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CatNewBee 21-09-2018 04:04

How you deal with crews on passages?
Hi there.

We are a couple just preparing for liveaboard and sailing long distances to the blue-water regions with our cat.

We have managed the Med for several weeks this year including longer "passages" for several days and nights in a row from west to east, will sail next year all summer long starting in May the other way and plan to cross the Atlantic next winter.

We have family and friends that will love to join us from time to time, but they are landlubbers, have no clue about sailing and of course more interested in the fun part of hanging out and some adventures in their holidays than making a passage and watch keeping for several weeks on the ocean.

So even logged then about 6000sm before going out to the Atlantic, we consider us still kind of greenhorns and we think about welcoming some more experienced volunteer crew or a crew-couple for the long distances to share the watches, help on the passage and also to learn from them some tricks underway.

I guess, many of you have gone that road too, so what I want to know is, what was your experience with volunteer passage crews, how have you searched / found the right people, how about insurance issues for them and what is needed upfront etc. to be covered if something goes wrong (contract / agreements?)

I see many offers in "crew available", but most are beginners too - looking to learn the lines or paid positions of delivery crews. I know, the usual way around is, to start as a greenhorn and crew first at someone experienced boat, learn there the lines, and then start your own journey / offer crew positions etc.

We want to do our passages more conservative and relaxed, wait for the right weather window and not race the ocean. Paid crew can get really expensive with that attitude and this is not an option for us for the crossing. Even voluntary crew may have time restrictions that would force us to leave in non-ideal time window or motor in calm situations - what we would not do if we sail alone.

So there are many questions around what would be best to make the crossing as safe, easy and enjoyable as possible for all.

We are discussing pros and cons of joining the ARC next year for the passage. I also think - if we decide to invite crew for the crossing - it would be a good idea to offer some sailing in the Med upfront to get to know each other - before committing on the passage and also offer some sailing time on board in the Caribbean as incentive for the help during the passage if appreciated. We would expect to share provisioning costs and fees (if any) during the time on board.

Is this a realistic scenario? How have you done this - or do you prefer shorthanded passages - just the two of you?

Thank you for your comments, thoughts and advise!

Dockhead 21-09-2018 04:33

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Ah, the eternal question :)

It's been discussed quite a lot, and a trawl through the archives would be rewarding.

Some people love volunteer crew; others hate them. A very good predictor for how well you will do with volunteer crew is whether or not you are gregarious and like to do things in teams, or whether like many sailors, you are a loner. Another key indicator is what kind of a leader you are. People accustomed to organizing and leading groups of people, maybe in their work lives, usually do very well with volunteer crew. And then if you have experience hiring people -- you will know how to choose people based on a small amount of information.

I use a lot of volunteer crew on my boat, and my experiences have been 99% positive. Some volunteer crew I've had over the years have become lifelong friends. Look for people who are easy to get along with and who are energetic and eager to help and work -- those are the key qualities. Assume that sailing skills advertised are greatly exaggerated (not always intentionally), but this is also not generally a big problem, as there are always a million things to do on board, including especially simply keeping a good watch, which don't necessarily require a lot of sailing skill.

It's a great idea to invite prospective crew out for a "test sail", but just don't think that this is a guaranty against a bad decision -- in fact, the one bad crew selection decision I have made in the last 10 years was in fact a guy I had taken on a significant offshore test sail beforehand! :)

Some other tips:

1. Be absolutely clear at the outset and in every detail what the terms of the arrangement are -- who pays for what, what duties are involved, etc. etc. etc. etc. Like in any business deal -- don't assume anything is understood, if it hasn't been specifically discussed. And don't just dictate all of this -- make sure the prospective crew expresses in detail what his or her expectations are, to be sure that nothing is left assumed or unsaid. Get it in writing -- at least a detailed exchange of emails.

2. Best crew in terms of skills are people who own their own boats, or owned them for a long time in the past, and did the same kind of sailing you are doing. Qualifications mean much less than this. In fact, a person with little experience but a lot of RYA qualifications, perhaps with some charter experience, can be a liability, and in many cases a fresh beginner can be better material to work with. Professional mariners or former pro mariners are often the best crew of all.

3. Be sure to do a thorough safety briefing and thorough familiarization with the boat, equipment, and everything. I like to do live man overboard drills with people actually pulled out of the water. In general, it's better to be more formal, when you are sailing with volunteer crew, than when you are alone --- do briefings at watch handover, brief the crew regularly on the passage plan, any changes, weather, etc.

4. Be sure you agree about standards of watchkeeping, and make it clear before choosing someone, what you expect. Many people, including some quite experienced sailors, have incredible ideas about what it means to keep watch. I once woke up to find a crew on watch sitting in the cockpit, facing aft, staring at the stars, with the boat just about to run into the wrong lane of a TSS, because he'd never once looked at the plotter, and the pilot was on wind mode . . .. :banghead:

5. If you have tough decisions to make -- like go or no go into iffy weather -- you may find it useful to have consensus with the crew before making them. You are always responsible in every case, but for decisions requiring sacrifices or imposing risks on the crew, I like to get them to buy into those decisions. That's a question of leadership style, of course, but a strong leader is never afraid to exchange views with the team.

6. Crewseekers is the best resource I've used. Prospective crew have to pay to get on, so that screens out a lot of the less serious. I also use the YBW crew exchange sometimes.

skipmac 21-09-2018 05:30

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
As usual, Dockhead has posted an accurate and quite thorough response, at least based on my experiences.

A few years back I too frequently brought on crew for passages but in a slightly different context. At the time I was making deliveries around the US east coast, the Bahamas and Caribbean. My experience was also 99% positive with only two exceptions that I recall and neither of those was a real calamity.

I completely concur with Dockhead that one of most important factors in choosing someone to help crew is making sure there is a complete and clear understanding of all expectations on both sides, especially financial.

If there is understanding and agreement on all the above issues then my next concern is compatibility. Most of the crew I picked up were friends, acquaintances or at least friends of friends so in most cases there was at least some initial feeling that there will be a good fit.

Determining skill level of the crew and the skill level you need or desire in the crew can be trickier. In my case I already had a few years and a few passages behind me so was more concerned with finding crew that was compatible, responsible and fit than experienced. I took on several crew that had zero sailing experience including one trip where both the crew were complete newbies and it generally worked out well.

For me my biggest need for the crew was to stand watches so I could sleep and lend a hand for jobs that benefited from the assistance. This plan does demand more experience and careful planning from the captain. I made sure that the green crew was not on watch at any time that there was any risk, critical decision making required, traffic areas, landfall, etc. I also made it very clear that they were to call me at any time for any reason and I promised I would never complain, never be annoyed. Instead I assured them that I would thank them profusely, even if the call turned out to be completely unnecessary.

Finally, don't forget or slack on a safety briefing. A lot of people, even some experienced boaters, don't have a feel for some of the forces at work on a sailboat so that issue is very important to prevent injuries. Then the usual boating safety and your policies on PFDs, harnesses, etc.

CatNewBee 21-09-2018 06:24

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Thank you very much, very valid points and good advice!

I did not saw it from that perspective, I used to hire people in my professional life - but this was done for paid positions, where you evaluate and compare skills and negotiate compensations. You do not need to like the people as long as they are professionals and do what they are hired for - after work everybody has his own life.

For a paid crew - I would do that vetting and use this standards to chose.

Being in a boat with volunteers - paying for they expenses and sharing days and nights in a very narrow environment is a different thing - so more social things / soft skills are important besides a clear command chain and duty plan. It has to be clear, what agenda everyone has upfront and what the reward of joining the crew is.

Of course I expect from everybody on board to do it's duties on the schedules and not be lazy on watches risking the life of the others. Some training and learning of all systems on board along with MOB and safety drills and routines is good seamanship and for sure necessary.

But it is also a kind of dating thing when choosing the right people I guess, because it is also about all the off-duty time on board you will share and live together more like a family / friends than like a boss and employees.

And you never know how they will react in stress situations when all hands are needed. This are my main concerns - as long as it is easy sailing all will be good I guess.

I agree, practical experience is better than certifications. I can read the books too, and I appreciate a senior advice and crew consensus - if possible - before making tough decisions - but in the end it is not a democracy, the skipper is responsible and has the last word on board, and this has to be respected by all.

There are two main aspects with your first crew.

- Newbees are keen to learn, your authority as skipper will very likely not be questioned. It is for sure a lot of fun sailing with a young crew. Downside is - you are the most senior person and can expect very little professional advice when needed, so you learn mostly from your own mistakes, you have also to keep all the time an eye on what they are doing and to advice them with the most basic tasks, also have to be prepared to take over if the wind changes or whatever happens during their shifts until they know what to do and passed they learning curves - it boils down to hands and eye support for the watches and more work for the skipper. When my wife and I are sailing, I have only one "crew" to teach and watch, if I have another two to watch after and instruct, I very likely will have a lot more work to do.

- Seasoned skipper as crew is great, professional, a lot of stories to tell, may be also a good advisor / coach - but you become the apprentice. They can manage the sails and make the right decisions on watch - so easy sailing - and in severe conditions they very likely won't freak out.

They are harder to find - most of them either sailed their own boats and are tired of passage making or do it for living - what else could be possible their motivation to serve on other vessels as crew on a ocean passage and doing watch schedules?

redhead 21-09-2018 09:19

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Wow - thanks Dockhead and Skipmac.

This topic comes up more and more often on our boat and I feel that now I have some logical steps to follow. Takes a lot of the mystery out of it. Kudos!

LeeV 21-09-2018 09:34

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Since you mentioned the ARC, and I just happened to have watched a recent video from Nick/Teresa on board RubyRose, I thought you might find this Q/A of interest. The entire video is just over an hour, and I found it useful, but you might take a look at the segment starting at 32:00


Capt. Ray 21-09-2018 09:52

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
As a captain with International Rescue Group, over a year I accept dozens, sometimes more than a hundred unpaid volunteer crew aboard at least two of our boats, one is a 97' gaff-rigged ketch in Yucatan, another is a Voyage 50 catamaran in BVI. Sometimes volunteers are more interested in working a disaster relief mission, other times we are simply transiting the boats to pre-position, take on supplies, haul-out etc. so it's a mix of sailing voyages. This year so far I have sailed about 10,000nm. As a charity, all our crew are not only unpaid but they must also cover their own travel expenses; this is an experience for them and though I'm sure some people might be shocked that we do not pay volunteer crew their travel expenses, that is the only way we can operate - all our execs, management etc. (including me) are also unpaid volunteers by policy and we cannot justify fundraising to pay for crew. This tends to work out well but not always, for example often we accept crew who are not "well-heeled" and sometimes turn out to be "drifters" and some have held out their hands for money at the end of a voyage. I have had a couple of occasions when they threatened to excoriate our mission in social media and I have had to stump up the cash out of my own pension money, we really do not need that kind of hassle.

I have run the gamut of written applications in great detail, short written applications, online through FindACrew etc., phychological questions, taking potential crew on test sails, old friends and all the way down to accepting crew a day before departing in a cruising anchorage from crew jumping another ship. If there is one thing I can report, it is that I cannot correlate suitability of crew with the means of selection. My considered finding over the last five years is that except for old friends, crew work out randomly.

I have had crew who turned out to be good friends and fantastic watch and sailing folk, some come back year after year and it is such a great pleasure to see them again. Most turn out to be good deckhands, even those with little or no sailing experience. But a few - oh those few bad apples - even one can destroy what would otherwise have been an enjoyable voyage. I have had a small mix of crewmembers who turned out to be bipolar, alcoholics (on a dry voyage!!) those who refuse to do menial tasks and try to delegate cleaning duties etc. on others causing unrest, the just plain sullen and those who succumb to panic attacks.

I always have a very detailed written explanation of the voyage, what is expected, risks to be understood, etc. that I have built up over years and encourage all crew to read it through. Only to find out that the occasional bad apple does not like some aspects of the expectations or simply had no idea. One might say "Well then just read it out to the assembly before sailing. Done that. Makes no difference to the bad apples.

Don't let me put you off taking on volunteer crew, but it is impossible for all your selections to be good, as long as you expect that in advance then you won't be too disappointed.

MJH 21-09-2018 10:05

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
There is a large difference between crew that has been sailing/racing locally with little/no offshore experience and those that have been passagemaking/offshore before.

Offshore waters/winds are more intense and the growing days at sea, working within a limited environment with reduced sleep and possible diet changes, can bring out the worst in some individuals which can't be identified in an interview or during a local sail.

Individuals that are not flexible or tolerant/respectful of the beliefs of others are those that should be not be will you determine that without conducting a complete psychological profile? Then, when strong disagreements arise, the captain must step-in to separate/reschedule duties to complete the voyage. I speak from my experience sailing to Hawaii.

Sailing offshore with "guests" (those with no sailing/boating experience and no real interest in the sport) could be a calamity happen when conditions become sporty.

neophytecruiser 21-09-2018 10:12

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Dockhead and Skipmac offer sage advice, when it comes to crew requirements. I'll add my two cents (and likely overvalued at that price). I had occasion to take volunteer crew on a Baja-bash from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego. There were three volunteer crew involved, all friends. One was a reasonably experienced sailor with some off-shore experience, the other two were enthusiastic novices with no experience, all friends. Before agreeing to accept the two novices as crew, I spent a great deal of time explaining expectations, emphasizing the arduousness of this relatively short (~2.5 weeks from La Paz) but predominately uphill passage. Besides outlining mutual expectations and responsibilities, I took pains to pointing out that this wouldn't be a 'tropical cruise' but was more akin to a marathon, involving being cold, wet and tired for much of the time. My most grievous error was ignoring my wife's admonition (she's a relatively new sailor, having done the bash once) to only take people familiar with sailing. While at the end of the trip, we all remain good friends, the two novices had some difficulty with the reality of the day to day demands of being on a boat at sea. They also both indicated they had a better appreciation for what I had conveyed to them regarding what to expect before having agreed to taking them as crew. Some sailing experience would be my preference going forward.

Lepke 21-09-2018 10:28

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Whether friends or strangers you have to have rules. Some are discussed long before boarding to weed out problem people. Some rules have to be absolute with no second chance and understood by all. Those rules include individual conduct and vessel/crew safety. People that violate absolute rules on my boat are put ashore at the closest point of land. Potential crew know these rules and the penalty before they ever step aboard. If you don't enforce the rules you have no rules.
You can't afford personal conflicts or safety issues on a small vessel.
Greenhorns, if they are expected to do some nautical function, need to be at least partially trained before you leave the dock. You can't expect others without marine knowledge to perform as you would.

Kenomac 21-09-2018 11:12

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
I’d urge you to consider hiring someone like Phil (boatman61) on this forum for your first time across.

MJH 21-09-2018 11:43

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?

Originally Posted by Lepke (Post 2726033)
Whether friends or strangers you have to have rules. Some are discussed long before boarding to weed out problem people. Some rules have to be absolute with no second chance and understood by all. Those rules include individual conduct and vessel/crew safety. People that violate absolute rules on my boat are put ashore at the closest point of land. Potential crew know these rules and the penalty before they ever step aboard. If you don't enforce the rules you have no rules.
You can't afford personal conflicts or safety issues on a small vessel.
Greenhorns, if they are expected to do some nautical function, need to be at least partially trained before you leave the dock. You can't expect others without marine knowledge to perform as you would.

"People that violate absolute rules on my boat are put ashore at the closest point of land." All very well but when your in the middle of the Pacific that pre-departure announcement has little weight...the captain has to deal with the immediate situation to maintain an effective crew to destination.

hamburking 21-09-2018 12:12

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
As you may have already learned, there is a big difference between guests and crew. Guests expect to have a nice meal and drinks all the time. They might pull a line if someone is recording video. Crew expects to work.

I've been volunteer crew many times. It really does come down to meshing personalities. Recognizing this is a good first step to finding compatible crew.

Its difficult to actually be friends with your crew. After all, you are their captain. You tell them what to do. They must be subservient to you. That is no foundation for friendship.

From your description, you aren't just looking for crew, you are looking to make new friends who can help you on your boat. This is the ideal, but seldom achieved.

One possibility, aside from taking greenhorns, is to take young people as your crew. They may appreciate being on your boat enough to accept subservience and become a friend as well. Maybe.

You may be better off sailing as a couple, and enjoying the alone time on your boat. Crossing the atlantic is mostly just keeping watch and counting down the miles.

AKA-None 21-09-2018 12:29

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
While not nearly as experienced as others I think one problem might be reminding people they are not passengers. They have obligations to live up to.

Matt Johnson 21-09-2018 12:36

Re: How you deal with crews on passages?
Regardless of if you do the ARC or not, Las Palmas De Gran Canaria will have a ton of people walking the docks looking for passage across the Atlantic. Arrive early, and you can have your pick of experienced sailors with zero issue. Ask for references.

Personally, unless you really wanted the experience of the parties, I'd avoid the ARC and just do it yourself. Tradewinds run to the Caribbean is a pretty easy passage as long as you don't leave too early or sail to a schedule (like the ARC does).


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