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Crewing a Yacht in the South Pacific

Yachts at sunset

In my more than 20 years as a yacht sailor many people have said, “I always wanted to take a voyage on a small boat; I wish I could get a job like yours.” Practically all of them thought that crewing was impossible unless they had years of experience, but this is not the case. Captains routinely sign on people who have no sailing experience.

The secrets to finding a berth on an ocean-going yacht is to know where, when, and how to search. There is no shortage of opportunities. Thousands of private yachts are currently sailing on years-long extended cruises and have crew requirements that change from port to port. Some moor in foreign ports for months, hiring live-aboard maintenance or delivery crews to sail them home.

The qualities most desired in crew members are compatibility, a positive attitude, and reasonably good health. Stamina, not brute strength, is the physical requirement, so age and gender are not limiting factors. Men and women, from teens to retirees, are sailing the high seas as crew on cruising yachts.

Seeking a Crew Position in Fiji

Yachts crossing the South Pacific follow the southeast trade winds. Although they take various courses as they filter through Oceania, the great majority call at the inexpensive and friendly island nation of Fiji.

In Fiji, the best time to look for a crew position is from August through October. This is the last half of the sailing season and many yachts will stop for provisions and repairs before heading for New Zealand or Australia. Plan to arrive in Fiji in August or September and you have an excellent chance of getting a crew position. (The cost of living there is very reasonable: food and accommodations are as low as $10 a day.)

Find the captains at the Royal Suva Yacht Club near the capital and main port, Suva, easily accessible by city bus. Yacht marinas are also located at several large resorts near the town of Nadi and the International Airport and nearby Lautoka. Yacht clubs always have bulletin boards listing want ads for crew.

Just visit yacht clubs or marinas, have a drink, and meet the yachties who gather for the “sundown hour” when they are returning from day trips or just getting off the boat for the first time that day. Introduce yourself and tell them you are looking for a crew position. Don’t be discouraged if offers don’t come right away; it takes a little while to build up your credibility.

Have a simple resume ready in advance. This shows that you are serious about crewing and gives the potential skipper a sketch of your background. Keep it simple. Just list your name, home address, and a contact person with address and phone number. Paste a passport-size photo near the top. If possible, list a few people as references. Local ones are best, but anyone who can be easily contacted by phone will do.

Next, give a brief history of your activities or occupation for the past few years. Then list your skills and hobbies. Can you cook or play a musical instrument? Seagoing cooks are always in demand and entertaining people make great shipmates. Finally, include a copy of your passport data and photo pages.

Some boats offer an airline ticket back to the port where you signed on. Some pay the crew. Others offer a free ride but the crew members pay for their own upkeep at the end of the voyage. Still others charge a few dollars a day.  

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