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Practical Advice for Hitch-Hiking on Boats

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I often receive emails asking for advice on crossing oceans by sail or ship. Without a doubt it is an infinitely more interesting experience than flying, but it is not easy to arrange. Here, from my friend Rob, are some tips:

My experience of catching boats was varied… I caught ferries whenever possible, but sometimes had to hitch-hike on yachts, cargo ships, and pleasure boats.
This is a great challenge and a great adventure… requires luck, time and effort, but it feels worth it when you finally cast off those bow lines and set sail for a new land !

Advice from my own limited experience:

A lot of this is common sense, and I think just persevering and trying every idea you have is the main motto, but the basic options are:

1. Hitch hike with yachts.
– There are some yachty websites which you can register with, but I never had any luck with these, but worth a try
– Worth meeting the manager of the yacht club where you hope to hitch from – and asking if they know of anyone about to set off (email in advance before you get there if possible)
– Look at notice boards and put a notice up about yourself
– Wander around the marinas chatting to people – offering to help in any way you can (scrubbing decks, etc)
-Worth considering the season… I always ended up trying to cross a sea in typhoon season when there were few yachts about – this makes it harder but I had no choice

2. Catch a local cargo ship
– local knowledge and local ports will help you here. Ask around.
– I caught a small cargo ship from Philippines to Indonesia for 50 USD
– The big cargo ships are usually very hard to get on to unless your dad owns the company… there is so much insurance and red tape, gone are the days when you can just buy the captain a drink and he will give you a ride… but you could…

3. Use a specialised travel agent to get you on board a freighter
– this is fairly straightforward – but can be quite expensive – about 100-200 USD per day, but if you are lucky you will have a comfortable cabin and good food. It worked out about twice the cost of a plane for me to go from Perth (Oz) to Singapore
– I would really recommend SGV Reisezentrum Weggis in Switzerland – very efficient and friendly – send them an email to enquire:

4. Underlying all of these approaches is just doing good research – ideally before you get to the place you want to find a boat… also, try making contacts with everyone in town – and if possible get in the local newspaper, and on local TV (I had to do this in Papua New Guinea) in order to get the word out there. My eventual hitch from PNG to Cairns was through:
a friend (who I had met in Shanghai) introducing me to a shipping contact in Hong Kong who introduced me to another contact in Hong Kong who introduced me (by email) to his predecessor in Papua New Guinea, who invited me to play tennis with his friend, whose girlfriend introduced me to her teacher friend who invited me to speak in her school – and one of the kids in her class had an uncle who had a boat leaving for Australia later that week! So perseverance is the name of the game if you do not succeed at first!

You could also always row yourself, or buy a packraft!

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  1. All good advice, Al. I’ve had mixed luck with the yachty websites – they are now mostly populated by boats offering “vacation cruises”, meaning you pay the owner for the privilege of sailing his/her boat. I have no problems with shared expenses, but these prices include a lot of extras.

    However, I’ve yacht hitched successfully in North Carolina (eastern US), Boston, Bermuda, and Seattle by just walking the docks, meeting people and offering help. Be patient and friendly and have a skill you can offer. Cooking, mechanical, electronic … something. I’m not a particularly good sailor, but I promised my captains that there would always be two hot meals a day while I’m on board.

    Also – don’t have a ton of stuff with you – sailboats don’t have a lot of extra storage space.

  2. For crossing the Atlantic, Reliance Yacht Management seems to be a good bet if you’re wanting to cross the Atlantic (most of their deliveries are from Europe across to the Americas). They are often looking for crew, and they are the company I went with when crossing the Atlantic. It costs US$75 to register with their London office, and then usually a lot of waiting for a trip to come up.

    That said, in the end, they flew me from London to the Canary Islands, and I helped on a delivery from there to the British Virgin Islands (video for that trip here: I then helped with a delivery with the same skipper and first mate from the Bahamas (again, flight from Virgin Islands to the Bahamas paid by Reliance) back to the Virgin Islands. I paid nothing but the registration fee.

    I was trying to get to the US, and wanted to get there on a yacht, so for the Virgin Islands to Florida leg, I did a lot of asking around/hanging around the marinas in the Virgin Islands, and eventually got a ride.

    Like Rob says, make sure you’re hitting the marinas at the right time of year though. I was trying to look for a ride north from the Virgin Islands to Florida in December – right when all the yachts are heading the the US south to the Virgin Islands. So it took about 3 weeks of waiting around and scrubbing boats for board and food before I got my break. Mind you, being ‘stuck’ in the Caribbean isn’t so bad (

  3. Great post, thanks for the tips. And thanks to Rob in the comments for sharing those links, they look very useful. My girlfriend and I are looking to work a Caribbean season this year and are hoping to hitch a ride from the UK or Med between September and November – so if you hear of anything, let me know!

  4. stacey Posted

    I’ve had endless amount of luck with crew seeker site- always people looking for free crew in return for food and geting to the destinations- plus once you have one ocean crossing and your ‘in’ the community so much easier to get more experience

  5. This topic is so rarely discussed. I am so glad you brought it up. Very informative article, Alastair!



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