Career Change to sailor: *Insert cliche navigational pun here*
October 22, 2009 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Career Filter: My goal is to spend a few years (maybe more) living at sea as professional crew on a ship/yacht/tall ship. How do I get there quickly but responsibly? What training? What is the job market like? What jobs to look for? Help!?

I am 24. I have limited nautical experience (but that is already changing). I am currently a college educated office worker and I live about 3 hours from the coast.

My goal: transition as quickly as is prudent to working full time on a vessel that travels the oceans and will give me useful sailing experience (navigation, weather, fixing engines, maintenance, diving, etc) and interesting life travels.

I am flexible, but NO military, and nothing uber dangerous. I'd prefer to be on a sail vessel of some sort.

Also, as far as money, when I live aboard I hear I can keep expenses low (no car, no rent/mortgage, meals provided, off shore=lower taxes???) so even with an initially lower salary I can save up just as much money over time. Is this reasonable?


I figured that the best starting path would be a deckhand on a yacht (or super-yacht?). It's manual labor and it gets me good experience, and seems like it would be somewhat entry level. Maybe I could work up the ranks over time?

But to get there what do I need? Can I just move to Ft. Lauderdale FL and start looking? I figure not; so what training program/certifications are appropriate? What are captains looking for in deck hands? or should I do something else like live aboard the Alvei for a few months first?

Any other thoughts?

Anyone with real world experience on a super-yacht, or working/living at sea in any capacity appreciated.
posted by DetonatedManiac to Work & Money (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't the path you're picturing, I don't think, but you could consider working on one of the Semester at Sea ships. I have a friend who did it for several years and had a really fulfilling experience with the kids; plus she learned to sail, of course.

...hmm, on closer read I see that they like to have their ships staffed 6-8 months in advance, so this wouldn't be a very quick option.
posted by aka burlap at 7:46 PM on October 22, 2009

I don't know if you'd specifically be interested in working on cruise ships, but sites like Cool Works regularly have postings for those jobs. Those companies tend to have a decent amount of job fairs around the country, too. Also, barges are always hiring deckhands, and you might get more general experience there. Cruise ship jobs are seasonal, barge jobs usually work on a thirty day rotation. For either, the requirements for a deckhand shouldn't be much more than passing a drug screen, being able to lift somewhere around 75lbs, and passing a physical. It might not be exactly what you were hoping for, but both are realistic ways to get your foot in the maritime door (I have not done either but in my travels as a seasonal worker I've met folks who have).
posted by Roman Graves at 7:58 PM on October 22, 2009

You could read the thread posted by the captain of an oil tanker on Reddit, and maybe ask a question if he's still around. He covered some of your question.
posted by ctmf at 9:05 PM on October 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think going to Camden Maine around late March and looking for a job on a windjammer schooner would be a great place to start. You can look them up online and write or call their owners, maybe schedule a visit and see if you can track some of them down. It's low money but you'd be sailing in some classic territory. It's definitely a network of people who are in the know, so you need to get your first job and then go from there.
posted by sully75 at 9:12 PM on October 22, 2009

Do you have sail or cruising certification? You will have better luck competing for a spot if you do.
posted by Sallyfur at 10:24 PM on October 22, 2009

Response by poster: I do have my US Sail basic Keelboat certification, and a own a small sailboat that I sail on a local lake. I plan on getting my Coastal Nav certification next spring.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 10:47 PM on October 22, 2009

Seconding, getting on board a cruise liner. It is not exactly what you want, but it is fairly immediate and you get to log sea time, which you can use for later licensure.

If you can get on a wind-jammer, then more power to you. The ones I have looked at required that you pay them though.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:01 AM on October 23, 2009

Wish I had time to respond more fully, but congratulations - your plan is excellent - and there is a well defined path to it. I know many people who have done this and have done short-term stints on tall ships and schooners myself. It's quite an interesting lifestyle and an experience I am sure you would not regret. My comments will refer primarily to the world of nonprofit tall ships - they are an excellent training ground and advancement tends to be rapid, as there is a lot of motion within the industry. Since they are devoted to education they tend to be more welcoming to the trainee than private/charter yachts.

Your best resource is ASTA, the American Sail Training Association. They are the nonprofit association of all educational nonprofit sailing vessels employing at least 50% of the crew under the age of 25, which is actually what constitutes the definition of 'tall ship' internationally. Here they are on Twitter, huh.

ASTA publishes a bi-annual guide called Sail Tall Ships that lists all the vessels in the UNited States (and some internationally) which accept crew and volunteer applications. You can search that same database here.

You can keep track of international scuttlebutt on the Tall Ships Message Board.

Schoonerman has some tips on finding a berth on a tall ship.

Another way to get rolling is to do some yacht deliveries. Once you find one job you tend to stumble right into your next job and your next - it's an insular industry where face-to-face contact and availability matters most. For the recreational sailing community, the magazine Latitudes and Attitudes carries classified ads for people to work as crew or delivery. Also check

Don't worry about sea time for licensure - you can log sea time under sail, as well.

MeMail me if you would like one or two direct contacts in the nonprofit educational vessel world.
posted by Miko at 5:58 AM on October 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

See also here previously.
Miko gives good advise. I have been involved in the Luxury end of the Yachting Industry for 30 + years. Qualified people get the money. If you get invoved in the Yachting industry you will find a culture difference between Motor Boat and Sail Boat. There will also probably be a significant pay difference. To start off sign up and read Dockwalk and you will begin to understand more about the industry especially from a US and crew perspective. Get on a boat, save some money, pay for some courses, repeat. Caveat: In the present economic climate Crew positions are not as easy to find as they were. Make yourself smart and presentable just like for any other job. Good luck.
posted by adamvasco at 9:48 AM on October 23, 2009

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