Hints and rules
for crew and guests
on a boat

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This page updated: December 2003

What To Ask Potential Skipper
What To Ask Potential Crew
Rules For Crew
Rules For Guests
Stuff Guests Should Bring
Good Gifts Guests Could Bring
Treating Guests
Liability And Crew
Money And Crew

"There is no substitute for good manners, except perhaps fast reflexes."

What To Ask Potential Skipper

Go on short trip with skipper and other crew before committing to long trip.

Ask around at the local bar/marina to see if anyone knows anything about the skipper.

Sailing Now's "Tips for Skippers and Crew"

From article by Bern Primosch in 9/2008 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes magazine:
  • Always ask "Are you going to be ready to go when I arrive (by plane) ?

  • Has the boat moved recently, or has it been sitting in a slip for 3 years ?

Connecting skippers and crew:
Crewseekers (free for yacht owners; $100/year for "want to crew" membership)
Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO) ($50/year for crew; South Pacific only ?)

Skippers and people wanting to crew should create a 1-page resume giving their contact information, sailing experience, licenses and certifications, general education level, skills, references.

From a radio program on NPR:
How to hitch rides on private yachts:
  • When: know what season is good for each area of the world.
  • Where: know which marinas and bars are good for finding captains.
  • How: to present yourself to captain (have non-marking deck shoes, ask permission to come aboard, be neat and clean and courteous, etc).
  • Be persistent.

What To Ask Potential Crew

Go on short trip with new crew before committing to long trip.

SailNet - Kristin Sandvik's "SWF Seeks Crew"
SailNet - Michelle Potter's "Finding a Sailing Mate"

From John / Truelove on WorldCruising mailing list:
Finding a suitable partner to cruise with is very difficult. There are plenty of unsuitable ones in almost every port; for instance in Antigua during Race Week (and especially, the week thereafter!)

From "The Log Of Passe Partout":
Never ever leave on an offshore passage with crew that have never done as much as a day-sail on your boat, much less an overnight. Every crew member must have completed at least an afternoon sail and preferably spent a night on the boat as well. The consequences of ignoring this hint are grave and I could go on for hours, but won't. However I'm still finding stuff put away in the wrong place, lines made up incorrectly, and things just plain missing.

[Also: had to spend a lot of time instructing the crew on how to find or use things on the boat, and found out about crew's dietary preferences after provisioning was done.]

From "Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia" by Steve and Linda Dashew:
"... one of the reasons you're probably cruising is to gain freedom. To the extent that you feel dependent upon your crew for their seamanship or mechanical skills, you lose a great degree of freedom and mobility. ... [successful, ] experienced cruisers looked primarily to the social chemistry as opposed to technical skills. If the right crew wasn't found, they could carry on without."

Rules For Crew

Generic crew agreement from Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO)

Need fishing licenses for crew ?

Rules For Guests

SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Guests Aboard ... Or Overboard ?"
SailNet - Joy Smith's "Welcome Aboard!"
Large section about guests in "The Best Tips From Women Aboard" edited by Maria Russell.

From Jim McCorison on The Live-Aboard List:
The way we have handled this is to lay out several guidelines: (i.e. rules)

1) We can give you a firm pickup date and departure date, but with locations subject to change. Or, firm pick up and drop off locations, dates subject to change. We will not force ourselves, our boat, or our guests into poor weather conditions to meet an airline schedule.

2) We are on a fixed income (zero dollars per month) therefore we expect everybody to pay their own way. We do not count fuel or maintenance, but guest are expected to pay for all costs, including food, that are directly related to their visit.

3) Because we are on a fixed income, we won't be staying at marinas the majority of the time, and if we do stay at a marina, we are not likely to eat out or go bar-hopping. If you wish to do so, please feel free. Please do not feel insulted if we elect not to go with you. If our companionship ashore is strongly desired, you may feel free to pay for our meals, drinks, etc.

The reactions you get from these rules fall into two categories. The first is "What! You want me to pay?" These are the "oh cool, a free trip on a cruise ship" friends. You won't see them.

The second reaction is "That makes perfect sense. I wouldn't have it any other way." This reaction is usually from closer family members and good friends. These are the kind of people you want aboard.

I've forgotten who said it, but "The perfect boat drinks six, eats four, and sleeps two."

Stuff Guests Should Bring

Good Gifts Guests Could Bring

Treating Guests

You should realize that your guests aren't used to sailing, and don't have the same priorities, goals and skills that you have. SailNet - Michelle Potter's "Finding a Sailing Mate"


A dialog I had with John Dunsmoor:

From me:
I've heard that if a skipper takes a crewperson aboard, and then kicks them off in some foreign country, the skipper has to pay for their transportation back to the point of origin.

Is this true ? I assume the skipper is not liable if the crewperson gets off voluntarily ? Are there specific rules about this that I can read somewhere ?

I am not sure of where to go for a written appraisal.

Ethically the captain of a crew for purposes of delivery is responsible for returning the crew to the point of departure.

Legally it is an issue to be determined by the country you are entering. The vessel, owner, captain is legally responsible for the crew. This means that a crew member can not be ejected from the vessel onto foreign soil without passage from that soil.

Remember you are regulated by the same rule as any foreign vessel. Some countries may ask that a vessel post a bond in the amount of an airline ticket to the country of origin. This is the same as when you fly to the island and they require you to have a round trip ticket.

Their concern is having someone on their soil that they might have to pay the departure transportation to get you off their soil.

When I take someone to the Bahamas that is not a US citizen, the immigration folks are not worried about letting this person into the Bahamas, they are worried about the US not allowing them back into the US. If this happens then the individual would be deported back to the Bahamas and then the Bahamas would be stuck with this person and may have to pay to deport them back to their home country.

This is an interesting situation and has to be dealt with on an individual basis. You might start with searching for some government entity on the net. When we were going to Cuba we found a good deal of information about going to and returning from Cuba on the net. This was both governmental sources and individual sources.

Sometimes this information does not always agree. We had a very difficult time discerning the official line against the real line. To answer your question I suspect that the answer will come from the country you will be dealing with. The methodology will be different from country to country.

Another variable will be where the crew member is from. A friend of mine was picked up midway between Guam and Saipan and the captain of the vessel upon arriving in Saipan had to pay his airline ticket to Guam. Since Bob had no passport and was not on the crew manifest he could not legally enter Saipan. The captain could have dropped him off at the US consulate and let the US government handle the situation, for the captain was responsible for Bob and was responsible for returning him to US soil.

As you can see there are legal, international ramifications to having crew. Crew is defined as any one who is on the vessel and not the captain. There is but one captain. In a partner situation one person would have to be presented as captain.

Situation: I come to USVI to visit and crew with you to Grenada. When we get Grenada we are somewhat sick of each others company. I go to a local bar and get into a fight and hospitalize a local. The vessel is responsible for the crew. The local bar could sue the vessel for damages, the vessel could be seized for payment. Blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada, you get the picture.

Does this ever happen, yes. Is it common, no.

Being that we were in the "yacht" business and that it is a small community we heard of instances. So you are the captain of ten million dollar vessel with deep pockets and four crew members and one of them rents a scooter and runs over some local. Big trouble.

Me again:
Take a hypothetical situation: the crew has papers that are in order (US passport). Get to Grenada, crew decides he/she wants out. Skipper says "I'm not kicking you off, I'll take you back to USA, but I'm staying here for 2 months and then going back." Crew says "Forget that, I'm getting off, you owe me a plane ticket back to USA."

Does the skipper have to pay for a ticket ?

I just don't know. On one hand I would agree with you in that they volunteered to depart the vessel. But on the other hand, most island governments would hold the vessel responsible. The only reason they allow this individual on their island is because he has a departure method. Otherwise if he were to fly to Grenada he could only do so with a round trip ticket.

A more likely scenario is that you stop at Grenada for a few days on your way south and at departure he gets off the boat, now you are without crew and ... are you still responsible for his departure two months from now when they deport him? This is a good question and I just do not have a clear answer.

See "Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33, Navigation and Navigable Waters" ?
From Federal Register which points to CFR

8CFR252 "Landing Of Alien Crewmen" covers bringing alien crew into the USA, and says they can enter if "... the crewman intends to depart on the vessel on which he arrived ..." or "... departing from the United States as a crewman on a vessel other than the one on which he arrived, or departing as a passenger by means of other transportation, within a period of 29 days, if the immigration officer is satisfied that the crewman intends to depart in that manner, that definite arrangements for such departure have been made, and the immigration officer has consented to the pay off or discharge of the crewman from the vessel on which he arrived. ...". And a skipper can get rid of crew by "Application to pay off or discharge an alien crewman ... shall be made by the ... commanding officer of the vessel or aircraft on which the alien crewman arrived on Form I-408 filed with the immigration officer ... The applicant shall be notified of the decision, and, if the application is denied, of the reasons therefore. ..."

Form I-408 is "Application to Pay off or Discharge Alien Crewman" and contains an "Arrangements for departure from the U.S. ..." section to fill in.

18 U.S. Code Section 2195
8 U.S. Code Section 1286

From Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
To release crew in a foreign country, you have to go to the immigration and get the crew member removed from your ships papers. Most countries require that the crew member show an airline ticket to their home country for the removal from your papers. Here's the catch - if your crew wants to leave and does not have the money for a ticket you must pay for that ticket. Be sure that anyone who wants to crew for you has cash or a valid credit card before you sign them up. Don't take their word for it.

I once made the mistake of accepting an Israeli's word that he had money, which he didn't. Result was when I wanted this guy off of my boat I couldn't, at least not without paying his way so I had to keep him aboard until he could find a berth on another boat.

If you show up to clear out minus one passport they will want to know where the crew is and will not let you leave. You must prove that the crew has left the country. I know someone who was stuck in Barbados until he could document when and how his crew left.

Liability And Crew

What happens if a crew member gets injured on board and sues you ?

Various approaches:

Money And Crew

A dialog I had with John Dunsmoor:

From me:
What kinds of "money" arrangements with crew should I expect ? I will be a new owner/skipper looking for someone experienced to cruise with me in the Florida Keys (and later, Bahamas) for a month or so. Are all of the following possible ? Which are typical ? Combine #4 with one of the others ? Are there legal implications of money changing hands ?
  1. I pay the crew $N per day.
  2. The crew pays me $N per day.
  3. No money changes hand on per-day basis.
  4. Crew pays their fair share of provisioning and fuel costs.

Yes there are legal implications if money changes hands. If you pay them they are crew, but as we have stated before, even if money does not change hands, when you enter a foreign port they are still crew.

I suggest a fee per day, you manage the money. This may start to look like a charter which means you should be licensed. But in actuality this problem would be rare. If you were picking people, crew up, on a daily or weekly purpose then maybe. But if you pick someone up at say Fort Lauderdale and drop them off after three weeks in Annapolis then it would be darn difficult to catch you.

On the other hand with all the studying that you are doing you could probably get your six pack license for 25 ton or so. You need to be able to pass the test and document 360 days of boat, sea time. On this first trip to the well, so to speak, all your time starting with when you were five years old in a fishing boat with your dad is legal sea time. All your school time adds to this list. And since it is self-certifying for most of it, well you know.

If you are desperate with a limited time frame then you could do the paid crew routine. Many times this can be negotiated to be return airfare, no more. On a delivery professional I usually pay from food and ticket to food and ticket and up to $50 per day. You really should not have to do this, there are way too many folks out there looking for experience.

From someone at cruising seminar: It is okay to share expenses, but not to charge for passage. But even in the shared-expense situation, don't ever produce a bill from the skipper to the crew-member. Go to the supermarket or wherever together, and everyone pays to the supermarket.