Boat Hitching INFO


Maybe there were always nomads out there taking to the seas. Maybe travelers just got sick of the highways. Or maybe the aviation industry finally spilled too much fuel... In any case, boat-hitching is gaining ground in the rambling world – we wanna sail!

I was spat into the whirlwind of ocean cruising on other people’s boats when in Greece about a year ago, and have since hitched lifts through the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and up into North America. Along the way I’ve picked up bits and pieces of information to help the boat-hitching traveler… so thought I’d set them down and spread the word!

• You can choose where you want to go, OR when you want to go… but rarely both. This is the most important thing to remember I think. Although there are a good amount of yachts sailing the oceans, they keep to pretty specific routes, and pretty specific seasons, so flexibility on the travellers behalf is huge. Find the boat first, THEN decide where you want to go or when you want to leave. This will save lots of disappointing dead ends and discouraging knock backs.
• Be in the right place at the right time. This kind of follows the point above. Looking for a boat in Gibraltar in November, when all the yachties are sailing out of the Med. readying to cross the Atlantic, will be a lot smarter than rocking up there in June, when they will all be sipping Ouzo in Greece. Find out the cruising routes (link at the bottom of this page) and cruising seasons, so you know where to be to find the most boats going your way.
• So there are basically two ways to find a boat: Online, or in person. Most people do both. I am a huge advocate of the online method. Most skippers who need crew will put up something on one of the crew finding websites anyway… and a lot of the ‘cool’, ‘grassroots’ sailors won’t be hanging around marinas – they’ll be in a little (free) bay somewhere with a quiet anchorage. Browsing online will save you time, energy, and you’ll probably find a boat more suited to you, since you can check out their profile first. Check as many of the sites as you can, (I always use and write to as many different boat owners as you can. Remember, be flexible. Just send send send, as many messages as you can. The system on is kind of shitty, where you can only send a pre-written message, but set up a good profile and make yourself sound like the adventurous spirited traveler that you are, and hopefully you’ll get some replies. If neither of you are premium members, you might have to pay the 50bucks for ten days or whatever. If you do, use that opportunity to write personal messages to any skipper who sounds interesting. Another option is to try to find them online, with the information they’ve given you in their profile, a lot of boat owners will have blogs. It’s still the biggest, and I think the best, website to use… but there are lots of others, check them out too.
• Weed out the dodgy ‘seeking relationship’ skippers. It’s not hard, just read their profile well, and check the signs. If they are looking for a ‘female’ between the ages of ’18 and 35’ for a ‘friendship/relationship’ you’ll probably get the idea. There are good people on these websites, you just got to find them! Also remember, it can take a lot of time for captains to plan journeys/crew, so the more time you have up your sleeve, the better. Start looking months before you want to head off. On the other hand, some will need crew right away, so be ready to go when they are!
• Then there’s the in person method. Go to marinas, poster every notice board you see. Be honest, write down your nationality, sex, age, level of experience, and include a photo. I’ve seen these around a lot, but honestly, I doubt their success rate. I think the best way to find a boat in person is to network network network. Hang out at the local bars (they’re sailors!), stay close by, hitchhike around, and try to meet as many people as you can. The word of mouth is huge in the yachty world, it’s all about someone who knows someone who knows someone. If you have time, get down to the cruising area just before the season begins, and stay a while (like a month or more!). Often they are great places to hangout anyway (British Virgin Islands, Majorca, Sicily…) and small communities, so you’ll be in with the crowd in no time. Be social!
• What experience do you need? Obviously, any time at sea, courses etc… is going to help, but don’t worry if you don’t have this. I started with nothing but a love of water. A lot of sailors will want to teach you THEIR way anyway, so having a clean slate might even help. Be prepared to offer whatever you have. Think of how your skills could be useful. Medical, cooking, and engineering, all very handy! Even a good musician can be a welcome addition to a crew. Be fit, be handy, be positive. Light hearted and fun, but sensible and with lots of common sense, that’s what most skippers will be looking for.
• It’s a good idea to know the basics. Read a book on the 101 of sailing. Which is port, which is starboard, how to tie a bowline… the very basics will help you a lot. Once you get ‘into’ the scene, you’ll be learning the jargon and systems in no time… just keep all eyes and ears open.
• The next step is seeing if the boat is right for you. Before any long passage, go for a ‘get-to-know-you’ sail, and spend up to a week with the skipper you’re signing on with. Finding crew is like finding friends, there’s a possibility you might just not get on. This will give you an idea of their lifestyle… do they drink a lot? (Ask about whether the boat is ‘dry’ at sea or not). Do they smoke? Boats are tiny spaces, if you’re a non-smoker, this might bother you. What kind of sail are you after? A nice big boat where you push a button and the sail goes up, another one and the sail goes down… or a little cruiser with no shower, no engine (ha, this is rare, but they WILL be cool!). In my opinion, the smaller it is, the better it is. Small boat owners will generally use their boat more, sail more instead of motor, and spend less time on the dock in a marina, and more time in pretty anchorages. A week long sail with them will tell you if they’re a motor sailor, or if they wait for weather windows and go where the wind blows.
• Ask about money. What is it going to cost you? The most common is that you pay for your food, and they pay the rest, but keep in mind this might be more than you would normally spend on food while on the road, so make sure you ask. Some skippers will ask you to pay a few boat costs too, mooring fees or fuel. You might be able to organize a ‘work exchange’ deal, if they need varnishing or maintenance done to the boat. Maybe they are getting hauled out, put on the hard for a week, and could really use a spare pair of hands. If you’re REALLY lucky, they will pay all the costs… and once you start getting some serious sea miles, you’ll even get PAID to go sailing!
• Finally, have a good think about if this is really for you. The idea of sailing off into the sunset might sound awesome, but try to imagine being at sea in rough weather, heeled over, raining and cold. Everything falling all over the place and never being still. Most watch schedules will mean 3-4 hours alone at night sailing the boat (after you have experience of course) and sleeping patterns are always erratic. You’ll be in a small space with several people (depending on the size of the boat, usually 3 or 4 crew on board) and not always in the best situations. You’ll need to keep your head together and be switched on almost 24hrs a day. Also, remember than more than HALF of your time on the boat will be spent anchored, moored, or docked somewhere. Usually this means working at putting the boat back together, installing new gadgets or waiting for the weather to change, and as crew you’re expected to help with this. It won’t all be high energy stuff.
On a brighter not e – it iS everything you imagined… dolphins, sunsets, sustainable transport and using your hands to carry you along… if you’re up for it, it’s magical!


When and where to be:
Find that boat:

And here is some excerpts I typed up from a book called “the Hitchhikers guide to the Oceans” by Alison Muir Bennett and Clare Davis. It was published in 1990 though, so beware it’s a little dated. Still, most of the information is still useful:

Where is the need? To find an answer to these questions will require an understanding of world weather patterns and the relative seasons of trade winds and hurricanes. The area concerned is the tropic zone located between the Tropic of Cancer at latitude 23N and the Tropic of Capricorn at latitude 23S. Here, during certain parts of the year, the north-east trade winds north of the Equator and the south-east trade winds south of the Equator are found.
It is these east to west blowing, warm trade winds of 10 to 25 knots plus the easygoing, happy, relaxed people found on islands and continents in this zone that draw cruising yachts to it. Unfortunately, the tropic zone is also where hurricanes with winds of 65 to 175 knots or more are formed. However, their times and places of origin are fairly well defined. North of the Equator they arise between the months of August and November, and south of the Equator between December and March.

Like the birds, yachts migrate in and out of the tropic zone. Whether yachts are circumnavigating or just cruising around the oceans of the world, they gather at certain points in the tropic zone before making their ocean passages according to these weather patterns. Thus, these are also the places where skippers most need crew.

(…) Finding a crew position along the known yacht routes can often be easier than at the outset of an ocean passage from a home continent, even though it may not be so economical of convenient. The family or friends that skippers set out with often have to return home or some drama en route may have convinced a skipper of the need for crew. There are natural bottlenecks where boats will congregate in numbers while waiting for the weather or the season for the next leg of the voyage. Sometimes they wait for brief periods, sometimes for a few months, as in the case of having to ‘hole-up’ for a hurricane season to pass by.

The following locations will be the easiest and best places to make contact with yacht skippers who might be considering taking crew aboard:

North Pacific Ocean:

Southern Californian ports from Santa Barbara to San Diego in October. Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, Mexico, at Christmas.
Hawaiian Islands: Hilo (Radio Bay), Hawaii and Lahina, Mauii from May to September in all directions. Ala Wai, Honolulu in August/September for returning TransPac racers to the USA
Philippines: Liloan, Cebu Island in August/September. Hong Kong from December to April for deliveries of yachts built in Taiwan going north to the USA or south to Europe.

South Pacific Ocean:
Tahiti, French Polynesia from April to September/October, Fiji in September. New Zealand, North Island at Bay of Islands in March.

Indian Ocean:
Australia at Darwin in July. South Africa at Durban in December. Sri Lanka, Galle in December.

South Atlantic Ocean:
South Africa at Cape Town in January/February.

North Atlantic Ocean:
British and North European Ports – Lisbon/Vilamoura. (Yachts should have crossed Bay of Biscay by the end of August.) Bermuda in November and April to August. The Canary Islands, Las Palmas and Madeira, Funchal in November. Fort Lauderdale, Florida in November.

Gibraltar, Palma, Malta and many other ports from April to November.
Note: Apart from some diving charters in the Red Sea area, there is very little cruising traffic to rely on from the Mediterranean into the Indian Ocean. An inconvenient passage combined with a difficult political area reduces the flow of yachts going south. In the opposite direction, more yachts go via the Suez Canal as a convenient short cut back to Europe from the Indian Ocean – despite the inconveniences – if they do not wish to go around Africa.

St Thomas, Virgin Islands in November. Barbados/Grenada in November/December. Panama Canal – Panama Canal Yacht Club, Cristobal, and Balboa Yacht Club in March/April.


flov's picture

Thank you Lily

Thank you so much for this article and for so much information. This is all I need and now i am curious and excited about my first ocean-crossing experience :)

valentina's picture

Lily, thanks so much for this

Lily, thanks so much for this useful post! I'm also reading "Il gior del mondo in barcastop" by Alberto Di Stefano. unfortunately only in Italian.
its website [[]]

I'm still not sure if I will get into a boat: for sure I need to try if my body is ready for it ;)

topi's picture

useful links

I want to add that there are plenty of sites for finding boats that take crew or putting an advert of one's services, because there are plenty of sea captains looking for crew. Me included.

I've mostly used but also Then there are some national ocean cruising clubs which have their own boards, like (swedish cruising club).

Sma's picture

thx thx really useful :) i

thx thx really useful :) i hope to be lucky so it doesn`t cost me anything but time, effort and company..