Join Date: Mar 2007
Home Port: Durban
Information to assist crew to find a berth on a cruising yacht - to give first time crew, especially those using the internet to find a crew berth, some items to ponder.
Yachts looking for "paying" crew:
Anything more than crew paying for their equal share of onboard food/drinks, personal visas, etc., is a commercial venture with serious insurance, legal and liability implications. Expecting crew to pay towards any boat expenses (i.e. fuel, marina charges, boat levies/fees, maintainance, etc.) makes that crewmember a PAYING crew/guest/passenger - with the relevant consequences. The best way to keep this covered is to split the grocery bill at the store's check-out counter. Remember, as crew you are contributing your time/duties to the vessel to assist in passage-making - the vessel's insurance policy most often insists on a certain number of crew aboard anyway.
Going to crew Trans-Oceanic? That means 2 - 4 (or more) weeks at sea!
Assuming the yacht is well founded, you're confident in the skipper's abilities and you're prepared for an ocean voyage, here are some suggestions (and thoughts) that may fit in your sea bag if you haven't already made a checklist:
PFD c/w "pea-less" whistle and strobe light
Best available/affordable high seas jacket and bib-pants (Helly Hansen, etc.), sea-boots, gloves, cowl
Several peaked caps (you'll lose one)
Ski goggles (handy protection in heavy rain/hail)
Synthetic fleece vest/shirt/jacket/pants
"Tilly"-type, quick wash/dry underwear
Sleeping bag, knowing it will get foul and wet
Large "zip-lock" bags to keep underwear, sox, etc., dry
Water-proof bag for valuables (wallet, passport, etc.) and your own "ditch bag"
"WalkMan" & discs, reading material and journal
Bring a small day pack or belly pouch for shore excursions.
All should fit in one, soft, sea bag.
Personal Medic Kit
- Individual packages of instant oatmeal, hot chocolate,
- Soups and juice crystals
- S/S thermos bottle
- Ginger snap cookies & ginger candies (known for anti-seasickness qualities)
- Sea Sick pills/potion
- Good medi-scissors, tweezers and magnifying glass
- Hot/cold compress, butterfly bandages, elastoplasts roll
- Lip balm, skin lotion, after-shower talcum mixture
- Topical anesthetic pads.
Silly hats/fun stuff, roll of duct tape (all hatches leak), braided nylon twine and about 20' - 30' of light gauge s/s wire (tying stuff down, lanyards, etc.), knee pads (in rough seas, you'll spend time on your knees), binoculars, a cheap watch (Timex- leave any good ones at home) and a cheap camera, alarm clock, flashlight & extra batteries. Antiseptic hand soap & nail brush. Small gift for skipper and, perhaps a few "trading goods" - use your imagination.
Prior to Departure from Home
Upon Arrival at the Vessel
- Become confident & practice (and become famous for) preparing a one-pot meal, a bread/dessert or other "surprise" from the galley.
- Make sure you're in good physical shape.
- If musical, an harmonica, flute are good - practice. Guitars are too big/subject to damage.
- Aside from the usual safety familiarization and with the skipper's permission, check all the rigging possible to familiarize yourself, check all pad eyes, shackles, shackle pins, winches, blocks, sail tracks and reefing gear - even fresh from the shipyard, pins & bolts can be the wrong size/material, loose or missing. Insist on practicing reefing and head-sail changes. A "shake-down" cruise in home waters is essential.
- Make a diagram of all thru-hull fittings (where they are) and go find them - also rudder shaft fitting and propeller shaft fitting/stuffing box. FIND AND KNOW WHERE ALL THE HOLES IN THE BOAT ARE.
- If possible, secure a crew berth in the aft section or mid-section - the forepeak is very uncomfortable in seaway. Find and examine all hand-holds (and other fittings/fixtures that you may grab), especially around the galley and in the head, to ensure they will take your weight when being tossed about.
- If "hot-bunking", discuss with your bunk mate, in advance, any personal feelings about hygiene, tidiness, privacy that may concern you.
- Report ANYTHING to the skipper that doesn't "feel" right and GET RESOLUTION with him to allay any future doubts or determine a course of action, in advance, for those feelings.
- Ladies, please watch out for crew lists that specifically "fish" for single women companions - seems that not all sailors are gentlemen, despite glowing terms of adventure and modest expectations of your "participation" in shipboard life! There are however many genuine ones - do your homework carefully.
- Never have a rigid time schedule - the ways of the sea are not timely as weather, a great anchorage (or beach bar), breakdowns/repairs, etc. can eat into schedules. And, trying to keep a schedule usually coincides with s#*t happening.
- Binoculars - bring your own and never play around with the helmsman's unless invited to - a real faux pas and could be dangerous in critical situations.
- Never tread the deck in "shore shoes" - keep deck shoes aboard or go barefooted.
- You'll never have too much money or enough credit resources - just don't flaunt the amount or how to access your private stash. Yep, I've seldom met a sailor who cruised "under budget" or purposely missed the bargain of the century in some foreign port.
- Speaking of money - some/most skippers ask or expect a contribution to the food "kitty" and some shipboard expenses. This may be a modest amount or completely outrageous. Assuming you are performing "crew" functions, your initial contribution to operating the vessel is a foregone conclusion. Sure, you're getting a "free" ride, some experience and adventure but paying more than US$20.00/day for the privilege is borderline, outrageous. Whatever the arrangement, get any agreed amounts noted down and mutually signed, preferably in the logbook. (see note above about "paying crew")
- And the above brings up the subject of liability. Are you a guest, passenger or crew? Again, most skippers will ask you to sign a waiver or some sort of agreement for your participation, noting that you must have sufficient funds to repatriate yourself from any distant port, that you have your own health/medical insurance and that your "documentation" is bullet-proof. Be prudent and careful - judge the professionalism of the skipper in these regards as well as his attention to detail. Bear in mind that you can not be made to sign away your legal rights.
Note: Any charge above your own food contribution, personal visas and permits, etc., constitutes a "commercial venture" with dramatic and serious insurance and legal implications. Paying for any fuel, dockage, etc., makes you a "paying guest". As such, check relevant insurance policies (that covers paying guests), vessel documentation (to carry paying guests), skipper's documentation (to take charge of a vessel carrying paying guests), etc.
- Get fit and keep fit - the vessel will be constantly moving and so will muscles you never thought you had. Legs, arms, upper body and, believe it or not, some internal organs (your intestines are muscles, too). Therefore, bowel movements (or lack of them) aren't necessarily only affected by anxiety, diet and the sea's motion if you're trying to diagnose an uncomfortable feeling - usually tummies settle down after 3 or 4 days.
- Hydration...drinking water is something often overlooked when you're surrounded by the stuff. Make sure you drink enough, at least 3 litres/day, ideally 4+ litres.
Note: if the water is "made" by a water maker or gathered from rain, it will lack the minute amounts of natural minerals of shore-side water. Taking multivitamins with mineral content may be advisable on lengthy journeys - consult your physician when you get a recommended pre-cruise check-up.
- Speaking of water, it is usually in short supply so get used to sponge baths (try it with 1 or 2 litres of water!) rather than showering - not pretty, but can be a real art. If warm enough, bath in the ocean with 'salt water' soap, then rinse off with your ration of fresh water.
- Do not simply assume that the skipper (or anyone else onboard) knows what to do with the contents of the large First Aid Kit (there is one, right?). Taking a first aid and CPR course yourself is a good idea.
- A further element that may sneak up on you is "fight or flight" syndrome. This generally happens when you're about to be called into action - anchoring, reefing, dealing with an emergency. For some, their bladder reacts and the urge to visit the head is anywhere from uncomfortable to critical when something unfamiliar or challenging is about to take place. Try to anticipate this reaction and use the heads.
- So, you've found a well-equipped boat, even some "toys" onboard - wow! But get the use of the goodies cleared up with the skipper before you leave. Nice shower, Satellite phone, nifty dinghy with an outboard, etc., - some skippers believe the use is for them only! Reported also was the skipper who won't let anyone use the electric windlass, risking draining of the batteries. Its also a good idea to discuss what, if any duties, you might be expected to do aboard at an anchorage while the skipper or others head for shore and the bar you can see in the distance. Hey, it happens!
- Another revelation is the "skipper/scam artist", found particularly on deliveries. It ain't his boat and regardless of your arrangements with him, any future personal or legal difficulties usually find him walking and you holding the bag. Find the person/company who is the documented owner and go over your "mutual" crewing expectations and obligations with him. A professional approach should be welcomed by all parties - and if not, bail out!
- Be particularly careful if the skipper plans to skirt U.S./Canadian/any major ports or solicits for "passengers" after selecting you as crew... both very dodgy (legal) situations!
- Attitude is EVERYTHING. Your new shipmates will include strangers with their own "baggage", ambitions and skills - always look for the best in everybody and be prepared for the sharing of deepest secrets - and hearing the most outrageous lies/lives' stories - when huddled in the cockpit or under starry skies.
- Above all, especially for neophytes (and sailors with notoriously short memories), remember that as romanticized as sailing is, you WILL find discomfort, fear and a hankering for terra firma. This will be offset by finding personal strength in challenging your surroundings, overcoming fears and, perhaps, falling hopelessly in love with the sea, its' shores and our fragile, beautiful world.
- Remember that the boat represents a large investment to the owner - as crew, treat it with respect.
- In all cases, any signs of incompetence, lack of vessel preparation, drunkenness, abuse, privacy or sex issues and general incompatibility that make your "red lights" go off, should prepare you to abandon the venture. By all means, express your concerns to the skipper but don't hesitate to bail out if your "level of comfort" is going to be compromised. Any serious concerns you have now, that can't be resolved, will be compounded in the many days, isolated at sea, despite feelings of disappointment and possible regret you may initially have when the vessel sails without you.
- Do not present yourself or your abilities with any exaggeration but do emphasize any particular abilities or talents you have confidence in.
- Boozing skippers or crew are trouble - a ration of rum or a beer/per day is okay, but any amount incapacitating, is not acceptable.
- Some skippers shout and use less than flattering terms when under pressure - remember he's responsible for both his safety and yours - but it should be only a temporary phase. Don't get insulted or let these comments get under your skin. Never-the-less, pay attention, ask for guidance, re-visit the situation and/or seek resolution.
- Needless to say, privacy on any yacht is at a premium and in the tropics, nudity is not uncommon - this applies to both sexes and can be troublesome if not fully confronted - if you've got any "hang-ups" about either, ask and clear the air. And speaking of sex, make sure your own morals, ethics and demeanor are consistent with the skipper and crew.
- Remember that MOST people are honest and above board - just do your own homework carefully. Find the right crew or yacht to go cruising.
You've rationalized all of this? Great! Now, prepare for the time of your life, forming friendships and memories that will stay with you forever.
Good luck and fair winds.
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