How to be a good crew member on a sailing boat – racing or cruising – Tips for the sailor.
I would hazard at a guess that the majority of people who crew on yachts are not the rock stars we see on the maxis at the head of a Sydney Hobart or a Fastnet but are crewing on a friend’s or associate’s yacht in social or club racing. The enjoyment of crewing in these environments is quite often not being on the biggest, the fastest or latest but being on a boat that has great crew camaraderie sharing your enjoyment and a skipper that respects you as crew. I have heard these boats described as quiet boats, the shouting is restricted to being heard, not issuance of abuse. Ironically these yachts also tend to be at the pointy end of their respective fleets. There a some attributes that set a good crew member apart from the others. While having a working knowledge of sailing will of course be an immediate advantage, a lack of knowledge is not necessarily an impediment, the desire to learn is as important. The best sailors will never claim to knowing everything, they will readily admit that they learn (or relearn) something just about every time they sail. The notes below may be of more use to the newer sailor but also may be applicable to the experienced sailor joining a new crew. Your responsibilities on board will increase with your growing knowledge.
Sailing has a lot of unique nomenclature, the first you may come across is the names for each rope, is it a halyard, painter, sheet, brace, guy, cunningham, stay, kicker or whatever? Don’t be afraid to ask the colour and location, easy on a modern boat, a bit more problematic on a historic yacht where all the ropes are the same colour. (But is it a rope, line or cord? See what I mean don’t be afraid to ask). You will pick it up.
Never be afraid to ask. If you are asked to do something and you are not too sure how to do it, ask!
If you are not told when you first board an unfamiliar boat where the fire extinguishers and life jackets are; Ask! Same could be said for engine start/stop procedures, first aid kit and safety equipment locations. Keep in mind though you may not need to know the location of harnesses, tethers and Flares or EPIRB deployment on a day sail in protected waters. Remember that now you have this knowledge you may not have the knowledge or ability to use it effectively or safely, this will come with more experience and training.
If you do have a knowledge of sailing be aware that many skippers have different ways of doing things, don’t be concerned if you are told to do something differently. It is their boat after all and it may be a better way. Conversely a good skipper/owner will be always open to new ideas and differing methods.
Listen to local rules. For instance on G-whizz there is rule that states that there are only 3 places that a winch handle is placed. Stored below, in its pocket or in a winch. It’s not a biggy but it sure saves on damage to the teak if a handle gets out of control, it also tends to keep them on board. Most boats will have “A place for everything” and “Tend to have everything in it’s place”, if you take something from its storage place you should try to make sure it goes back there.
If you see something happening or hear an order issued to someone else and don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask. You may not be given an answer there and then but you should get an answer even if it’s at the bar later.
When about to perform a maneuver with inexperienced crew a good skipper will go through the process needed for a successful operation, if those instructions are not issued don’t be afraid to ask.
Be reliable, there is nothing that will sour your respect from skipper or owner is to commit to a date or time and subsequently not turn up.
If something breaks while you are using it tell the skipper, it probably was not your fault, equipment does from time to time fail, also a good skipper knows that no one makes a mistake on purpose.
In the same vein if something is not operating as you would expect look for or ask help in finding the reasons why, undue force applied to a control can do damage.
Skippers and helmsmen get advice from a lot of crew, don’t be afraid to offer advice but don’t be despondent if it is ignored.
All skippers will appreciate being told of the location of other boats, if you are concerned about the actions/course of another boat in relation to the one you are on – raise it, you may be the only crew member to have seen it.
Read as much about sailing as you are able. There are lots of books available, your new skipper may make recommendations or loan you one or two. However while you probably don’t have to read the entire Racing Rules of Sailing do read the 2 or 3 pages in the section “When Boats Meet” it will give you some understanding of what is going on.
Help! If possible be available boat working bees, you will be amazed at how much this is appreciated.
Here are a few more tips (still growing) that may help lift the respect you have as a crew member.
Coiling Lines One of the skills that really sets a competent crew member apart from a passenger is the ability to coils lines. A properly coiled line is easy to deploy, easy to stow and allows uncoiling without tangles and kinks, it also looks good! Read more ⟶
What is in your pocket It can be as simple as what is in your pocket that can improve your respect as a crew member from a skipper or owner. Carry these items every time you sail. Read more ⟶