Global Hitchhiking: Crewing Around the World

I’d like to introduce you to a concept I call “Global Hitchhiking.” Global Hitchhiking is what I’ve been doing for the past 2 years as I’ve sailed around the world on other people’s boats. It’s also called crewing, but I really think Global Hitchhiking is a more appropriate term. Put simply, Global Hitchhiking is hitchhiking on boats around the world.

There are boats sailing around the world all the time. There’s a whole community of sailors and cruisers out there and often they are looking for assistance with making passages or sailing from point A to point B. Every skipper, of every boat, is responsible for a number of things, but one of their mandated responsibilities is maintaining a lookout at ALL times. Here’s a quote from the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions At Sea, or the IRPCS.

“Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

A single person sailing, or even a couple of people sailing, from a perspective of sleep and sanity, would have a challenge maintaining this watch 24 hours a day on long passages.

If I’m sailing a boat from Panama to Tahiti, it’s about a 4 week endeavor. During that time, based on the rules stated above, I’ve got to keep a lookout the entire time, 24 hours a day, as I’m sailing. There are no rest stops. There are no diners where you can stop and get a meal. My good friend Ted Peacocke, who I Global HitchHiked with from Panama to Tahiti, often joked about there being a halfway pit stop; A place where there were milkshakes being served by mermaids to everybody who comes through. I kept looking for this marvelous pit stop, but it never appeared.

If it’s a skipper’s job to maintain a lookout at all times and he’s sailing his 40 foot sailboat for 4 weeks, having an extra hand on board would be helpful for him to accomplish this. This is where Global Hitchhiking comes into play. A Global Hitchhiker can hitch a ride from point A to point B in exchange for helping out on a boat.

What does a Global Hitchhiker do?

A Global Hitchhiker (we’ll call a GH from now on) is an extra hand with varying degrees of experience and knowledge about sailing. (Note, there are lots of merchant marine opportunities in the world, this post covers unpaid opportunities.) Some GHs, like myself, have certificates in sailing. Others just really want to go to Tahiti by boat and are willing to learn. And all GH’s are at the mercy of the owners of the boat. If the owner wants to teach someone with no experience how to run his boat, then he’ll take the time to do so. If a skipper wants to take a detour to some island rather than head straight to the destination, that is his prerogative, and as a GH you are subject to those types of detours. But often, those are the best parts of being a GH. You get to see things you didn’t even think of when you started this journey.

The actual tasks that a GH will be required to do, depends on the size of the boat and the whim of the owners. You may be asked to just cook on the boat. Or you may be asked to share in all of the responsibilities, including steerage, adjusting sails, anchoring, cooking, cleaning, maintenance, or other sailing duties. On most of the boats I’ve been on, we do most of the things the owner does, and everybody takes their turn at the different jobs on the boat, including night shifts, the dreaded hours of standing watch at night.

Here are some pics of me and my shipmates over the past couple of years, all collected through Global Hitchhiking. One of the best parts is the friends you make. Friends for a lifetime.

How Much Does a Global Hitchhiker Get Paid?

A Global Hitchhiker doesn’t typically get paid anything. In fact, most Global Hitchhikers pay their own share of the expenses (usually an equal percentage), such as food, alcohol, and in some cases their share of the marina fees and fuel. Of course, you could arrange a better deal than this if you’re valuable to the owners. Some owners may offer to have you on board with no expenses. At the basic level, you’re exchanging your sailing services for a free room on the boat. If you are able to negotiate additional benefits, such as not having to pay for your share of the expenses, then you’re ahead of the game. Obviously the next level would be that of a paid seaman, but at that point you are no longer a Global Hitchhiker.

If you have questions about Global Hitchhiking and how you can do it, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll be adding more posts about this idea and how to get started. I’ll also cover websites to join and how to find boats for hitchhiking. Lastly, I’ll be covering things like safety when looking for boats, both from a personal safety perspective as well as making sure a boat is safe. In another way to look at it, Global Hitchhiking is a lot like dating. You’re trying to find a boat and the boat owners are trying to find some help. You’re basically looking for a good match. It’s a great way to sail around the world!

To see the next 4 articles in this series about Global HitchHiking, click on the following links:

Thanks for following along with me on my journey.  Don’t forget to subscribe below with your email address or you can also follow on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram!

15 thoughts on “Global Hitchhiking: Crewing Around the World

  1. Hi Matt…interesting post! As a boat owner…I must say, we would be very hesitant to have someone come along with us who had no experience…we would want someone who at the very least knows how to sail a Dingy, or better yet has been offshore at least a few times before to know if they get seasick, and/or how to control their seasickness. If we had someone who only knew how to watch, and didnt understand much more than that, it would be a little help, but not enough probably to give up our privacy and feed a third person. You did the right thing getting some sailing certificates under your belt so you can be more than just eyeballs on the boat. And most important is your willingness to roll with the punches of the owner…personality means a lot on boats because it’s a 24/7 adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Patrick, I agree for the most part. It sometimes comes down to the situation. You are very comfortable on your boat with just the two of you and your boat is also smaller which would make a 3rd wheel, so to say, difficult to entertain. Also, I thought I mentioned that in most cases you will be expected to pay your own way, unless you can prove yourself more valuable than the average hitchhiker. There are others with bigger boats or with less crew (ie., sailing solo) who might consider the idea of a less experienced crew member, if perhaps they knew their character or their desire to learn. It often comes down to how good you are at selling yourself to the owner and how desperate the owner is to have crew along. Obviously, you would be a tough sell, because you just don’t need the complication of a 3rd person aboard your boat, especially since you have 2 qualified skippers aboard your vessel. The seasickness is a good point and one that I’l be covering in my next post, so I appreciate you bringing that up. And I agree with you completely that personality and your ability to get along with other people is paramount. I also cover this in more detail in my next post. Thanks for commenting and keeping me honest! I welcome your comments anytime. – Matt


      1. And also…there ARE captains that prefer inexperienced crew because sometimes they feel experienced ones “know it all”,and can’t be asked and depended on to do it the way the captain wants it done. It’s a really fine balance for a crew to know something to be helpful…but not know too much to be annoying 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, we travel as much as we could. We love to travel and we always away when we have the opportunities. I actually just back from Asia : Penang Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong kong 3 days ago:)


  2. Yes, this is a great idea. I’m from Scotland but have now moved to France. Getting home on a shoestring budget is a nice little challenge and I have given a thought to crossing the channel like this. So thank you sir for the insightful post, and I hope you’re enjoying it as best as you can!

    Liked by 1 person

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