There are many reasons for taking on crew. You might be planning an extensive or intricate passage. You might be in need of social stimuli (cabin fever is a problem for single-handed sailors), or perhaps you just want to share your costs to avoid cancelling the Grand Sailing Plans.
Finding a highly experienced crew may enhance your sailing competence, but you can also gain a lot from bringing along even the most inexpert landlubber. Inexperienced sailors help you practice your teaching, leadership and communication skills, and may even improve your sailing ability. For an old sea wolf, it's a splendid opportunity to pass on a tradition of great seamanship to the new generation.
It's logical to first look among your near and dear. If you've been cruising away from home for a long period, this may be the perfect time to connect with some old mates. But if that should fail, or you are just too intrigued by the possibility of meeting new exciting sailing buddies, where do you search?
To start with, there are numerous sites on the internet, often free for skippers to advertise. The crew then needs to pay a fee to get your contact details. This fee is a helpful thing – it makes sure that only highly motivated crew contact you, and filters away the ones that are not interested in sailing as such, simply wishing to travel for free. Also, check out the homepages of the big rallies, and the general cruising websites and forums: many have a section for free crew advertising. Online crew agencies are very reliable, but may be costly.
Word of mouth works, too. Tell all sailors you meet that you are looking for crew – the good thing being that you can get straight-forward references. Check announcement boards in the marina or yacht club near you. Should you be anywhere near St Martin, Grenada or Antigua, then try out the VHF cruisers' net. If a crew is jumping ship, visit their previous boat to see the other crew and the interior of the boat to get an idea of their standards and personality. Take a look at their personal space to draw conclusions on their level of cleanliness. Don't be afraid to ask.
On the point of analyzing the applicants' personal letters or CVs, remember to read between the lines. Try to meet them in person, or use a phone if a rendezvous cannot be arranged. You would be surprised if you knew how many people list English among their language skills, not being able to hold the simplest conversation! It's essential to ask a few questions about their sailing experience, as well as their person-to-person management skills. Try to get a picture of their lifestyle: drinking habits, family situation, budget limitations, food preferences â€¦ My favourite way of doing this is in a casual bar over a couple of beers, as it creates a more relaxed atmosphere. The beer might also bring out some character traits that the person might be otherwise hiding.
This interview is much more important than any CVs, certificates or similar. Some applicants easily get caught in wishful thinking, and a handful, unfortunately, present plain lies.
I have encountered a southern European couple with a perfect CV – but everything from their sailing experience to return ticket funds and non-existent drinking/smoking habits proved to be made up. They avoided work, were not familiar with sailing basics, failed to keep to safety regulations, did not turn up for their night watches, drank and smoked continuously, and even admitted later that their mile log was made up. Since it's impossible to get rid of crew in the middle of the Atlantic in any legal or moral way, the skipper and the rest had to bear with them. Upon completing the crossing, they were politely asked to leave immediately. This is an obvious example of why one should always ask for references, and check them before accepting any crew. Also, search for the person on Google and Facebook – especially the picture galleries, they may reveal a lot.
Now, you've made sure that you are on the same wavelength and that the crew's level of experience matches your expectations. The crew are on their way, but there are still many important things to remember. Settle all the financial transactions right away. It's sensible to ask for a deposit – it might even lower the risk should anything on the boat get broken or go missing during the trip. Make sure the crew has insurance and clear plans for the final destination: on many Caribbean islands, they must have a ticket home in order to be taken off the crew list. Remember to do this right away when clearing in at the final destination. This will avoid having to get their passports and plane tickets sorted out when they are already on island time and couldn't care less about their old skipper trying to get the papers straightened out.
Handling it by the book, you are sure to avoid any bureaucracy, and have a wonderful and mutually giving experience cruising together with your new crew!
Lena Padukova is a former IT professional and has worked with recruitment as part of her job. Nowadays she is cruising full-time and occasionally picks up extra crew in Europe and in the Caribbean.