Updated November 30th, 2017.
So you’ve lived the gap year lifestyle for a few months…
Time kind of blurs, right?
And that dreaded question comes up… so, what’s next??
Looking at your dwindling budget, you might be a tad worried about this: You’re not ready to go home yet! You want to see more of the world!
Yet at the same time you find your savvy travel spirit is far more adventurous than your wallet.
But what if we could draw that budget out a little farther?
And let’s go ahead and toss in Australia…or maybe Japan into the mix? Or Tahiti.
“What about Airfare! Accommodation! What the heck are you thinking!? I’ve been living in South East Asia on $7 a day and you want me to pay thousands of dollars for a plane ride to a place where I’ll have to pay $45 or more a night!”
But what if transportation and accommodation were provided?
And what if you got it by riding on a yacht?
Yeah, a freaking yacht!
Well then you would be in the wonderful and hidden world of volunteer crewing…
It’s an active community that you can join in South East Asia to travel all over the world.
We used volunteer crewing to travel from the United States to Mexico and across French Polynesia all the way to Tonga with an onward leg to Australia.
To do what we did with flights would have run over $10,000 each.
9 months, 6 countries, over 5,000 miles, 19 South Pacific islands out in the middle of nowhere on a yacht learning to play the ukulele – all it cost us was our share of the groceries and a little fuel for the 2-cylinder small boat when we wanted to go diving in Bora Bora.
This article is pretty much about how we did that for the cost of food…
And how you can too…
Because a lot of the boats we rode with have left Australia and are headed for South East Asia…
Personal experience section
You might be thinking this is about ‘super yachts’ – those giant white billionaire playthings. On a super yacht, you are a paid employee working under a contract.
Or you might be thinking of those “pay to sail” ships that go out and, for an insane price tag, you too can join the crew to work (right…you pay them to work).
Or you might be thinking this is about cruise liners and how to work on them.
This is not any of those.
There is another totally different community of sailors out there. While it’s the least well-known of the groups, this community is by far the largest one of them all:
(or just, ‘cruisers’ as they call themselves.)
The kind of ships we volunteer on are primarily 35 – 75 feet (10.5 – 22.5 meters) long. Every year thousands of these boats are in motion all over the planet sailing to the world’s most amazing destinations: San Diego, Mazatlan, Fakarava, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Niue and New Zealand are just a few of the places we have gone. These ships are ‘crewed”’by the owners – usually either a single person or a couple that bought the boat in order to sail off into the sunset for the voyage of a lifetime. These are casual sailors looking to have a good time.
But that good time hits a snag pretty quickly when those vacationers have to drive the boat 24 hours a day, and there’s a lot to do. Cooking, cleaning the hull, driving, pulling lines, setting sails, boat chores, etc. does not a perfect vacation make.
These casual sailors usually want help – someone to stay awake a few hours at night, cook dinner every now and then and help out where it’s needed. Often they don’t want to hire a professional crew because it’s expensive and they don’t want to give up command of their ship to a charter captain. What they really want is someone who is flexible on time and destination, reliable, easy to get along with and is also willing to help out in exchange for a bed and the promise of adventure.
Sound like anyone you know? Because that’s where you come in:
- Are you a responsible person who likes to be helpful?
- Are you capable of staying up by yourself for 3 hours a night? And, sober, we should add – fair warning, you’ll need to be sober while driving the boat!
- Are you a good roommate?
- Are you willing to trade the ability to decide on exact destinations in order to visit out of the way islands that get, maybe, 100 visitors a year?
Then volunteer crewing could be for you!
Now ain’t that the life! Greg and Tiffany enjoying coconuts in their nautical ‘living room.’
It’s a lot like WWOOFing, except you replace the farm with a yacht, the animals with sails and the views with something a lot more like this…
The basic deal: you give your effort and time, and the captain provides a ride with a place to sleep. Now as you might imagine with most volunteer experiences, the details after that vary boat to boat. The most common deal is that everyone on the crew evenly splits groceries and shares the boat tasks. Since the captain/owner decides where you are going and how fast you get there, they get to pay for the gas, docking fees and any materials for their own boat. There are other arrangements out there, and it comes down to what you and the captain agree on as fair to both of you.
Don’t I need a license or something?
It depends. In order to legally work on a yacht or cruise liner – in order to have a job where you are paid – then yes, yes you do.
However to be a volunteer – to be someone who gets asked aboard a recreational sailing ship to help out and who is not under any form of contract and is not receiving compensation? No certification is required. You’re just a friend of the captain along for the ride.
Again, it’s like WWOOFing. You’re not working for this person so much as just going sailing with them and helping out. That leads to a great question though:
Is it safe?
Just like anything else when it comes to travel, there are risks and when you plan ahead those risks can be mitigated. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety! You need to make sure that you choose a boat that *should* be safe, along with a captain and crew that will act in a safe manner. Boats with water in the bilge, rusted or broken equipment, missing or expired safety and navigation gear, owners and crew who are completely new to sailing, act in an unsafe manner or who want to sail during typhoon / hurricane / cyclone season or go to places where piracy has occurred – any of these should be a major red flag for you that would indicate maybe the next ship would be a better choice. Remember you will be asleep miles from land – is this the boat and the people you want to be in that situation with?
This is another reason why, while no official licensing is required to be a volunteer, we still recommend you know enough to keep yourself out of trouble. Check out the sidebar to this article Not a salty dog? for some tips on how to get started growing a healthy set of sea legs without busting your budget.
One article really can’t cover all the specific details of how to volunteer onboard sailboats so if you think this might be for you, our blog has a How to Crew section that covers how we do what we do. Also, we love to answer questions so please shoot us a line!
(Just not a rope..!)
Volunteer crewing comes with no contracts but tons of awesome. You can volunteer on a boat for as long as you and the captain want to travel together. While you get little-to-no say about exactly where you’ll end up (though they should tell you before you leave), or how quickly you’ll get there – in exchange, you’ll get to experience isolated pieces of the world that most other travellers rarely get to see. For those travelling with specific dates and obligations this may not be the best opportunity but for those willing to take a few months to follow where the wind will actually blow, you can be amazed at where you end up!
About the authors: Greg and Tiffany are travelling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, getting pooped on by seagulls, hand-crafted coconut bikinis, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, check them out at www.CoastGuardCouple.com!
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