In the previous post, I laid out why people want to be crew, why boat owners would be seeking out crew, and the basics of crewing or hitchhiking on a boat.
Now we’re ready to talk about the detailed step-by-step process for how to find a boat to crew or hitchhike on!
Be sure to read until the last step for the BIGGEST SECRET to successfully finding a crewing/ hitchhiking opportunity!
You can find a more detailed description of each sailing season on Improve Sailing’s website!
Caution! This sailing season map is not 100% accurate, so be sure to do your own research about your desired passage. To give you a head start, you can check out the Noonsite website.
Choose the city/ town where you would like to embark on your sailing trip from:
Certain coastal towns around the world act as a hub for sailors to pass through on their passages, but more importantly, many boat owners leave their boats in these towns during off-season. These coastal towns have marinas where boat owners can leave their boats in safe-keeping, and where owners can live while they complete boat maintenance & repair work, during these periods.
For instance, Rio Dulce (the town of Fronteras), in Guatemala, is a river off the Caribbean Sea, which is protected from the impact of the ocean’s unforgiving hurricane season. It’s also an affordable town in a developing country that features several marinas where owners can keep their boats for a more affordable price than in a country such as the US.
Therefore, check to see if there’s any sailing towns nearby to where you are, or if you’re traveling, see if there’s any nearby to your upcoming destinations.
Caution: Be sure to plan sufficient time to find your boat! Leave at least 2-3 weeks for this process, because often boat owners may be waiting for a weather window, or need to finish up repairs on their boats, before heading off to sea. You want to be in a flexible position.
For instance, if it takes a week to meet your perfect match in the marina, and the boat owner(s) says they won’t be departing for another 2 weeks because they’re in the process of completing work on their boat, you don’t want to end up in disappointment that you don’t have the time to wait the 2 weeks.
Courtesy of the Alternative Sailing Community, here’s a few examples of “where to be and when”, if you’re chasing after a specific passage/ region for sailing:
I received positive feedback on my write-up, which I share with you below. Feel free to use my write-up as a template (or simply as inspiration) for your own! Take note of the specific details I included, such as my:
Additionally, be sure to include a few photos of yourself. It’s best if you can include relevant photos of yourself sailing, scuba diving, snorkelling, spear fishing, or any other adventurous photos!
Here’s the ad I posted, as an example:
I’m looking to be crew of a boat sailing anywhere along the Central American coast or the Caribbean anytime from beg of January to end of February 2020. I’m currently in Guatemala but open to flying out to meeting you to join as crew, so I’m very flexible to make a sailing opportunity work! I’m not on a mission to “get anywhere” or to sail to “somewhere”. I simply love sailing and want to gain more sailing experience alongside good-hearted, safe people 🙂
Here’s bit about me:
16 months ago, I quit my corporate finance job, sold all of my belongings, and embarked on backpacking trip to travel the globe… a trip that soon transformed into a soul-seeking journey.
Since the age of 19, I’ve been backpacking the world a few months at a time, and I discovered traveling as a deep-rooted passion of mine. Over the last 10 yrs, my travel style has transformed drastically from the drunken rallying partier to the early-rising yogic adventurer.
Thus far, my journey has entailed local, cultural immersive experiences across developing countries, and moving between conscious communities in Asia and Central America.
My dream has been to be a crew member on a sailboat as part of my journey across the world. Since departing for my trip, unfortunately I have not yet stumbled upon a sailing opportunity. However, I am determined to make my sailing dream into a reality. I am eager to get back sailing again, expand my sailing knowledge, and learn how to sail across the oceans!
I’m respectful, easy-going, authentic, and an open communicator. I’m curious, always eager to learn new things (especially about sailing!), and absorb knowledge like a sponge.
My experience sailing is the attainment of my American Sailing Association level 1 certification, and sailing a 25ft Catalina for a few hours every Sunday after that! I’ve also been on a few overnight sailing trips for multiple days, so I know I don’t get seasick 🙂
Other than sailing, I love backpacking travel, scuba diving & snorkelling, surfing, swimming, hiking, camping, cooking, health, nature, live music, drawing, dancing my butt off, art, yoga and meditation.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Create an ad to print out and post up in marinas and at the local sailor bars.
Include basic information about yourself in your ad, such as your:
Additionally, don’t forget to include at least 1 photo of yourself.
Here’s the ad I printed out, as an example:
I recommend making your print-out ad stand out a little more than mine. For instance, you can add a border around the page with colors, and print it out in color if you can!
If you’re not situated in a town with boat marinas, then this print-out ad wouldn’t apply to you. However, I highly recommend you to situate yourself in a coastal town!
The purpose of these Facebook groups connect sailors and crew from across the globe.
There are 4 main Facebook groups you can join where you can post your crew-seeking Facebook ad (discussed in Step 3):
Every few weeks, I recommend reposting your Facebook ad in these groups, in order to refresh visibility of your ad.
These are social network websites specifically designed for sailors to find crew.
Many of these websites require a membership fee, however, I will share the 2 free and most effective crew-seeking websites I used:
If you are in a boat hub town, or if you know which coastal town you plan to depart from, this is an extremely effective step for finding crewing options.
Find the relevant local Facebook groups or forums for the cruisers in that town. These Facebook groups and forums exist for all the cruisers/ boaters in that community to communicate about local news, events, and other boat-related discussion. These Facebook groups are not specifically for finding crewing opportunities, but it is extremely relevant for you to post your ad about you’re seeking after!
Repost your ad in these groups every few weeks, in order to refresh visibility of your ad.
I found the local cruisers Facebook groups in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, by searching Facebook and Google for “Rio Dulce Cruisers,” “Rio Dulce Cruisers Net,” and “Rio Dulce Cruisers Forum.” I also asked the local sailors in Rio Dulce if there were any Facebook groups for the local cruisers.
Here’s some examples of the local cruisers Facebook groups & the forum which I used in Rio Dulce:
Check the Facebook groups regularly for responses to your posts, but even more importantly, check regularly for new postings by boat owners and sailors with crew positions available for their boats! Respond to these postings as promptly as possible, and send them a private message through Facebook as well. In your private message, briefly introduce the crewing opportunity you’re looking for & your availability. Beneath your intro, simply copy-&-paste the detailed write-up you created about yourself in Step 3 (boat owners will typically request you to tell them about yourself and your experience anyways, so this will cut down back-and-forth communication time!).
You can also check in the comments section of posts created by other crew-seekers to see if any sailors wrote them back about potential crewing opportunities. If you find any relevant leads for yourself, private message those sailors.
Similarly, invest time to regularly search the crew-seeking websites for opportunities in your desired departure location (you can search for boats by location), and connect with the boat owners. Do not wait for boat owners to reach out to you, because it doesn’t happen very often!
If you’re in a boat hub town where there’s a community of boaters and sailors, spend a few hours strolling through each of the marinas during the afternoon. Walk up to people sitting at the marina’s restaurant/ patio, people on the boats sitting in the water, and even people working on their boats on ‘the hard’ (i.e., in the marina, but sitting out of the water). Similarly, in the evenings (from 6pm – 9pm) visit the local sailor bars, and approach whoever is around. Start conversations with these persons with the goal of learning if they know of any boats looking for crew.
This may seem like a daunting task, but the sailing and boating communities are filled with kind-hearted people who are interested in booth socializing and helping others in the community.
I was well-received by most (not all!) of those whom I sparked conversation with! It’s all part of the crew-seeking adventure 🙂
Funny enough, many of the people I approached at the marinas & bars recognized me from the Facebook ads I posted in the local cruisers Facebook group! Haha.
Here’s an example of my ‘conversation starter’ when I approached people at the marinas and bars:
“Good morning! I’m visiting the marinas to see if there’s anyone you may know who is leaving on their sailboats in the next 1-2 weeks, and is looking for crew. Would you happen to know of anyone?”
In asking this, I’m also asking the persons I’m speaking with if they’re seeking crew!
As you’re going through all of the marinas and bars, take advantage of this time to post your printed-out ad there —- Just a head’s up, the best spot is the men & women’s bathrooms.
By far, the BEST strategy to get the most opportunities is to get access to a VHF radio from one of the boats in the area, hop onto the local channel, and announce your personal ad & contact info to the net. This will instantly publicize yourself to all the boat owners in the area.
For instance, in Rio Dulce, every morning they have the “Cruisers Net” from approx 7:30am – 8:30am on radio channel 69. I made a few sailor friends in the area, and they happily allowed me to swing by in the mornings & use their VHF to make my announcement. Also, while I was walking through the marinas in Rio Dulce, I was directed to the office of the woman who hosts the ‘Cruisers Net’ (on channel 69) every morning, and she was willing to make the ad announcement on my behalf each morning.
Don’t settle for the first crewing opportunity that appears at your feet in fear of not coming across any other opportunities, particularly, if you’re situated in a sailing town. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake, and I ended up miserable!
As discussed in the previous post, know what your motivations are for crewing, and choose your boat based on how the opportunity satisfies those intentions. It’s always a good idea to be upfront with boat owners and communicate your intentions to them.
Meet with the captain & crew in person before committing, preferably more than once.
Always be prepared with back-ups of other crewing opportunities in case your boat cancels on you. This happened to me several times for a wide variety of reasons (i.e., a buyer put an offer to purchase the boat owner’s boat, the boat-owning couple had a fall-out in their relationship, repairs are taking longer than expected, etc.).
If you’re near Guatemala, a great way to ‘get your foot into the companionway’ is to spend time sailing with Daeli’s Sailing Community in Rio Dulce. It gives you the opportunity to learn the foundations of sailing in calm, serene lake waters, as opposed to out on the tumultuous waves of the seas.
I laid out all the ‘ins-and-outs’ of the sailing community in a previous post if you’re interested in learning more about it!
The pool of crew competing for boat positions, in comparison to the number of boat owners seeking crew, may seem daunting. However, when you find yourself in a sailing town, you’ll understand that this is not in fact the case!
So, simply set your intentions on finding a crew position, invest your energy into your intention, and your dream will become your reality.