Boat Hitchhiking Part 5: Useful Skills for Sailing Crew

Boat Hitchhiking Part 5: Useful Skills for Sailing Crew

Okay, in reality, not that many boats are looking for crew. Huge yachts will have a professional crew, small yachts will only have two people onboard and can’t physically carry the food and water for more and most boats in between will have enough people or will get family or friends to join them for the ride.

Boats who are looking for crew are either solo sailors who just need an extra person for the crossing or couples who want to sleep more and want a crew member to do a third of the watches. Because there are more wannabe-crew than boats in need, you need to stand out. This chapter, and the chapter on improving your chances, will help you do that.

Useful skills are skills which you either already have or can gain in a short amount of time that are especially useful on a sailing boat.

Sailing: Okay, okay, this may seem obvious but actually, you might find it’s secondary to the others. Generally, it’s always good to have some sailing experience. The skipper needs to know this because they need to know you like sailing. You need to know you like sailing! The worst thing for both of you is to get two days out and you absolutely hate it.

The more experience in sailing you have the better but if you don’t have much – there are other skills that skippers want. Plenty of boat-hikers can sail – what else can you do?

Cooking: Cooking at sea is tough. It’s always tough. The skipper will be doing more boat maintenance and actual sailing than you which means they may not have so much time to focus on cooking. Lots of skippers look for crew who are good in the kitchen as it takes a big weight off them and a full skipper is a happy skipper.

Cooking is harder on a boat because downstairs the movement is amplified. Someone who isn’t seasick at all out in the cockpit, may quickly find themselves reaching for the bucket when they’re hunched over a stove trying to not burn the onions.

If you don’t get seasick and can cook, MAKE IT KNOWN. You don’t have to cook five star cuisine but a knowledge of tasty, fast and filling meals using store cupboard ingredients will help you immensely. Cooks who can improvise are gold on a boat.

cooking on a boat

First Aid/Medical: Skippers won’t necessarily deliberately look out for crew with medical qualifications but if you have them, definitely advertise them.

If you have any up to date medical training then make it work for you. Skippers will like the idea of having someone who is trained to deal with tough situations and knows how to treat wounds and breaks.

If you did a first aid course ten years ago, don’t bother mentioning it. Poorly remembered medical training is dangerous. If you have some time, get a decent first aid qualification before you set off – not only will it look good, it’s also a useful thing to have in general.

Happy attitude: Sailing is hard. Even when everything is going well, it’s still tough. If you get disheartened easily, get grumpy when you’re tired or hungry or have temper issues – you will struggle to find a boat.

To be a successful boat-hiker you need to be happy and enthusiastic even when it’s all going a bit wrong. Good humour and a happy outlook will not only help you but will also help everybody else.

A skipper cannot be expected to deal with your bad moods or feel like they can’t rely on you when you’re hungry. Remain positive and tell them that you can handle pressure in a positive way. If you can’t do that, you won’t enjoy sailing the Atlantic.

Ability to take orders: On all boats, there is one and only one person in charge. There may be discussions, there may be disagreements but when the skipper says do something, you do it. The boat is the skipper’s responsibility entirely and you must remember that at all times.

The skipper may tell you to do something that you don’t understand. If you need to, question it, but when they confirm it you must do it. They may not be able to explain it to you or simply not have the energy or time to detail exactly why they need you to do something. If you think they have made a mistake then bring it up, but their decision is final.

If you don’t like taking orders, you will struggle crewing on a boat. In nasty weather orders can get shouted and if you don’t follow them, or get irritated by it, catastrophe can strike. You must trust your skipper – I’ll talk more about how to find a trustworthy skipper later.

Languages: Being able to speak European languages will come in handy. Especially French, Spanish or Portuguese. If the skipper is a one-language person, they’ll be very happy to have a crew member who can make themselves understood in islands around the Atlantic and those three languages are key. Spanish is the most useful but Portuguese is great and French is always a bonus.


Ever crewed on a yacht? What skills did you find were most useful?

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