Inviting new crew onto your boat, or joining a new boat as crew is exciting and can lead to long and fruitful friendships. If things aren’t managed carefully, there is also the possibility of misunderstandings and arguments, so think carefully about what you want to do and follow our advice.

Boat Owners
Decide the level of sailing experience you are looking for in potential crew – an ‘expert’ or a willing learner? Don’t forget that you will all be living together in cramped conditions, so personality can be as important as sailing skills.
Be honest about your sailing skills, cruising ambitions and the quality of your boat when describing your sailing opportunity. Little things are important too. If you don’t like people smoking on your boat, or only prepare vegetarian food, then make this clear up-front and it will save embarrassment later.
Check the paperwork – make sure your boat insurance policy covers you for the right number of crew, and that crew joining and leaving the boat overseas have the correct visas and onward flight tickets. If you are charging crew for the passage rather than just sharing costs, then check that your insurance company doesn’t consider you to be commercially chartering, as this may have further implications.
Consider all aspects of safety carefully. Is the liferaft big enough, and do you have the correct number of lifejackets? Define your rules about wearing lifejackets and make sure new crew are familiar with all the safety equipment and that you practice man overboard and other drills.
Define crew responsibilities – will everyone be expected to cook, clean and stand watches?

Prospective Crew
Be honest about your sailing skills and don’t pretend you have more experience than you really do. Stretching the truth could put you in a difficult situation, and potentially put the lives of everyone on board at risk. Everyone prefers a willing learner than a false ‘expert’!
Ocean sailing is about more than sailing skills; you’ll be living, eating and sleeping in a small space with strangers. Think about other transferable skills and attributes.
Ask three or four people to be ready to provide references to prospective boat owners. Your referees could be other boat captains you’ve sailed with, or people who can vouch for your character.
If you find a sailing opportunity you like, research the boat type and route. If the boat owner has a website or blog, read it. Check travel options for arrival and departure ports and all visa and immigration requirements, and find out if you need vaccinations or other medication.
Get yourself good travel insurance that specifically covers ocean sailing, and the countries you will be visiting.
Have an emergency budget to pay for flights in case anything goes wrong.

Joining a Charter Boat
Charter boats are professionally operated businesses and can be a good way to make a long passage. Captains are usually highly qualified and may provide tuition to the crew, and they are also used to sailing with a wide range of people. A good charter boat should be a very happy and safe environment for both novice and more experienced sailors.
Not all charter companies are the same, so research and make sure you are happy with the company, the boat, and what you will be getting for your money.

Get Together
Getting along with all the crew is vital for everyone on board. The best way to get to know people is to have a trial sail together before starting the voyage, but this may not be practical. If it isn’t possible to sail together first, then try to meet up, or at the very least to Skype so you can ‘see’ each other. Have lots of phone conversations and try to get to know each other, and to answer all questions.
If references are available, check them.
Most crews and end in long term friendships, but sometimes people just don’t get along. If this happens, address issues in an open and fair way before problems start. Having written agreements in advance can help in some cases.
Above all, be prepared to be flexible and adaptable.

Agree the financial arrangements in writing before setting sail. Some crews agree to share living costs such as food, fuel and mooring fees, with individuals paying their own travel and onshore costs and the owner paying for maintenance and repairs. But sometimes the owner pays for everything, and sometimes the crew pay a passage fee.
The financial agreement may affect how the crew works together – if a crew pays a passage fee or daily rate, are they part of the crew or on holiday? If the owner pays for everything, are the crew effectively employees?
Owners charging a fee rather than shared costs could legally be considered to be chartering, which could have implications for boat insurance and even the level of safety and communications equipment on board. If you are unsure, check with your insurance broker and with your national yachting organisation. Crew being asked to pay a fee can make similar checks to find out whether a charter company or private owner is properly registered, approved and insured.

Further Reading

Excellent article from Yachting World magazine, with real-life examples of problems aboard, from Skipper and Crew perspective and sound advice on how to overcome tensions within a crew.

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