You want to travel simple, sustainable and the adventurous way so you’ve decided to catch a sailboat ride! Awesome plan. Your life will never be the same ;) Sailing is not only for the rich and famous. Sailing can be done on a budget and without having a boat. I’ve boathitchhiked +/- 27.000 Nautical Miles in all sorts of boats and seas and learned a few things how and how not to do this. Here are some tips in the ride-finding journey.
How and where can you find a ride on a sailboat? Where to look on the internet? In which harbours can you find a ride? But first, what is this way of travel and how does sailboat hitchhiking work?
What is boat-hitchhiking? Sailboat hitchhiking is spontaneous amateur crewing on someone else’s sailing boat. It’s an alternative way of travel. It can be just for day, a few days, for a passage, or for sharing the lifestyle and chores on board. Some call it boathitchhiking, couchsailing, boathitching, or simply crewing!
What means being crew?
Crew is basically everyone on the boat except for the captain. Crew can be short-term but also be on board for years, living and/or working on board. As crew, you help to operate the boat.
Captains often want crew to make a trip more relaxed, fun, safe, and sometimes more affordable. Then, there are people out there, like you and I, aspiring to get a taste of the sailing life but don’t have a boat. Of course, you can book a sailing holiday. But to really get a taste of what it’s like to live on a sailing boat, sailboat hitchhiking is an alternative generally more adventurous and free-spirited way of travel.
How to start?
Be aware of the situation and what an adventure like this is all about. Have your ‘why’ clear so you can search accordingly. Do want to learn how to sail? Throw yourself in a dinghy. Do you want to experience the lifestyle? Then this blogpost will help you get started. Though there are common routes, sailboat hitchhiking isn’t simply going from A to B, like hitchhiking with a car or taking a ferry. Sailboats deal with seasons, routes, weather, breakage, and all sorts of variables. You can’t ‘just’ find a boat going from Spain to Mexico in August. It’s not a common route, and August is in the midst of hurricane season. You have to be flexible with time and destination if you’re looking to catch a sailboat ride. You have to adjust your travel plans to the boat; you can’t have boats adapt to your travel plans. You’re entering someone’s home and you have to adapt, share your value and team up to make it a good experience for all.
So, on the dock, do you just put your thumb out, hold a sign saying a destination and wait for a sailing boat to pass by? If it were that easy, I wouldn’t have written a whole book about it. It is not a straightforward endeavour. The most common questions I receive is ‘how to find a boat.’ Here are some suggestions! Enjoy and let me know what has worked for you.
Where and how to find a sailboat ride?
The most common three methods to find a boat are through connection via internet platforms, personal contact at the harbour, or referrals from your network. There is no fixed “best” approach. It depends on what kind of experience you want. It depends on luck. And it depends on your efforts. In general, to increase the chances of finding a boat, throw out as many lines as possible to give yourself a better chance of catching something. Try different approaches.
Pro and cons
|Your Network||• Crew with personal references is preferred over complete strangers||• Smaller chance of finding a boat via reference if you’re a newbie in the sailing world|
|The Internet||• You can connect with captains all over the world
• You can search far in advance
• You can carefully craft your first introduction, profile, and questions
|• Hard to find out if you will get along
• Difficult to assess if experience and boat state is as claimed
• Scamming ground
• Crew websites ask for a contribution
|Harbours||• Quicker to find a boat last-minute.
• Easier to ‘feel’ if it’s a possible match
• Easier to identify state of the boat
|• Last-minute gives you less time to do proper investigation
• You find few boats that have the same plan as you
• Cost and time intense
Boats usually look for crew in their network first. If they can’t find the skills or availability from people they know, they look further on the internet or in the harbour. You might already know some seafarers, or maybe some of your friends have sailors in their network. Spread the word about your mission but above all your value. Use the power of social media connections. Ask your friends if they have any tips, links or connections. They may or may not, but they will keep you in mind if they hear or read about any possibilities. Jump on board the Ocean Nomads fleet and tap into the network of those who have gone before you and are already out there. We launch our platform in Spring with the aim to connect more of you to the sea and find epic ocean adventure opportunities! Next gathering: Greece Spring 2020
Today’s technology allows us to find out about crew positions and connect with captains all over the world. The internet has connected us more than ever. There are crew websites, sailing forums, and social media communities that can be helpful in your boat search.
Read blogs of sailors, captains, crew, and explore crew websites. It gives you a better idea of what boat hitchhiking is all about, who’s looking for crew, what kind of boats are out there, and what they are searching for.
Navigational Hazard! These platforms are set up with the right intentions. Though be aware that there are people out there misusing the platforms for other purposes than finding crew to help sail the boat. The internet is also a place for scams. You must be wary how, where, and with whom you connect and exchange personal details. Be especially cautious when:
- No profile photo of the captain is present
- Little information is given
- Only female crew is considered
- Your questions are not being answered
Let’s explore the platform possibilities of the world wide web.
Some entrepreneurs have set up a website with the specific purpose to facilitate the matching of boats with potential crew and vice versa. There are numerous crew websites out there. They all have search engines and selection criteria to find a match, in both ways.
What is the best crew website? There is no ‘best’ crew website. Each one has their unique edge and differs in other aspects. Choose your favourite(s) and sign up!
Crew websites in other languages
Ocean Nomads (Soon online!)
It’s also worth checking out discussion forums that often have threads on crew finding and how to find a sailboat ride.
Popular English-speaking sailing forums:
Couchsurfing.org is a travel community platform focused on hosting and staying at a place for free (or just sign up to find locals and like-minded travellers and go for a hike or coffee). The website can be helpful before and after being on a boat.
Couchsurfing also has discussion groups on destinations and travel styles, including sailing and crewing.
It’s also worth checking out sailing forums in your language.
Search on Facebook for crew related sailing groups. Dozens of them exist, and new ones keep popping up.
Which one to sign up for? Each captain has a different favourite crew platform. To increase chances of success as a boat seeker, you can choose to become a member of different platforms. This does mean extra efforts in engagement and profile updating from your side.
Do: Research credibility and trustworthiness of ‘crew wanted’ advertisements to make sure you’re not dealing with scams.
Don’t: Buy a plane ticket after one or two message exchanges on the internet. Find out to the best you can if the boat you found is a good match.
All these websites can be overwhelming. I’ve reached out to the crew websites’ management and reviewed noteworthy ones. An extensive review of crew websites and why or why not join and pay for them, and more about assessing safety and competency can be found in book Ocean Nomad.
You can meet captains and find boats by going dock walking. While you may have less potential boats around as opposed to the internet, walking the dock is a quicker way to analyze if there are suitable possibilities. Strolling around the harbours, or paddling around in bays and anchorages to find a crew spot, is definitely part of the fun. Here you’ll meet like-minded water-lusted people with a shared love for the ocean, with the same dreams, mindset and nomadic lifestyles.
Be curious and brave and wander around the dock to see what’s happening. Start a chat, make a friend and offer your help. The sailing lifestyle can be a lonely one, and most sailors are eager to have a chat and meet a new face. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and will be invited for a coffee.
Back in the days, before the internet, dock walking was basically the only way how boats found crew and how crew found a sailboat ride. Still, captains may look for crew at the last moment because previous arrangements did not work out. Or they realise after the passage to for example the Canary Islands that an extra crew member may be handy. Many captains are also aware that they can pick up crew on the dock. Make friends and success will follow.
How to find out about harbours and anchorages?
Navigation apps like Navionics
Anchorage apps like Navily
Be aware! Boat hitchhiking is not an adventure to be taken lightly. Finding a boat is one thing, finding the right boat, crew and captain match is what makes all the difference. There are some things to be mindful of. On a boat you live, work, eat, leisure together. It’s like camping in the wild with a bunch of strangers. Inform yourself, research and prepare. It’s part of the fun!
How to approach captains? How to stand out? What to put in your crew profile if you don’t have experience? What are captains looking for? How to figure out if a boat is safe and a captain is competent? What to watch out for as a solo female traveler? What are tips and tricks are there on how to find a sailboat ride? Read all about it and more in book Ocean Nomad. Do you have many questions? If you like my personal opinion or advice we can meet for a virtual coconut or you can ask me anything on one the ocean nomads trips.
I’m also working on a cheaper condensed version of the book focusing on the global boat hitchhiking topic. I hope to have it finished for you soon! Put yourself on the email list if you like to be notified when it’s ready.
At the end, it’s the people who make the experience, and the purpose behind all it that make it worthwhile. So take your time finding the right ride. Enjoy the journey. And come and say hi in the Ocean Nomads tribe.