Cutting loose and sailing someone else’s boat can be a lot of fun, though you will have some responsibility as part of being a yacht crew. Most crews are volunteers – here we will look at volunteer yacht crew as a primary focus.
What do volunteer yacht crew do?
Your role as a volunteer yacht crew will often be a mix of social and practical roles. Skippers of most yachts will be looking for someone they can enjoy a beer with – the reason people go sailing in most cases is for fun and a boring, moody git is not going to be fun to be around.
Practical skills? You may have never been afloat in your life before you go sailing with someone as a volunteer yacht crew. If this is the case you’re probably going because you’re curious and want to learn. Skippers are often happy to teach, and as long as you’re making some effort to lend a hand then you will be welcome. Unless you have some physical attributes that the skipper wants to explore (!) being a layabout isn’t really good form.
The more experience you have at sea the more use you will be as a volunteer yacht crew. Organisations like the Royal Yachting Association sell logbooks that you can put your sailing trips in, signed off by the skipper, that amount to a full record of your yachting experience. You could end up like me, a crew member with thousands of miles under your belt yet relatively few formal qualifications. If this is the case and you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk you could be a very valuable crew member indeed. I might be hired for a longer delivery across the Bay of Biscay while your newbie crew above might just do a few day sails until they are confident enough to do a longer run afloat.
Do you know your way around a marine diesel? Can you fix sails? Do you have a First Aid qualification or skills? These secondary skills can really make you someone worth taking afloat as on most trips there will be one incident or another that someone with repair skills can get the boat back to the dock when it may have been towed in by local rescue authorities.
Can you cook? If you can cook a warming one-pot meal while the boat’s being chucked about in a decent blow then the crew will love you deeply!
If you can drink without getting argumentative or hostile, that is a major attribute to being a part of life afloat. Drinking and having a laugh is something that sailors are renowned for, but troublesome drinkers should leave the stuff alone as a bad atmosphere in a tight space can really ruin a trip. If you are the sort to come up with pranks and high jinks with a few beers in you, consult with the skipper before deploying on your adventures! One thing to remember – your body temperature falls with alcohol in you so you could become hypothermic very quickly should you go overboard. As such it pays to be sober as soon as the boat leaves the dock.
The more you can do the better!
As in all careers the more skills you learn the more use you can be. As a volunteer yacht crew you can develop sailing skills on a whole range of things from electronics and diesel maintenance to the core skills of physically sailing the boat in all conditions. As indicated above though, being the sort of personality type to be welcomed aboard is often as important as a sail loft full of secondary skills – a happy ship is always the best ship to sail!