultimately the skippers.  So once your point has been made respect the skipper’s decision; it is very divisive when crew members either continue to challenge the skipper or take an “I told you so” attitude.

You should not feel awkward about asking questions about the boat, its safety equipment or the skipper’s experience or qualifications.  Any attempt to avoid or bluster, or an arrogant disregard should immediately arouse your suspicion.  Any reasonable skipper will be more than happy to discuss these matters – and the very asking by you is likely to lead to increased confidence on both sides.

If you are joining a boat for an extended offshore passage you should ideally arrive a few days before departure.  This will give you the chance to meet the skipper and other crew before casting off, give you time to get to know the boat and take part in briefings and let you help with pre-departure provisioning and any other jobs.

You should trust your own judgement and not feel pressured to join a boat that you are not comfortable with.  If you arrive at a boat leaving for sea on the following tide and find that half of the cabin innards are strewn along the quayside and the skipper is ‘busy’ in the Port bar you might like to take a moment to consider your position.

Once you’ve found a sailing opportunity that you are interested in try to find out as much as you can about the boat and the intended route.  Become interested in the prevailing weather and outlook.

Check travel options for arrival and departure ports and all visa and immigration requirements, and find out if you need vaccinations or other medication.

Be sure to purchase suitable travel insurance – this should include cover for ocean sailing for instance, and for the countries, you will be visiting.

If you are purchasing an airline ticket to get you home when you leave the boat make sure the departure date is flexible – nothing will spoil the trip more than the pressure to arrive at a date that suits a crew member’s flight departure date.

Get Together

It’s not always possible but it’s a good idea to arrange a shorter trial sail with the skipper and other crew members prior to undertaking a longer passage.  If this can’t happen, try to meet for a coffee or a beer, or at the very least have a Skype call so you can see each other, and have lots of phone and email contact to get to know each other a little and answer any questions prior to committing to join as crew.  Crewseekers allows Facebook and other social accounts to be linked to member profiles and this can help to get know people.

For most skippers and crews sailing together can lead to long-term friendships, but inevitably there will be times when everyone doesn’t get along.  If problems do arise try to deal with them as quickly as possible in an open and fair way.  If someone continually leaving the sheets uncoiled after a tack is driving you insane try to have a quiet word with them before you get to the stage of wanting to throw them overboard!  And don’t forget to be aware of how your own behaviour affects other people.  Above all, be prepared to be flexible and adaptable.

Crew contributions

Sailing opportunities listed on Crewseekers include various levels of crew contribution – from none at all right up to crew being paid.  Where a financial contribution is asked for it should only be for a "reasonable contribution to daily onboard expenses” – for more information on this see How Much Should Crew Contribute.  Whatever the level of contribution this should be agreed in advance and ideally in writing – see our Crew Agreements article.

Crewseekers introduces skippers and crews intending to sail together, but we cannot warrant the skills of skippers or crew or suitability of vessels or equipment for any proposed voyages.  You must undertake your own research and satisfy yourselves that you are happy with all the relevant arrangements.


Travel & Safety information - a useful checklist for crew

GENERAL

  • Exchange emails, telephone and Skype calls to satisfy yourself as to the character of the skipper and suitability of the sailing opportunity to your abilities
  • If meeting owners/skippers for the first time try to arrange in company, or in a safe place
  • Know the limitations of the boat and skipper
  • Ask the skipper to outline the passage plan to you
  • Always lodge your travel itinerary with a friend/relative ashore
  • If you change your plans keep everyone informed
  • Make sure you fill in the emergency contact info on your Crewseekers profile
  • Check boat safety equipment / medical requirements with skipper
  • Always have a 'fallback' contingency plan
  • Trust your own judgment and act responsibly
  • Know your own limitations
  • Sail within your ability knowledge and experience level
  • Lifejackets and harnesses are essential and should be provided for everyone on board
  • Take warm protective clothing and sunglasses/sun block
  • Check if sleeping bags/wet weather gear are required or supplied
  • Ensure you know/have discussed the correct man overboard recovery procedure
  • Learn how to use VHF Radio / Flares in an emergency
  • Be sensible about drinking alcohol
  • Check the weather forecasts - see our links page for weather information
  • Arrange suitable personal travel insurance - we recommend Topsail Travel Insurance

OVERSEAS TRAVEL

  • Check Passports / Visas / Vaccinations are valid and up to date
  • Check flight costs/refund policy, etc. 
  • Consider repatriation / bonding requirements
  • Obtain written confirmation of any working contract terms
  • Check who pays travel expenses to / from vessel
  • Check the Foreign & Commonwealth website on our links page

PROFESSIONAL CREW

  • Check requirements for indemnity, personal and vessel insurance, etc.
  • Consider benefits of joining a Trade Union if you qualify as a member
  • Check your legal responsibilities as skipper or crew
  • Consider terrorism, smuggling and drug trafficking risks
  • Be aware and report any unusual or suspicious activity or behaviour of people or vessels to the Police or Customs officials immediately

 

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