Crewing on a Boat Hitchhiking on a Boat

Step-by-Step: How to Find a Sailboat to Crew for, or Hitchhike on (Plus, Specifically if Searching in Rio Dulce, Guatemala!)

In the previous post, I laid out why people want to be crew, why boat owners would be seeking out crew, and the basics of crewing or hitchhiking on a boat. 

Hitchhiking on roadside

Now we’re ready to talk about the detailed step-by-step process for how to find a boat to crew or hitchhike on! 

Be sure to read until the last step for the BIGGEST SECRET to successfully finding a crewing/ hitchhiking opportunity!

Step 1: RESEARCH

Researching maps in a book
  • Do your research to determine whether it’s the season to sail on the passage/ crossing you’re seeking after (i.e., ensure that it’s not hurricane season in the oceans you want to go sailing). If it’s not the right sailing season, you’ll have an extremely challenging time to find a boat to hitchhike on. 
  • Sailing a passage from Port A to Port B is not the same as sailing the passage from Port B to Port A. 

For instance, in doing the passage from A to B, you may be fighting against the wind or an extremely strong current the whole way through, making the passage extremely challenging. On the other hand, in doing the passage from B to A , you may be going with the wind in your favor & surfing the waves. Therefore, passage B to A will likely have many more sailors on it!

Here’s a few examples of the sailing seasons for popular passages! 

You can find a more detailed description of each sailing season on Improve Sailing’s website!

Caution! This sailing season map is not 100% accurate, so be sure to do your own research about your desired passage. To give you a head start, you can check out the Noonsite website.

Step 2: CHOOSE A BOAT HUB TOWN TO GO TO

Choose the city/ town where you would like to embark on your sailing trip from:

Certain coastal towns around the world act as a hub for sailors to pass through on their passages, but more importantly, many boat owners leave their boats in these towns during off-season. These coastal towns have marinas where boat owners can leave their boats in safe-keeping, and where owners can live while they complete boat maintenance & repair work, during these periods.

For instance, Rio Dulce (the town of Fronteras), in Guatemala, is a river off the Caribbean Sea, which is protected from the impact of the ocean’s unforgiving hurricane season. It’s also an affordable town in a developing country that features several marinas where owners can keep their boats for a more affordable price than in a country such as the US.

Rio Dulce from bridge view
Views of the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, from the bridge!

Therefore, check to see if there’s any sailing towns nearby to where you are, or if you’re traveling, see if there’s any nearby to your upcoming destinations.

Caution: Be sure to plan sufficient time to find your boat! Leave at least 2-3 weeks for this process, because often boat owners may be waiting for a weather window, or need to finish up repairs on their boats, before heading off to sea. You want to be in a flexible position.

For instance, if it takes a week to meet your perfect match in the marina, and the boat owner(s) says they won’t be departing for another 2 weeks because they’re in the process of completing work on their boat, you don’t want to end up in disappointment that you don’t have the time to wait the 2 weeks.  

Rio Dulce views from the water
Rio Dulce, Guatemala, a protected area from hurricane season.

Where to be when…

Courtesy of the Alternative Sailing Community, here’s a few examples of “where to be and when”, if you’re chasing after a specific passage/ region for sailing:

  • Gibraltar, Malta, Rhodes, Piraeus:
    • October to December for crossing the Atlantic. 
    • April to June to head into the Mediterranean.
  • Canary Islands:
    • October to January for crossing the Atlantic.
  • Antigua, Barbados, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico:
    • October and November to cruise the Caribbean
  • Panama:
    • Anytime for either boats to Mexico or boats to the South Pacific
    • May to April to cross the pacific.
  • Southern California:
    • September to December for boats to Mexico.
  • La Paz, Mexico:
    • January to March for boats to the South Pacific.
  • New Zealand:
    • March to July for boats to Australia or anywhere in the South Pacific.
  • Miami, New York, southern England:
    • September or October for boats to the Caribbean.
  • Honolulu, Hawaii:
    • August for boats back to the USA. 
Navigating the seas with paper maps and compass

Step 3: CREATE A WRITE-UP TO SHOWCASE YOURSELF

A) Facebook ad/ Crew-seeking website profile

Facebook ad with photos for Worldwide sailing hitchhiker groups on facebook
Snapshots of my Facebook ads posted on the Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection Facebook group.

Create a write-up that provides key details about yourself and what you’re seeking! This will act as the “ad” that you’ll post on relevant Facebook groups, and which you can use in creating your profile on ‘crew-seeking websites’ (explained in Step 4).

I received positive feedback on my write-up, which I share with you below. Feel free to use my write-up as a template (or simply as inspiration) for your own! Take note of the specific details I included, such as my: 

  • Desired destination (mine was any destination!), 
  • Current location
  • Dates of availability 
  • Sailing experience
  • Spoken languages
  • Relevant skills (cooking, trolly fishing, spear fishing, caring for children, etc.)
  • Relevant qualities and traits (i.e., communication, easy going, detail-oriented, etc.) 
  • Hobbies and interests (this will give boat owners a hint whether you’ll be a good fit with them)
  • That I don’t get seasick (good luck out at sea if you do! 😝), etc. 

Additionally, be sure to include a few photos of yourself. It’s best if you can include relevant photos of yourself sailing, scuba diving, snorkelling, spear fishing, or any other adventurous photos!

In my element, sailing at the helm
In my element, steering at the helm.

Here’s the ad I posted, as an example:


My Facebook ad/ Crew-seeking website profile

Hallo mates!

I’m looking to be crew of a boat sailing anywhere along the Central American coast or the Caribbean anytime from beg of January to end of February 2020. I’m currently in Guatemala but open to flying out to meeting you to join as crew, so I’m very flexible to make a sailing opportunity work! I’m not on a mission to “get anywhere” or to sail to “somewhere”. I simply love sailing and want to gain more sailing experience alongside good-hearted, safe people 🙂 

Here’s bit about me:

16 months ago, I quit my corporate finance job, sold all of my belongings, and embarked on backpacking trip to travel the globe… a trip that soon transformed into a soul-seeking journey. 

Since the age of 19, I’ve been backpacking the world a few months at a time, and I discovered traveling as a deep-rooted passion of mine. Over the last 10 yrs, my travel style has transformed drastically from the drunken rallying partier to the early-rising yogic adventurer. 

Thus far, my journey has entailed local, cultural immersive experiences across developing countries, and moving between conscious communities in Asia and Central America.

My dream has been to be a crew member on a sailboat as part of my journey across the world. Since departing for my trip, unfortunately I have not yet stumbled upon a sailing opportunity. However, I am determined to make my sailing dream into a reality. I am eager to get back sailing again, expand my sailing knowledge, and learn how to sail across the oceans!

I’m respectful, easy-going, authentic, and an open communicator. I’m curious, always eager to learn new things (especially about sailing!), and absorb knowledge like a sponge.

My experience sailing is the attainment of my American Sailing Association level 1 certification, and sailing a 25ft Catalina for a few hours every Sunday after that! I’ve also been on a few overnight sailing trips for multiple days, so I know I don’t get seasick 🙂

Other than sailing, I love backpacking travel, scuba diving & snorkelling, surfing, swimming, hiking, camping, cooking, health, nature, live music, drawing, dancing my butt off, art, yoga and meditation.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


B) Ad for Marinas & for Sailor bars (Print-out)

Selfie with my ad post
Friends taking selfies with my ad posted at Sun Dog Cafe & Bar in Rio Dulce, a Guatemala.

Create an ad to print out and post up in marinas and at the local sailor bars.

Include basic information about yourself in your ad, such as your:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Citizenship 
  • What you’re looking for (i.e., to be crew on a cruising boat)
  • Desired destination 
  • Dates of availability
  • Relevant skills and experience (i.e., can swim, can cook, can fish, don’t get seasick)
  • Relevant qualities/ character traits (i.e., easy to get along with, strong communicator)
  • Interests/ Hobbies
  • Current location
  • Contact information is key! Ideally you’d have a local SIM card, so provide your whatsapp # and your local phone #. You can also include your Facebook web address.

Additionally, don’t forget to include at least 1 photo of yourself. 

Here’s the ad I printed out, as an example:

Template of print-out advertisement for crew-seeking

I recommend making your print-out ad stand out a little more than mine. For instance, you can add a border around the page with colors, and print it out in color if you can!

If you’re not situated in a town with boat marinas, then this print-out ad wouldn’t apply to you. However, I highly recommend you to situate yourself in a coastal town!

Step 4: POST ADS

A) Worldwide crew finder Facebook groups

The purpose of these Facebook groups connect sailors and crew from across the globe.  

There are 4 main Facebook groups you can join where you can post your crew-seeking Facebook ad (discussed in Step 3): 

  1. Sailing Crewfinders Whole World, Long Sailing Trip, Regatta
  2. Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection
  3. Sailboat Crewfinder Worldwide
  4. Sailors Find a Crew or Be a Crew

Every few weeks, I recommend reposting your Facebook ad in these groups, in order to refresh visibility of your ad.

B) Crew-seeking network websites

These are social network websites specifically designed for sailors to find crew. 

Many of these websites require a membership fee, however, I will share the 2 free and most effective crew-seeking websites I used:

  1. Find a Crew
  2. Crewbay

C) *TOP TIP!* Local Cruisers Facebook Groups (and Forums)

Rio Dulce local sailors facebook groups
Although these local groups have a rather insignificant number of members, the activity in these groups is extremely high (often 25+ posts a day!).

If you are in a boat hub town, or if you know which coastal town you plan to depart from, this is an extremely effective step for finding crewing options.   

Find the relevant local Facebook groups or forums for the cruisers in that town. These Facebook groups and forums exist for all the cruisers/ boaters in that community to communicate about local news, events, and other boat-related discussion. These Facebook groups are not specifically for finding crewing opportunities, but it is extremely relevant for you to post your ad about you’re seeking after! 

Repost your ad in these groups every few weeks, in order to refresh visibility of your ad.

I found the local cruisers Facebook groups in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, by searching Facebook and Google for “Rio Dulce Cruisers,” “Rio Dulce Cruisers Net,” and “Rio Dulce Cruisers Forum.” I also asked the local sailors in Rio Dulce if there were any Facebook groups for the local cruisers.

Here’s some examples of the local cruisers Facebook groups & the forum which I used in Rio Dulce: 

  1. Rio Dulce Cruisers
  2. Rio Dulce Net
  3. Rio Dulce Chisme – You can post in the classifieds section.
Rio dulce bridge and josee
The Rio Dulce bridge

Step 5: BE ACTIVE ON THE FACEBOOK GROUPS AND CREW-SEEKING SITES!

Facebook groups

Check the Facebook groups regularly for responses to your posts, but even more importantly, check regularly for new postings by boat owners and sailors with crew positions available for their boats! Respond to these postings as promptly as possible, and send them a private message through Facebook as well. In your private message, briefly introduce the crewing opportunity you’re looking for & your availability. Beneath your intro, simply copy-&-paste the detailed write-up you created about yourself in Step 3 (boat owners will typically request you to tell them about yourself and your experience anyways, so this will cut down back-and-forth communication time!).  

You can also check in the comments section of posts created by other crew-seekers to see if any sailors wrote them back about potential crewing opportunities. If you find any relevant leads for yourself, private message those sailors. 

Crew-seeking websites

Similarly, invest time to regularly search the crew-seeking websites for opportunities in your desired departure location (you can search for boats by location), and connect with the boat owners. Do not wait for boat owners to reach out to you, because it doesn’t happen very often!

Step 6: *TOP TIP!* BE ACTIVE IN THE BOAT HUB TOWN YOU’RE IN!

Walking the docks
Do the “dock-walk”!

If you’re in a boat hub town where there’s a community of boaters and sailors, spend a few hours strolling through each of the marinas during the afternoon. Walk up to people sitting at the marina’s restaurant/ patio, people on the boats sitting in the water, and even people working on their boats on ‘the hard’ (i.e., in the marina, but sitting out of the water). Similarly, in the evenings (from 6pm – 9pm) visit the local sailor bars, and approach whoever is around. Start conversations with these persons with the goal of learning if they know of any boats looking for crew. 

This may seem like a daunting task, but the sailing and boating communities are filled with kind-hearted people who are interested in booth socializing and helping others in the community.

I was well-received by most (not all!) of those whom I sparked conversation with! It’s all part of the crew-seeking adventure 🙂

Funny enough, many of the people I approached at the marinas & bars recognized me from the Facebook ads I posted in the local cruisers Facebook group! Haha.

‘The Shack’, a sailor bar in Rio dulce, Guatemala
‘The Shack’, a sailor bar in Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
I taped my ad on the wall right above the only men’s toilet!

Here’s an example of my ‘conversation starter’ when I approached people at the marinas and bars: 

“Good morning! I’m visiting the marinas to see if there’s anyone you may know who is leaving on their sailboats in the next 1-2 weeks, and is looking for crew. Would you happen to know of anyone?”  

In asking this, I’m also asking the persons I’m speaking with if they’re seeking crew!

As you’re going through all of the marinas and bars, take advantage of this time to post your printed-out ad there —- Just a head’s up, the best spot is the men & women’s bathrooms.


*TOP TIP!*

Radio to communicate between boats

By far, the BEST strategy to get the most opportunities is to get access to a VHF radio from one of the boats in the area, hop onto the local channel, and announce your personal ad & contact info to the net. This will instantly publicize yourself to all the boat owners in the area.

For instance, in Rio Dulce, every morning they have the “Cruisers Net” from approx 7:30am – 8:30am on radio channel 69. I made a few sailor friends in the area, and they happily allowed me to swing by in the mornings & use their VHF to make my announcement. Also, while I was walking through the marinas in Rio Dulce, I was directed to the office of the woman who hosts the ‘Cruisers Net’ (on channel 69) every morning, and she was willing to make the ad announcement on my behalf each morning. 


Step 7: CHOOSING AMONG YOUR OPTIONS

Remember your motivation

Don’t settle for the first crewing opportunity that appears at your feet in fear of not coming across any other opportunities, particularly, if you’re situated in a sailing town. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake, and I ended up miserable!  

Lessons with the captain about engines and batteries
The captain answering all of my questions about boat engines and batteries. A dream come true ✨

As discussed in the previous post, know what your motivations are for crewing, and choose your boat based on how the opportunity satisfies those intentions. It’s always a good idea to be upfront with boat owners and communicate your intentions to them. 

  • For instance, if your motivation is to find transportation to a destination, in exchange for helping out on the boat during the passage, then grab onto any opportunity you find (of course, given that you feel safe with the captain & crew). 
  • On the other hand, if you legitimately want to learn about sailing, then be sure to assess the boat owners’ adeptness in explaining concepts. You can do this simply by asking questions the captain questions (i.e., about their boat, their sailing experience, etc.), and taking note of the following: Do they seem willing to provide explanations? Are they willing to elaborate further? How do they respond to follow-up questions (i.e., do they have patience)? Do you resonate with their style of teaching? Is there a language barrier? 
  • As you may have experienced in other life situations, not everyone is adept at explaining or teaching. If you don’t feel you will learn from a certain captain, then don’t choose that boat!
Practicing to steer with wheel
The captain encouraged me to practice hand-steering the boat at the helm!

Assess the vibes of the captain & crew

Meet with the captain & crew in person before committing, preferably more than once. 

  • One time meet the captain & crew in a bar or restaurant, and observe if they are healthy drinkers and eaters. In other words, make sure the captain isn’t a drunk! Get a sense about the captain’s (and crew’s) experience sailing at sea (i.e., have they completed numerous passages?, how many years have they been sailing for?), and pay close attention to their manner in responding to your questions (i.e., do they sound confident and trustworthy?).   
  • At a separate meetup, arrange to visit them on the boat, and observe whether the boat is well-equipped (i.e., worn-out lines are not a good sign), and whether there are a reasonable number of people onboard (i.e., the boat is neither over-crowded, nor under-crewed). 
The captain working on the failed electricals of boat
Choose a boat that’s captained by an experienced sailor, who is knowledgeable in repairing any broken boat parts, or any electrical/ engine failures. Any combination of these failures can happen at sea, which I personally experienced!
  • If time permits, request to spend a night or two on the boat with the captain and crew before departing to sea. This allows you to see what it’s like to live with them in the closed quarters of the boat. They need to get to know you as well, so it’s within both of your interests!

You’re literally putting your life in the captain’s hands in going off to sea on his boat. Choose your boat & captain as if your life depends on it. It truly does!

Being myself at the helm with my sarong sun cover
Choose a boat where you feel comfortable to be yourself. Here’s me wearing my old woman head covering as my sun shield.

Side note:

Always be prepared with back-ups of other crewing opportunities in case your boat cancels on you. This happened to me several times for a wide variety of reasons (i.e., a buyer put an offer to purchase the boat owner’s boat, the boat-owning couple had a fall-out in their relationship, repairs are taking longer than expected, etc.).

A great option for sailing in Guatemala!

If you’re near Guatemala, a great way to ‘get your foot into the companionway’ is to spend time sailing with Daeli’s Sailing Community in Rio Dulce. It gives you the opportunity to learn the foundations of sailing in calm, serene lake waters, as opposed to out on the tumultuous waves of the seas.

I laid out all the ‘ins-and-outs’ of the sailing community in a previous post if you’re interested in learning more about it!


The pool of crew competing for boat positions, in comparison to the number of boat owners seeking crew, may seem daunting. However, when you find yourself in a sailing town, you’ll understand that this is not in fact the case!

So, simply set your intentions on finding a crew position, invest your energy into your intention, and your dream will become your reality.

Josee in silhouette at sunset

You may also like

No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    shares