More Secrets to Traveling the World for Free by Volunteering Aboard a Sailboat

by DIWYY · 3 comments

So you’ve joined a racing team, made some friends at the yacht club, read the local free sailing magazine, posted on the internet crew lists and you got an offer to go for a one week sailing trip as crew…

Or maybe you just found an event on our “How to Crew” page from our blog, showed up and someone needed an extra hand. Either way, you got your foot in the door, and for the next week or so you’re living the dream. Well, then what? One option is that you see some dolphins, catch some fish, watch some sunsets and you have the vacation of a lifetime. Of course the other option is that you take a lifetime of vacation, or at least see just how far this boat thing can take you.

That’s the real joy of sailing around the world as volunteer crew. Not only do you get to travel without paying for hotels or airfare, not only do you get to see and experience things most tourists never even have a chance to do but it’s completely an at-will situation. You can go for a week, a month or like us, you can be going on 2 years now. When you’re done, you leave the fleet you’re travelling with and head home, unless you manage to find a boat heading back that way!

By the way, it’s completely possible to find a boat sailing back home. For example, in the February/March timeframe, ships do the “Baja Bash” back from Mexico to California. It’s a rough ride and many captains would love help. Fair warning, this one is only for those stout of heart and strong of stomach 😉
So how do you manage to go from one ship to the next or better yet, to have a captain ask you to stay aboard long term? Remember what we told you:
Find a fleet. Travel with it. Make friends.

So now that you’ve found a fleet it’s time to travel with it and make friends.

While you’re travelling with your current ship go to every single sailing seminar, dinner, party, grog fest, etc that you hear about. Yes, we are forcing you to go out and party. Do try to suffer through it gallantly 😉

Make friends out there. Push no one, but let people know you’re looking for a ride (even tell them where you’d like to go). Meet people and most importantly: make friends & get involved in the cruising community! Someone need their hull scrubbed? You’re in. Need a spare pair of hands to test out their new spinnaker? Can’t wait. Halyard broke? How can I help? Race crew for the local regatta? Good times!

When people
a) get to know you, and
b) feel that you are a team player they will then:
c) ask you to crew with them.

What we just told you is the most important thing you can take away from these articles if you really want to make it as a crew (either volunteer or professional). When we were still two weeks out from Tahiti we got a call on the radio from one of the other ships in the fleet. We had met this captain 6 months earlier while we were sailing in Mexico. He said that he had heard we were about to complete our time on our current boat and would we like to sail with him from Tahiti to Australia? Are you serious!? Do you know how much airfare from Tahiti is? Heck ya, we would rather sail! Well, in that case it was motor, but still, you see our point. There are two reasons we got that offer:Bora Bora

1) We had spent the time to really get to know people and make friends in the fleet, and

2) We had a reputation among the fleet as two nice people who really like to help others out, because we actually were.

While on our first boat in Mexico, we had volunteered to help two ships that needed assistance with their anchors. While it was not glamorous work, it was actually kind of fun, we learned a lot and those captains were so grateful that every time they saw us, they told the other captains around them what great people we were and “by the way Greg and Tiffany, aren’t you looking for a ride to Tahiti? John here is looking for some crew…”

You can see where this leads. The second boat that asked us to sail with them to Tahiti was owned by people we had helped out 4 months earlier. Back then they were planning to sail to Panama and the Caribbean. They changed their minds and when they did, funny thing, they asked their friends who had helped them out in the past to help them out again. We spent about 4 months living on that boat playing on 20 different tiny islands in the South Pacific. Not bad for a few hours helping out a sailboat that, oh by the way, was giving us a ride to our next port at the time.

Also, once you get known all sorts of weird things start happening: Greg got offered a paid role in a movie filming in Mexico because the director was connected with the local sailing community (he’s in Sharktopus!). Tiffany ended up on a zip line/tequila tasting tour with a bunch of ship captains because they invited her along. When people like you, they help you out!

And it’s really not very hard work at all. The most labor intensive thing we did was when Greg helped a captain install some blinds on his windows. He still made it to lunch in time for tacos and Pacifico. He had broken a sweat but that was more due to the fact that we were in Mexico on the beach than from any strenuous labor on his part.

This leads us onto yet another way to find rides. If you don’t have a current ride but are looking for one, and you know what port the fleet is in because you checked on our blog, then just go to that port. Then rent a room and get involved. Sailors are incredibly friendly people and when you put a good foot forward, you will soon find yourself invited over for a “cruiser’s dinner” which is yet again another excuse for sailors to get to know each other. If you’re going to take this route, be sure you choose a port that has a lot of ships at it and is cheap to live at. We did this in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, MX, which is near Puerto Vallarta. There were at least 100 boats in and around the marina, over 30 of them were sailing for the South Pacific and rent for a private room was extremely cheap. We would not have taken this same approach in Hiva Oa, French Polynesia.

That’s it, that’s the secret sauce. That’s the difference between flying to New Zealand and sailing here. There is no way for people to get to know you unless you put your foot forward and get known! But what exactly are they looking for in a crew member?

In our next article we’ll surprise you with the answer. At least, the answer sure as heck surprised us!


Check out other awesome columns from Tiffany on Do It While You’re Young:

How to Sail Around the World on Somebody Else’s Luxury Yacht

Volunteering Aboard a Sailboat: How to get started

How to Travel the World for Free: Volunteering on a Sailboat

Tiffany’s Port Report: Tahiti

More Tips on Sailing the World for Free

Tiffany and Greg are travelling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures. If getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at!

travelettes 1

great advice! before i could afford plane rides and hotels in far far away i always looked out for job opportunities that would take me there for free (and pay me while at it). i wish i had come across this post back then. thanks for sharing!

Tiffany 2

It’s been great for us! We’ve made it to all sorts of places we never thought we’d see. There are so many South Pacific islands out there that are super expensive to fly to, but when you’re on a boat it’s just one more place to anchor and hang out for a bit!

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