INSIGHTS: Choosing Crew

Boats sailing around the world or on smaller coastal passages often take on extra crew as another pair of hands to help out along the way. But as a potential crew member, or skipper, how much due diligence do you do before you get on board? New Zealand sailor Viki Moore gives us her INSIGHTS into the process.

Published 3 years ago, updated 4 weeks ago

L to R – Viki Moore, David Haylock, Danielle Haylock & Victoria Murdoch sailing in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

There seems to be no shortage of people who are keen to volunteer their time to get some more experience and have an adventure along the way.  After hearing many horror stories of passages gone wrong when personalities clash, it is well worth taking a little extra time to check each other out before casting off the mooring lines.

 1.  Getting Prepared

Crew

If you are a complete beginner who is keen to crew on a boat, then a coastal or Ocean passage perhaps isn’t the best place to start. There are heaps of ways of getting experience, from doing lessons to crewing on race boats doing shorter trips around the harbour. You learn lots of boat handling skills every time you are out on the water all of which will come in handy before you do a longer passage, and you get off after just a few hours if you don’t like it! There are lots of fantastic online or in person theory courses. If you are complete beginner try Day Skipper, Boatmaster, VHF Radio Operator and a Marine Medic Course for starters. You will learn heaps and be a more valuable crew member in the process.

Skipper

If you are a skipper looking for crew – make sure you also have the skills to keep your boat and crew safe. As skipper you are legally responsible for your vessel and everyone on board. If you head out to sea without any experience on a poorly prepared, unsafe vessel then you can be held liable for any incidents. Make sure that your vessel is well maintained, has the correct safety gear on board and that you are experienced enough for the trip you are about to undertake. Do you have the knowledge and qualifications to ensure that you have the skills to deal with the passage ahead and any situation that may arise?

The law says:

The safety of a yacht and her crew is the sole and inescapable responsibility of the skipper who must do his/her best to ensure that the yacht is fully found, thoroughly seaworthy and manned by an experienced crew who are physically fit to face bad weather.

He/she must be satisfied as to the soundness of hull, spars, rigging, sails and all gear. He/she must ensure that all safety equipment is properly maintained and stowed and that the crew know where it is kept and be trained in its use.

2.  Your Sailing Resumé

If you are a skipper looking for crew you should include your full name, a photo of yourself and your boat, details of the boat – type, length etc, details of the passage including start and end destination, likely length of the trip and estimated departure and arrival times and a description of the crew skills you need. Include your sailing experience and qualifications, add your email address and phone number for people to contact you. Give some contact details of other former crew members or people you’ve sailed with that potential crew can call for a reference.

If you are crew looking for a boat, then you should also include your full name, a photo, and detail your sailing experience and any qualifications. Do you have any other skills, like first aid, cooking, mechanical, electrical, sail repairs etc? Don’t oversell your skills if you don’t have them! Advise a rough idea of the dates you are available. Give your email address and phone number for people to contact you, and maybe details of references from other people you’ve sailed with before.

 

Happy Crew! Photo Courtesy Nicola Rodriquez

3.  Where to advertise crew wanted or crew available

Most yacht clubs are more than happy to include these kinds of posts on their Facebook page and newsletters. Also try OceanCrewLink and other crew search websites as well.

4.  Do your Due Diligence

If you get contacted by someone, whether it is crew looking for a skipper or a skipper looking for crew, the questions you should be asking and offering answers for are similar. You should do some background research on the person before you even meet up. Here are some ideas of questions to ask:

  • Sailing experience – how long have they owned the boat, what boats have they crewed on before, where have they done most of their sailing, how long have they been sailing for, have they done a passage like the one proposed before?
  • Qualifications – have they done any Boating courses? Day Skipper, Boatmaster, Coastal Skipper, Ocean Yachtmaster, Marine Medic, Advanced Sea Survivial, VHF Radio? Ask for copies of their certificates if you are unsure.
  • The vessel – what is the make, model, length, how old is it, is it regularly maintained, how long has the skipper owned it for, is the boat capable of doing the passage?
  • Safety gear – what safety gear is on board? Does the boat have a life raft, grab bag, life rings, fire extinguishers, EPIRB, first aid kit etc.
  • Communications, how will they get weather forecasts? Will you be in cell phone coverage? Will you be able to send or receive messages to and from home during the voyage?
  • The person – are they taking any medication or have any health issues you should be aware of, do they get seasick, do they have any food allergies or special requirements, do they smoke, what is your policy on drinking alcohol on a passage, do you have any criminal convictions, how flexible are they with times/dates off work, are they experienced to do night watches alone, can they provide references, do a Google search of their name, check them out on Linkedin or Facebook, do you know anyone they know? Ask around about their reputation and sailing skills.
  • If you are going offshore you might also be asked to provide a police certificate, and ensure that you have got a current passport and all the necessary visas, vaccinations or meet the entry requirements to get in to the country you are sailing to.
  • Who else is going to be on board? What are their skills and weaknesses, can you meet them too? Who has a first aid certificate, what happens if they are the one that gets injured?

Experience is one thing, but are you going to be able to get along with and trust the other person in a small space for a period of time? Even on a well prepared yacht, personal space is tight and good friends can even end up with issues by the end of a voyage.

5.  Meeting Up

If you are happy with all the answers to the questions you have been given above, then it is time to meet up. Aim to meet in a public place, a café perhaps, before heading to the boat.

During this meeting you should ask things like:

  • If they have a passage plan
  • How the watches and responsibilities cooking/cleaning/navigating would be split
  • What do you like to do on your off watch time? Are any of your habits (singing, smoking, snoring etc!) likely to annoy any of the other crew?
  • What is your sailing style? Will you sail all the way? Or motor when the winds are light? Are they sailing to any kind of a schedule? Are you waiting for the perfect weather window or sailing to a schedule?
  • How about provisioning – who is going to pay for food/fuel etc. How much fresh water does the boat carry?
  • What is the policy on drinking, smoking etc on board during a passage. Does their view and values align with yours?
  • Thoughts on the weather
  • Likely departure dates and passage duration
  • What the crew should bring

Clearly explain everyone’s expectations to ensure that there are no surprises.

6.  Who Pays?

You can either be a volunteer crew sailing for fun and building miles and experience, or a paid delivery crew or skipper. It may depend on whether you are doing a straight A to B delivery passage, or if you are staying on board and cruising around for a longer period of time then everyone seems to have a different strategy, and it is worth sorting this out in advance.

Crew may be asked to split expenses – i.e. to help cover the costs of food, fuel, moorings etc. However if it is a straight delivery passage, then the skipper might also cover the food costs and perhaps even your travel to and or from the boat. The skipper or boat owner usually pays for the maintenance of the boat. Crew usually help when things need to be cleaned, fixed or if you break or lose something.

The key thing to remember is that every boat, skipper and crew is different, so it is important to be upfront from the beginning so everyone’s expectations are clear from the outset.

Yacht tied up to a marina pontoon.

7.  Visiting the Boat

If you are feeling comfortable with the other person, then it is time to visit the boat. Is the boat clean and tidy or covered in mould and mess? Does it look loved and well maintained?  Remember that just because someone owns a nice boat does not mean they actually know how to sail it, nor if someone says they have sailed across an ocean do they know how to race around a harbour. Once you are on board you should show the crew or ask to see:

  • Life raft and grab bag – is it in an easily accessible location? How easy would it be to launch?
  • Fire extinguishers
  • EPIRB – ask if it is registered and if the contact details are up to date
  • Sleeping arrangements – are there enough dry, comfortable bunks? Good lee cloths are essential to stop you falling out of bed and get a proper rest.
  • Navigation equipment – compass, GPS etc
  • Communications – VHF radio, Satellite phone, is there any way you can send and receive emails while underway?
  • Does the engine and engine bay look clean and well maintained?
  • Are the sails in good condition
  • When was the rig last checked
  • Cooking facilities – are you going to be able to make a hot drink/meal? Is there refrigeration?
  • Toilet

Ask lots of questions. Does the skipper/crew know what they are talking about?

Trust your gut feeling. If you have any hesitations about the person or vessel at any stage during the above process – then pull out.

If you are both comfortable with the other person and the vessel then it’s time to go sailing!

Young man carrying a backpack

8.  Getting Prepared

As a crew member it is often better to bring along some of your own safety gear. That way you can ensure that it is in good condition and available whenever you want to use it. This should include:

  • A life jacket – the inflatable ones are easy to pack and wear any time. It pays to service them too before you head away.
  • A harness – for clipping on to the jackstays whenever moving around on deck at sea
  • A torch – ones with red lights are best for preserving night vision
  • Warm clothes – thermals, hat, gloves
  • Wet weather gear – boots, jacket and pants
  • Mobile phone and charger, a spare battery pack charger is useful too
  • Seasick tablets
  • A sailing knife/rigging tool in your pocket.

Not essential but highly recommended:

  • A PLB – Personal Locator Beacon – you can change the registration details any time with the Rescue Coordination Centre. Include the details of the vessel you are sailing on and your personal emergency contact details.
  • A Spot Tracker or InReach – these devices send a position to friends back home and some can even send text messages via satellite as well.
  • Buy Navionics for your Phone or iPad. That way you can always see where you are and how you are tracking on the passage.

You should also

  • Tell someone at home where you are going, how long it is likely to take, the name of the boat and skipper, other crew on board, their contact details and emergency contacts.
  • Tell the skipper about any medications or medical conditions you have, where you keep your medication, and what your usual dosage is.
  • Give the skipper your emergency contact details.

yacht sailing with the cruising chute flying

9.  Lets Go Sailing!

If possible, it is great to go out for a test sail before you start the voyage, and once again you can use this time to assess the skills of the crew/skipper and vessel.

Before you head out you should ensure everyone on board knows:

  • The location and operation of the life raft and location of the grab bag
  • The location and operation of the EPIRB
  • The location and use of the fire extinguishers
  • How to start and stop the engine
  • How to raise and lower/furl and trim the sails
  • Steering by the compass
  • The operation of the autohelm
  • The operation of the GPS
  • The operation of the head (toilet) and emptying of holding tanks
  • The operation of the stove, where to turn the gas on and off
  • How much drinking water is on board
  • The location of all other safety gear on board – life rings, life jackets, first aid kit, bucket, bilge pumps, sea cocks, EPIRB, VHF radio etc
  • The operation of the anchor windlass, location of mooring lines, fenders, boat hooks etc.

You should also discuss the passage plan again and consider:

  • How you are going to monitor weather forecasts
  • The watch system
  • What are you going to eat and who is going to cook it, clean up and when
  • What to do in case of emergencies – fire, running aground, flooding, loss of mast etc
  • Other standing orders – like not leaving the cockpit unless someone else is watching, when to wear your life jacket, when to be clipped on etc.

Remember that the skipper is legally responsible for the safety of the crew and vessel. Crew members should trust their judgement, but also be prepared to ask questions or advise when you are uncomfortable about a decision that is being made.

The skipper should also prepare a crew list, with your emergency contact details, note any medications you are taking, your passport details (on an international trip) and ensure that everyone on board and the vessel are able to enter the country you are sailing to. The crew list should be shared with everyone so you can also pass those details on to your family at home. You might like to keep your passport in the grab bag or somewhere safe, dry and easily accessible in an emergency.

10.  Have fun!

Hopefully after all that preparation, you are all set to go and have a good time with someone who is well qualified on a well prepared boat and you will have an amazing time!

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About the Author:

Viki Moore is a sailor based in Christchurch, New Zealand. She owns a Young 88 that she enjoys cruising and racing around the South Island. She is the President of The Little Ship Club of Canterbury, founder of Women Who Sail New Zealand and is a Director of Yachting New Zealand. She enjoys writing about her sailing adventures on her blog www.astrolabesailing.com and also runs a Marine Public Relations business – The Marine Voice.

Read Viki’s first article for INSIGHTS – Making a Boat Safety Equipment Diagram

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Other INSIGHTS can be found here.

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Noonsite.com or World Cruising Club.

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  1. May 28, 2021 at 8:04 AM
    gtsing1311 says:

    For Viki, great comments on the Crew article. I was reading WWS on FB and there’s a lass about to get on a boat with several men she doesn’t know, for a 20 day cruise/delivery in Europe. She (sensibly) was asking what she should take and got some good advice but my major concern for her was exactly what was covered in your article: about the boat, the skipper, who does what, when, how, who pays. I’ve passed on the link to her via FB: hope she’s safe and has a wonderful time. Well done, good article.

    1. May 28, 2021 at 11:13 PM
      vikimoore says:

      Thank you Glen,
      Yes it is a concern. I have heard some horror stories. I once passed the details of a skipper wanting crew on to a guy who messaged the yacht club. They ended up having to be rescued! The skipper had no idea what he was doing and the boat was in poor condition. I felt terrible as it was me that had introduced them to one another! This was what prompted me to write this article, just to give people a few ideas of some of the questions they should be asking before doing such a passage. Thank you for your kind comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. May 18, 2021 at 10:56 AM
    tintin says:

    Hi Viki – thanks for your articles – real treasure trove of experiential facts – getting into cruising and was wondering if I can poke you for a future article about like a diligent pre-take off checklist so important steps are not neglected or even forgotten and later regretted ๐Ÿ™‚
    You are a big service to the community!
    distant fan
    Erich, East Coast US

    1. May 28, 2021 at 11:10 PM
      vikimoore says:

      Kia Ora Erich!
      Thank you for your kind comment. I will work on that info for you. I love checklists! Watch this space. ๐Ÿ™‚