Hitchhike Aboard Sailboats!

How can you sail the world without ever owning a boat?

Hitchhike aboard sailboats of course! 

Would you like unlimited adventure, see places hard to access, dive in reefs in far off places, enjoy different cultures and learn new skills all on a tight budget!  In some rare instances even getting paid for it!  How?

Easy!  Let me answer some of the immediate questions going round in your brain!

Q. Do you need sailing experience? 

A. No … all you need is the right attitude, be easy to get along with and a willingness to learn and pull your weight.

Q. What is it likely to cost?

A.  A donation for food, sometimes fuel but remember the wind is free … which you would have to pay anyway and is dirt cheap compared to the cost of an airline ticket and accommodation at destinations!

Q. Where can you find a yacht needing crew?

A. Marina notice boards, yacht clubs, on line, on notice boards at back packer hostels and go to marinas and talk to the sailors there.

Caught Your Interest?  Want to Learn More! 


My three experiences:

1.  I needed crew to accompany me across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia so I posted a notice in a Yacht Club in the Bay of Islands. 

A young female backpacker from Israel answered it; Orit had no sailing experience and was hitchhiking round the world …she was a great asset on the journey. 

Orit’s attitude and willingness to learn, participate in taking the helm and doing watches made her a much valued crew member and she cooked up some brilliant meals.  


2. In Australia when I was sailing up the east coast to the Whitsunday Islands  I put a notice up in a couple of Back-Packer hostels and in no time at all had a couple from England to accompany me and they had a real desire to hitchhike aboard sailboats.  They had no experience at all.


3. Sailing to the Pacific Islands on someone else’s yacht there were five of us one of them a young girl hitchhiker who had applied online, she travelled from Auckland to Tonga and then jumped ship to another yacht to continue on her voyage around the world. 

Her only experience was a trip on one of the Tall Ships where she learnt a few basic skills.

That is just how easy it is!  The main thing you will need is time and the right attitude if you want to see the world and hitchhike aboard sailboats!

How to Make Yourself a Desirable Crew Mate:


  • Go to the local Sailing Club or Yacht Club and find out when the mid-week races are on or any other ‘fun’ races and be there early …. I guarantee there will be several yacht owners happy to take on extra crew and you will learn the basics of sailing.

  • If you have the time go out a few weeks in a row and make it known that you are keen to crew on a sailboat … even coastal.  Like those that hitchhike from one city or island to another.  A lot of skippers do deliveries for the owners you could catch one of these delivery sailboats … and some pay or provide meals.
  • Learn as much as you can about being aboard a sailboat … the skipper will have you doing basic boat ‘stuff’ … hoisting a sail or on the winch pulling in a few sheets …. And that brings me to something else …
  • Learn the terminology … because it is a whole new language … you can learn some of this on line so that you’re not a complete dummy when the skipper asks you to pull in the main sheet or adjust the traveller!
  • Have you got any useable skills to make you more desirable?  Are you a good cook or at least can put together a hearty meal?  Have you got any other unique skills hairdresser or masseuse, dive instructor or anything else to put you up there above the rest?  Maybe speak another language or know fun card games?  Are you keen on fishing and can catch a few meals?

Be aware most of the time you won’t be sitting back sipping on cold drinks when you hitchhike aboard sailboats.  Everyone on board helps out with daily sailing tasks. 

Keeping the boat clean, and well maintained, cooking, navigation and even taking the helm/wheel and steering the boat though an auto pilot will be on most times.

One of the most important things is the rostered watch, keeping your eyes open for ships or anything else that you would need to avoid as well as weather changes.  This is something the crew do 24 hours a day.

Respect that a yacht can be some one’s home treat it that way, keep your ‘stuff’ tidy, space is a premium, watch out for the heads (toilet) etiquette nothing worse than unblocking a marine toilet.

Important Things when You Hitchhike Aboard Sailboats:


You must be easy to get along with!

When I crossed the Tasman Sea with Orit a backpacker with no experience I also had a guy on board with a lot of experience in yacht races.  He was an absolute pain, a real know it all that did not pull his weight and we could not wait to get rid of him at Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia

Orit by that time had learnt how to steer the boat, was very good on the GPS after all she was 24 years and it’s just another computer and could plot a course on the chart.  She had picked up a lot of new skills and was keen to continue to hitchhike aboard sailboats.

Experiences teach you a lot in life ….don’t they?

The other situation I came across was on the voyage I mentioned above to the Pacific Islands with 5 of us on board.  The young girl hitchhiker paid for her trip in a different way, we paid just for our daily food at the time $20A a day and helped out with all the sailing tasks. 

She slept with the 50 years something skipper and the very loud ‘bonking’ kept us awake at night and was a contention with the rest of us who pulled our weight in sailing and maintaining the boat. 

She was seasick half the voyage and rarely did the dishes or any other chores.  When she joined another yacht in Tonga it seemed she was going to continue to sleep with the captains as a way to see the world and hitchhike aboard sailboats.  A recipe for trouble.

Crew harmony comes above everything else on board, particularly on smaller boats. There aren’t many spots to hide on a small yacht when folks don’t get along. 

My experiences were not ‘that bad’ but I have heard of some horrific situations where the Captain and crew …putting it mildly did not get along! 

As a female skipper I had to be careful who I took on board as crew so keep this in mind when presenting yourself for crew.

The Sailboat and the Captain:


It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of the voyage and finding a ride and embarking to hitchhike aboard sailboats but take a step back!  Meet the Captain and spend some time talking to him. 

  • How much experience has he/she had? 
  • Have they just sailed coastal or offshore?
  • Is the Captain easy to talk to and ‘transparent’?
  • How long have they owned the boat?  
  • How do they manage night shift rotations?
  • What are the Captains expectations of you?
  • If you are a young girl and the Captains a male … consider if you would trust him alone miles out at sea … best to travel in numbers!
  • What season are you sailing in e.g. not hurricane/cyclone season!

You are going to spend a lot of time together, weeks, maybe months so make sure you feel comfortable!  Avoid the jerks and ones who have tendencies to be a Captain Bligh!  

And ……Make sure you see the boat!

  • Does it look sea worthy based on ones you went on at the sailing club?
  • Ask another skipper if it’s a sea worthy boat!
  • Does it looked well equipped?  Ask about safety and navigation equipment!
  • Best of all go on a shakedown cruise …. Do you feel comfortable? 

This is all from the hitchhiker side of the fence but the Captain needs to feel comfortable with you.  Present yourself clean and tidy and be polite. 

Give the skipper reasons you would be an asset on board and offer to help prepare the vessel for the voyage no cost of course …. And do it!   This is a good way along with a shakedown cruise to see how you’ll get along before you lose sight of land.

Put yourself in the Captains shoes … it’s his boat … why would he want to choose you to cross the ocean with as crew?  What can you do for him/her?  It is not all about 'you' when you hitchhike aboard sailboats!

Happy With the Captain and Sailboat …Now What?


Sell yourself: 

You are not a sailing superstar but you are willing to fit in with the Captain and the other crew!  You’re happy to learn and do sailing tasks and cover night watch!  Promote your other skills to set you apart from others that want to hitchhike aboard sailboats!

Yes sailing isn’t just sitting back with a cold drink … there are sailing chores to do but there is also a lot of time for relaxing and having fun.  Take some music and books to read.  A musical instrument if you play one to have some sing-alongs!

There will be times you will feel at one with the environment.  The constant rush of water as the boat cuts through the sea, the sound of the waves, and the blue of sky by day and canopy of stars by night is unbelievable.  Catching your dinner from the stern of the boat and having a feast that night. 

One morning off Minerva Reef 3 days sail from Tonga Island in the Pacific Ocean we swapped beer for lobsters with some native fishermen.  We had Champagne and lobster for breakfast then went diving in the coral.

Sailing into a new port or island after hours of trying to catch a glimpse of land is so exciting.  Exploring and mixing with the different cultures you find you are accepted in a different way than if you were just regular tourists. 

And if this is where your yacht stops many ports are like a truck stop for backpackers who sea hitchhike aboard sailboats … you can swap boats and sail off to new destinations. 

It’s an amazing way to travel full of adventure!  And you can see the world and hitchhike aboard sailboats. You will access places you never could any other way and have experience that will stay with you for life! 

The good news is you don’t even need a big stash of money or to own a yacht or have sailing experience ….so what are you waiting for? 


For available crew positions try these links and consider getting yourself on the crew list so you can hitchhike aboard sailboats:

               www.findacrew.net         www.crewseekers.net




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