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How much should crew contribute?

Sailing is often more fun with extra crew aboard, and it’s not cheap – so any help with costs is welcome but how much should crew contribute?

Crewseekers/crew contributions2

Crewseekers uses the following definitions for financial arrangements for crew:

No contribution required = All on board costs are covered by the yacht owner.
Shared contribution = All on board costs are shared on a pre-agreed basis.
Working passage = Yacht owner covers all on board costs, crew are required to work, i.e.: more than just watchkeeping.
Paid position = crew receive payment plus all on board costs covered by yacht owner.

It’s important to be clear about money in advance.  For some crews, this is based on individuals paying for their own travel costs and agreeing to share direct onboard living costs such as food, drink, fuel, and mooring costs, and the owner paying for maintenance and repairs. 

Beyond this, it’s sometimes the case that onshore costs such as meals and transport are also shared out equally via a boat kitty.  In other cases, a generous owner might pay for all of the onboard costs, or might even agree to pay crew travel costs to or from the vessel. 

Where there is to be an agreed contribution this may be a daily amount or an equal share of accrued costs at the end of the trip. 

For skippers, this allows them to offset their cruising costs and have help running watches and hopefully have some pleasant company, and for the crew, it allows them to go sailing and gain valuable experience for what amounts to a fraction of the actual or commercial cost.

However, there is an important distinction to be made between boats run on this basis and commercial sailing operations.  Amateur sailing opportunities seeking crew contributions that are posted on Crewseekers should not be run for a commercial gain.  They should not include a passage or charter fee or contribution to the capital costs of the vessel but can include a reasonable share of the actual voyage costs.

Whatever agreement is reached it is sensible to have a written record of this, and this may be as simple as a note in the log book, or for longer passages with more costs incurred you may wish to consider a written Crew Agreement (an example is included here).

What is a reasonable contribution?

In line with current UK legislation, Crewseekers advises that any contribution sought from crew should be a reasonable amount to cover the direct daily running costs of the vessel.  Other countries have similar rules, however, Crewseekers cannot offer information on each legislative territory.

The amount that Crew contributes can be a contentious issue attracting many differing opinions amongst skippers and crew.  There is no absolute answer, and different types of vessels sailing in cruising areas throughout the world will each have a different level of expenditure.   For some, this might be around £20 per person per day, e.g.: this could include a modest lunch and dinner aboard plus fuel costs and a marina for the night.  But for others, perhaps in more remote cruising areas, that might not reasonably cover the daily costs.  For instance, cruising to Galapagos requires a permit that can cost up to $1500 for 60 days.  Dividing this by, say, 3 crew, would add $500pp to the shared contribution.

There is no prescribed ‘reasonable amount” and Crewseekers does not seek to be the arbiter of what that might be.  Skippers must ensure that they do not unintentionally find themselves operating on a ‘quasi’ commercial basis and prospective crew should satisfy themselves that they are paying a fair share of actual daily running costs – without any contribution to the capital costs of the vessel.

Some crew might think that they are providing crewing services and should make no contribution, whilst some skippers/owners take the view that they are offering a sailing experience for which they are covering considerable capital costs and a contribution to the daily kitty is very welcome.  In most cases, the skipper of the boat is looking for additional hands on board to share the enjoyment of the voyage and it is not unreasonable to expect to share some costs.   Although of course there will be cases where the crew can reasonably expect to be paid for their services – such as a commercial delivery requiring suitably qualified sea staff, or a chartered vessel looking for crew to assist in the safety and welfare of the guests, for instance.

You should agree what these financial arrangements are in writing before setting sail. Whatever the agreement reached, there is no doubt that everyone aboard will operate more harmoniously if they feel they are contributing to the voyage – no matter how that is gauged.

Pleasure or commercial?

There should not be an element in any contribution to cover the capital costs of the vessel or any financial remuneration for the skipper/owner – if there is then the vessel is deemed to be operating for commercial gain and anyone paying such a fee is not classed as crew but as a passenger.  This will alter the legal relationship and have insurance and liability implications.

British flagged vessels operating commercially must comply with the relevant Codes of Practice.  These detail both the equipment a vessel must have on board and the Certificate of Competence required by the skipper (and in some cases the crew) of the vessel (other countries will have similar legislation).

Pleasure vessels are exempt from the Small Commercial Vessel Codes of Practice.

To be regarded as a pleasure vessel, rather than a commercial vessel, it is necessary, amongst other stipulations, to comply with this extract from the Merchant Shipping (Small Commercial Vessels and Pilot Boats) Regulations 2004:

Section 2/Definitions.

“Pleasure vessel” as defined in the Merchant Shipping (Small Commercial Vessels and Pilot Boats) Regulations 2004 includes the following extract

"the owner of the vessel engaged in the voyage or excursion may only receive money for, or in connection with, the operation of the vessel or the carrying of any person in the vessel as a contribution to the direct expenses of the operation of the vessel incurred during the voyage or excursion.?

Read the full legal definition of a pleasure vessel:

As you can see, therefore, the owner of a vessel requesting more than a contribution towards the direct expenses may be deemed to be operating the vessel commercially, however, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency does not specify what represents a reasonable contribution.   It is up to each skipper and crew to agree what that figure might be with due regard to the nature of the voyage, the sailing area, the size and type of the vessel, and the expectations of the living standards aboard!

These financial arrangements may affect how the crew works together – if a crew pays a passage fee or daily rate, are they part of the working crew or on holiday? If the owner pays for everything, are the crew effectively employees without the benefits that might be expected of that position. 

If crew contributions are in excess of what could be considered reasonable, then the sailing opportunity should be posted in the Crewseekers Directory section which serves to promote commercial sailing ventures.

For my own part, I always feel more comfortable aboard someone else’s boat if I’m paying for my own food and drink – regardless of how hard I’m being worked, yet on my own boat I’m quite happy to treat the crew to a drink ashore in reward for a hard days crewing – but I find it a bit rich if they come aboard empty handed!  I’ve sailed with my bank manager aboard an old 28 footer (which he managed to sell to me ) and been offered cheese and a raw onion for lunch, and I’ve crewed across the Atlantic on a luxury Oyster 72 with wine for dinner,  In each case I made a similar contribution to the daily kitty, as requested by the skipper.  You’ll already have worked out which was the better deal!

This information is based on UK legislation and different regulations may apply in other countries. The information and views contained herein are not offered as legal advice and Crewseekers does offer any warranty implied or otherwise as to the legality or fitness for purpose of this information.

© Crewseekers International


The US Code of Federal Regulations states:   


"(21a) 'passenger for hire' means a passenger for whom consideration is contributed as a condition of carriage on the vessel, whether directly or indirectly flowing to the owner, charterer, operator, agent, or any other person having an interest in the vessel.."

DESCRIPTION - The determination of what constitutes the carriage of a "passenger for hire" must be made on a case by case basis. This determination is dependent upon the actual operation of a vessel and the flow of consideration as determined by the facts of each case. In general, there needs to be some form of tangible consideration or promise of performance being passed for a "passenger for hire" situation to exist.


"(5a) 'consideration' means an economic benefit, inducement, right, or profit including pecuniary payment accruing to an individual, person, or entity, but not including a voluntary sharing of the actual expenses of the voyage, by monetary contribution or donation of fuel, food, beverage, or other supplies." Additionally, employees or business clients that have not contributed for their carriage, and are carried for morale or entertainment purposes, are not considered as an exchange of consideration.

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