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Here is my Monday morning rant… if you’re paying to be on a boat, you are not crew! Crew do not pay to be on a boat, they get paid. Or in the absence of that, they at least have their expenses covered.

I’ve seen situations like this countless times, sometimes involving friends of ours. Boat owners, when undertaking a passage, or just traveling from island to island, advertise for someone to crew with them on their boat. The hook is, the crew is not being paid to do that work. Instead, they are the ones who end up paying.

Here is the thing, if you are paying for anything beyond the food that you will eat, and perhaps your transportation costs to get to the port where you will embark, you are a paying guest, not crew. You know how you can tell? Because in the absence of someone willing to pay that money, the boat carries on as usual. They don’t stay in port waiting for someone to fill that job opening, which means that the crew was unnecessary.

To be clear, it doesn’t matter what you write down on the immigration forms when you clear into a new country, if you’re paying, you’re a guest, not crew. End rant.

Agree or disagree? Comments welcome!

ADDITIONAL NOTE 11/4/14: I neglected to make mention of a third category of people who could be on board a vessel: students. There are people who legitimately pay to be on a ship to learn, or to acquire sea miles for licensing. While they may work on the ship, and even stand watch, IMO they are students, not actual crew.


  1. I agree. Crew are working hands to make the vessel perform, and as such, working hands should be compensated. I have only taken on crew one time on my boat and although I did not pay them, they did not pay for their food, on or off the boat during the duration of their voyage.

    Charter guests on the other hand are paying to be pampered or to experience something that they could not do on their own. Some may “help” hoisting or furling sails but they are far from crew. There is a HUGE difference in how they are treated onboard our boat

  2. I agree, crew gets paid. So many these days willing to fork out money for “experience” offshore. I understand, somewhat, but back in the day you got your experience by either going along for free, food supplied with return flight optional, or a daily pay at sea. I started out at $50 a day while at sea. I stood watch, cooked, reefed and stayed busy all the time in port, it was work, I didn’t sit around and get fed. These days so many “charging $$” for experience……
    I’ll stop there……this is YOUR rant …..I could rant on myself.

  3. This is a great debate – one I have struggled with for a while and come to the same conclusion – there is “hospitality” (= guests) and there is employment (= crew). Both can work and help on the boat but as you say; crew are expected to work and be paid, but guests are invited to share the experience and may kick the tin to volunteer cash for some expenses if they wish.

    Go well!

  4. OR students. You might pay if you’re a student with a sailing school. :>

  5. If I’m ever in a situation where I’m paying to be on a boat, they’d better not expect me to work and should also keep the cold drinks coming. Pay me and I’ll haul the lines and scrub the head. In my book, it’s one or the other. Anything else is dishonest at best.

  6. Crew is doing me a favor, without them I wouldn’t be moving the boat. That being said we’ve never taken on crew.

    If I needed crew, like I might when my 17 year old heads off to college, I’d cover their food and basic expenses to be on the boat. I would also expect some experience, skills and an equal share of the work.

    If I give someone a ride to somewhere I happen to be going who isn’t an experienced sailor? Hasn’t happened yet…I’d probably only take them aboard as “crew” and put them to work!

    There IS however a difference in some countries between how you report them at Immigration, and declaring someone a passenger can cost you more fees and complicate things if you are not, technically, a commercial vessel that is supposed to be carrying paying passengers.

    • This is true. If we have family or friends on board, we still list them as crew. BUT… they didn’t pay us to be on the boat! If they did and you list them as crew, you are lying.

  7. Interesting!

    Of the various people I have had on board, not all of them family and friends, I have never been paid a penny by any of them, nor have I paid them. On longer trips we have simply mucked in on the costs.

    I can see your point but I don’t see what the problem is.


  8. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    • Thank you very much, Who Cares ( It’s been a long time since I’ve had an even remotely negative comment. I was thinking I’d lost my edge. :p

      Feel free to not visit here any more if I’m putting you to sleep.

  9. True if you live in the world of black and white, high contrast, sharp, clearly defined lines. Less so once you begin to add 50 shades of gray 🙂 …

  10. Can being crew help me attain my goals? Where/how can I find work as crew?
    Background: have been sailing dinghy’s since a teen. Now enjoy sailing keel boats (wife doesn’t like to flip) as a member of a local sailing club. Biggest experience so for: Oday 23 in Narragansett Bay (RI). Want to move up to bigger boats, charter bareboats, etc. Is crew best way to do this?

  11. Long time reader, love following you and always learn something.

    So, how do I get to ride on someone else’s sail boat to learn all I can? I plan to take the asa courses but would love to ‘crew’ on someone else’s boat with an experienced captain for a longer journey. I would have loved to accompany someone on the trip to or from Grenada to St Thomas or back. I would pay for the experience, as I have very little sailing experience, but would want to be treated like crew, not a guest.

    Ps I have 30 years of power boat experience on the great Lakes, but plan to be a sailor with my wife in retirement.

    • Sorry to say but if you have very little sailing experience, you will be of little use in a real crew capacity. So, yes, you’d likely need to pay for someone to teach you. Under their supervision, you could help to run the boat. To some it may be just semantics but in that capacity, you’re a student, especially if you paid for the opportunity.

      • Disagree, on an extended passage of 8 to 30 days anybody with absolutely NO EXPERIENCE can be a huge asset to the captain and the safe passage of said boat if that person becomes part of the watch cycle. There are many duties that require less actual “sea” knowledge that are still vital to the overall safe delivery of a boat from one port to the next. It’s the BEST way for someone to get true experience at sea.

        • You want someone with NO EXPERIENCE standing watch? Yeah, I’d sleep well. Not.

          • They’d never be standing watch alone. Any smart captain always has two on watch anyway. It’s how I learned, my nephew learned and countless others. You steered the boat. I swear Mike in my 15,000 sea miles during delivery we NEVER used the auto pilot even though they ALL had one. I remember a couple of times during the day at lunch, good weather, on just to eat only, other than that ….two people on watch, one steering the other standing by.

  12. Crew vs. guest is a minefield, adding money to the mix does not help.

    The main problem is that it is often used to monkey with regulations. In no particular order various immigration, taxes, labor laws and first and foremost requirements for commercial operation (crew requirements, boat requirements, permits at home and perhaps also locally, …).

    That said, as already mentioned some paying guests may be required to work. Students, esp. when you get to the more advanced licenses or those who are collecting miles. Also various types of adventure trips where not taking part means more crew at additional cost. The big difference is that such requirements get communicated up front.

    • The main problem is that it is often used to monkey with regulations. In no particular order various immigration, taxes, labor laws and first and foremost requirements for commercial operation (crew requirements, boat requirements, permits at home and perhaps also locally, …).

      That is my beef, I guess.

  13. Now, hold on a second. Say my sister and her husband are coming on board. They are not paying me, they are guests. When I fill the BVI form, I put them as crew, because if I put them as passengers, I get hacked by the BVI everything and it costs a fortune. Now if I have ‘paying passenger’, then I declare them as such and I pay whatever the rate of the day is to get them into (or out of) the BVI, my contract with them says that these fees are included.

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