Sailing Around the World on Someone Else's Dollar

by DIWYY · 48 comments

sailing around the world on someone else's dollar

What are the three biggest unavoidable expenses when sailing around the world?

  1. Transportation
  2. Accommodation
  3. Food

Now what if, in order to not pay the first two, you were forced to spend your days in tropical splendor visiting the remote places completely inaccessible to common travelers?  Places that see, maybe, 100 “outsiders” in a year?

This is exactly what my husband and I have been doing for the past 18 months.  We’ve gone sailing around the world, from California through Mexico and the South Pacific to New Zealand.  In the process we visited about 20 islands in the South Pacific, 5 of which did not have airports and their only contact with the outside world is a monthly resupply vessel.

Sailing Around the World – No Boat? No Problem.

These are places you cannot get to any other way but on a small sailing yacht.  We didn’t use our own boat, though.  We crewed for other people and we’d like to show you a little of how we did it.

“Now wait” you’re saying, “Don’t I need some sort of license or something to work as crew?”

It actually really depends.  To work as employed crew or as a captain on a vessel (to get paid) yes you do.  This kind of work is typically found in the Caribbean & Mediterranean seas and with the larger yachts.

There is, however, another type of crewing out there.  One that requires no certification or even very much experience.  Every year thousands of yachts from 30 – 75 feet long are quietly sailing around the world to some of the worlds most amazing destinations: Mazatlan, Fakarava, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Niue and New Zealand are just a few of the places we’ve been.  Many of these smaller ships are run by either singlehanders (people sailing alone) or married couples on the vacation of a lifetime.

As you can probably guess, having 1 or 2 people stand 24 hours of continuous watch each and every day for weeks on end while the ship is transiting, not to mention handling all the cooking, cleaning, driving, boat chores, etc. does not a perfect vacation make.  Many of these casual sailors want help but really don’t have the budget to pay a professional crew or the desire to relinquish command of their vessel to a charter captain.  All they really want is a spare pair of capable hands attached to someone who is reliable and easy to get along with…and that’s where the world of volunteer crewing comes in.

Think of it as WWOOFing, except replace the farm animals with a sailing yacht.

The basic deal is this: you provide your time and energy and the captain provides the ride and gives you a place to sleep.  You share costs.  At this point, things get a little fuzzy.  As you might expect in a volunteer situation, the details vary from boat to boat.

Typically you should be looking for a boat to provide a bunk for you and normally, we found that the only “expense” you share is food Tiffany and Greg Norte enjoying a snack in Tahuata while sailing around the world..costs, split evenly into shares for everyone onboard.  Some boats share gas costs and one or two boats attempted to charge us a daily rate, those are boats we didn’t work with.

Two big things to remember when sailing around the world on someone else’s dollar.

Sailing Around the World Rule #1 – There are No Guarantees

Volunteer crewing comes with no contracts and no guarantees but tons of opportunity.  You work for the Captain as long as the two of you want to work together.  You also get little to no say about where you go or how fast you get there, though you should be informed before you depart.  If you’re operating on a specific schedule or have a limited time table, this may not be for you but if you’re in the mood to take a few months and “see where the wind blows” you may be surprised where you end up!

Sailing Around the World Rule #2 – Be Safe!

You are responsible for your safety! You need to make sure you choose a boat that *should* be safe, baring any unforeseen circumstances.  Boats with lots of standing water in the bilge, rusted rigging, owners who are new to sailing – all of these should be red flags that maybe you don’t want to sail with them.

Bottom line – use common sense.

When you get on a boat you’ll be isolated for days at a time in the middle of the ocean, literally miles from land, with the other people on the boat.  Are you comfortable with these people and this ship?  Also, though experience isn’t necessarily required, it is without a doubt a very good idea to have some idea what you’re doing, or at least know enough to know when something is wrong.

Finding a Boat You Can Sail Around the World On

So how does a land-lubber get themselves a ship?  Well, first things first: start small.  You do not want to be on your second day of a 30 day sail to French Polynesia when you discover you get violently seasick!  If you have some money, take some sailing classes.  If not, get onto a local volunteer racing team or sign up to crew for a shorter sailing rally.  Most sailors are willing to share what they know.  The two best ways to get on ships are to meet captains by being a part of the community and use internet crewing boards.

One article really can’t cover all the nitty-gritty details of how to find a boat to take you around the world, so if you think this might be for you, our blog covers how we do what we do.  Also, feel free us a line and we’ll be glad to help you out in any way we can!

Have you sailed around the world on someone else’s boat?

In the comments below, please share your experience sailing around the world on someone else’s dime. How did you connect with a boat? Any interesting stories to share?

This is the first post of a series from Tiffany about traveling around the world on a sailboat. Check out the next post in the series, Volunteering Aboard a Sailboat: How to Get Started.

Tiffany and her husband 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!

Tye Rogerson 1

Hey great article! I’ve finally committed to getting some experience on a boat, and I think the next few months will be the ticket. I’m currently traveling all 13 South American countries, and would love to find a boat that will take me on even though I have no experience yet. Once I can break that surface tension, I’ll have some experiene to offer to the next boat.
Any tips on achieving this with no boating experience to speak of?


Katie 2

So how do we find these jobs? Where are they advertised?


Katie- these folks can get you started:

Zoltan 4


I crossed the atlantic as a total newbie 2 years ago. I was 22years old, went down to Gibraltar, and the place is turned out to be a really busy sailing meeting point around October-november. Everybody was preparing for the crossing and since it’s tax free zone everybody was loading up fuel, food and booze for the trip.

I literally asked everyone about sailing, crossing, working. I spent some days in the harbour, got know everyone, asked them about their plans, and needs. On my third night I got invited to a sailboat, and I prepared supper for the skipper. He was alone at the time, preparing the boat for the departure to the canaries. Having passed the one week trial period in the harbour of Gibraltar I finally left europe behind my back on his sailboat. We spent 5 days on sea then arrived to Gran Canaria totally wored out. I got along well with the other crewmembers who were his friends’s sons from Denmark, from some sailing school. It was their first trip as well in the ocean. So I stayed with him for 3 weeks in Gran Canaria. Worked a lot. I was quite busy all day, every day, and got some pocket money besides the free food and bed. We had a lot of things to mend, to fix, to acquire. I learnt a lot of things. In the final days the other crewmembers arrived, we went out to drink, and I had a lot of fun with these guys, so I could stay onboard and travel with them. Further.
It took 16 days to cross the atlantic, and we did it pretty well. Had some trouble, but who cares after the victory. Had some arguing, had some lack of drinkable water, and some alcohol-induced statements about each-other, but I guess this is sailing, it’s tough. it is surviving on sea.

I hope its gonna be read by many of you who are seeking for adventure.

Jason 5

I’m in NZ… Chch …any contacts down here that you can suggest? Thanks

Jason 6

I’m 45 and just starting out too…never too old to start! Maybe we start a middle age information site…LOL

julian 7

Dear all,
I have had travelers of all ages aboard my boats over the last 14 years and the vast majority have found the experience rewarding. The seasick ones no doubt get put off and perhaps blame the venue.
Beware when you are seeking a free ride, often enough this is offered by captains who are not fit to call themselves so. Drinking is a favorite pastime of ‘cruisers’ in general although I choose to be teetotal at all times, since 8 years ago.
There is no such thing as a free lunch and you may well end up doing much more than you bargained for.
I have go to great lengths to explain to prospective ‘crew’ exactly what they are in for the responsibilities of themselves and myself.
I also explain the costs and what you get for your money, that way everyone is on the same page.
Please don’t go out to sea unprepared, do some research about the boat and the current crew and captain.
Good luck with your sailing and remember safety first.

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