Finding A Crew

Indian Navy [CC BY 2.5 in ( or CC BY 2.5 in (], via Wikimedia Commons

The boating season has just started and you are planning your outings for the coming year. One question you may be asking yourself is – Have I got enough crew? In the past you may have managed adequately, but situations change. Are you:

  • Planning longer passages?
  • Ocean crossings?
  • Carrying children on board?
  • Feeling rather older and stiffer than you were last year?
  • Wondering whether single handed sailing is still a good idea?

If so, maybe you should consider taking more crew with you. The right pair of extra hands could make all the difference – but how do you find the right pair?

Getting a crew is an age old problem. In the 1700 & 1800s men were shanghaied in taverns and found themselves conscripted onto boats for the forthcoming season. Fortunately that doesn’t happen now. Most skippers will initially approach their friends and families, but they have their own commitments, may not be as keen as you are, may not have the necessary expertise and may resent being told what to do. There’s nothing that will break up a good friendship as quickly as living together in the confines and stressful atmosphere of a small boat. Alternatively you may approach your co-workers, but the same problems apply. Another solution is to ask other skippers whether they know of any suitable crew. But skippers tend to carefully guard their list of potential crew and are not always willing to share it.

Failing friends, family and skippers recommendations, the next alternative is to advertise or search for crew online. You may decide to advertise in the classified section of boating magazines or on the internet or social media. The advantages are the number of people you can contact easily and quickly. The downside is that you never really know the sort of person you are dealing with. Some people claim they are experienced sailors when they really mean they’ve been out on a boat for a few appetizers and drinks. They want to be cruising, not crewing. There are online sites for people to advertise themselves as crew members and sometimes marinas or yacht clubs will post lists of sailors willing to crew.

Assuming you now have list of people you are considering, how do you actually choose your ideal crew?

  • Work out beforehand what sort of person you are looking for; what is acceptable and what is not.
  • Try to meet them and preferably take a trip out on the boat before you definitely take them on. You need to asses not only their expertise but also their character. Will you be able to get on with each other, will they accept your way of sailing and will they be prepared to muck in with all the chores however uncomfortable? Try to get a picture of their lifestyle; drinking habits, family situation, budget limitations, food preferences etc. A sense of humour is always an asset but make sure that yours and theirs are compatible.
  • You may decide to take on a complete novice who is keen to learn. This is fine as long as you factor into the equation the time it will take to train them into being at the “useful” stage. They need to be able and willing to follow your instructions, but their energy and enthusiasm may be just what you need.
  • Make it clear upfront what duties are expected of them, both in the galley and on deck. They must be aware that they are not necessarily on board purely for the sailing, but also for the cooking, cleaning and repairing chores on the boat.
  • Be clear about financial responsibilities, whether you are paying them for their work, or whether you are giving them a free ride in exchange for their duties. Or you may decide to ask them to chip in for such things as mooring fees, fuel or provisioning. It is important to establish these guidelines from the start.
  • Make sure that they understand that a sailing trip can be open ended. Just as a voyage will always be towards a given place rather than a definite to, so the end of a cruise may depend of a multitude of considerations such as, wind, tide, weather, engine problems, to mention just a few. Your crew will have to be flexible as well as committed.
  • Legalities such as taking deposits and insurance should be thought about carefully and make sure your crew have their passports with them and enough funds to get home if necessary.

Just remember – it is impossible to get rid of your crew in the middle of the Atlantic, so make time before you set out to choose a crew you will be happy with. If you are successful, they’ll want to sail with you again.

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