Boat Hitchhiking Part 3: How to Find a Boat

how to hitchhike on a boat

There are plenty of things you can do to improve your chances of securing a passage even if you’re not an awesome chef, super experienced sailor or a doctor. Most of them are common sense but somehow totally missed by so many boat-hikers.


Your first action when you arrive at a marina may well be to put up a poster in the sailor bars and cafes, advertising yourself. Plenty of people handwrite it – don’t (unless you have incredibly easy-to-read handwriting) – type it, make it immediately easy to read. Stick a photo on there too, black and white if you want to save on printing costs. 

yacht heeling

Tell skippers what you can offer.

Don’t just ask them if they’re looking for crew – tell them why you’d make awesome crew. You can cook, you can dress a wound, you’re awesome under pressure and you studied meteorology at university. Whatever you have to give, tell them.

Don’t lie.

I’ve heard many stories of sailors taking crew based on offshore experience that turns out not to exist.

There are several reasons not to lie.

The first is that you will be found out. You’ll be onboard for a month or more, at some point, probably the first day, it will become very obvious that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Secondly, if the skipper thinks you know what you’re doing, lets you get on with it and you cause a crash gybe or some other potential catastrophic error, you are putting lives at risk. If you have only sailed once, be honest and say you are keen to learn.

Do your research.

Read accounts of other sailors who’ve crossed the ocean or the world. Be interested in offshore sailing. Research and reading will not only give you an idea of what will happen and what can go wrong, it will also show potential skippers that you didn’t just wake up one day and decide to hitch on a boat – it’ll show that you are invested in this.

Come prepared financially.

Boat-hiking is a fantastic way of travelling a vast distance for very little money. Some skippers will have you onboard for the cost of your food (and maybe theirs), some will want you to pay a daily price ($25 per day sometimes) and all will want you to have enough money to leave the boat.

You must have enough money to continue your journey when you arrive on the other side. If you don’t, customs may reject you. If customs reject you, they may not let the yacht leave the country until you have passage out – even if you’re leaving the yacht.

us dollar bills

Come prepared generally.

I’m not saying you need £400 Musto oilskins, a grab bag and DuBarry sailing wellies but when the weather turns bad, you need to know that corduroy flares and a velveteen waistcoat just aren’t going to cut it.

Lots of boat-hikers turn up looking like they’ve just wandered out of a music festival – when you’re at sea, people’s lives are in your hands – dress decently, look like you know the sea is made of water and brush your hair. Poor hygiene is the sailor’s worst enemy. Boats are enclosed spaces.

Travel light.

Boats are small and everything has to be meticulously stowed away while sailing. I’ve seen would-be boat-hikers with a 100 litre rucksack on their backs and a 70 litre rucksack on their fronts. Don’t do it. There’s no room

After taking a 70 litre rucksack around the States on my first adventure I learnt my lesson – for 2 months in Indonesia I only took a 35 litre backpack. Boats are the same – you can wash your clothes, you don’t need your entire wardrobe and four pairs of shoes.

Be assertive.

Confidence is an important factor here but that’s not to say you need to be a world-class extrovert. Above all you need to be receptive to a potential skipper’s enquiries and to not do yourself a disservice.

They’ll be more impressed by you saying you’ve only sailed a few times but you’re confident that you’ll learn quickly, are keen to partake in some test sails and can cook awesome curries than if you look at the floor and say sorry you don’t really sail but maybe, perhaps they wouldn’t mind if you came along.

Be confident, polite and practice a decent handshake.

Go to them.

They won’t seek you out even if they want crew. Go, ask, be prepared for rejection. Always be friendly and wish them a safe passage when they say no. Give them your contact card and ask them to give it to any sailors they meet who do want crew. They might chuck it in the bin, or you might get a passage out of it. It’s worth the risk.

Get that boat!

  • Place a neat and attention-grabbing advert up in the marina.
  • Tell them what you have to offer.
  • Be honest.
  • Learn to love sailing and sailing stories.
  • Have the money for a flight home and more.
  • Have some good waterproofs and present yourself well.
  • Travel light.
  • Be confident and cheerful.
  • Be forward and seek out skippers.

Check out Part One and Part Two of this series!

yachts in marina

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  1. July 8, 2018 / 12:32 pm

    Anytime you want to chat about your adventures and the writing, let me know. I do a sailing podcast called Shooting The Breeze Sailing Podcast at contact me and we can set something up!
    Take Care
    Jeffrey S. Wettig

  2. Scott Brown
    August 15, 2019 / 11:54 am

    When I was delivering & approached by a “hitchhiker”, if I thought they looked & sounded OK I’d chuck a bit of rope to them & ask for a bowline.
    It’s very telling how that’s handled.
    The other thing that could win me over was “I cook a mean …..” (whatever that may be) – learn one simple dish & how to cook it superbly!

    • Kira
      August 22, 2019 / 5:16 pm

      Ha yes what a good idea! The only thing better than ‘I cook a mean…’ is ‘I cook a mean…whilst rolling downwind’!

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