Hitchhiking a boat
There's always the option of taking the sea route between two places. People have taken advantage of the seas for as long a time as civilizations have existed. Hitchhiking a boat can be a great way to visit places you never would have visted otherwise (especially without an expensive and extremely pollutant plane trip), and to experience both the romance and the harsh realities of traveling by sea. Getting rides on boats is much different from sticking your thumb out on the highway - it's less spontaneous and usually involves shared monetary costs - but many hitchhikers will still find it a rewarding and worthwhile method of transportation.
- 1 Hitchhiking a Sailboat or Yacht
- 1.1 Important Differences from Land Hitchhiking
- 1.2 Safety
- 1.3 Requirements and Useful Skills
- 1.4 How to Find a Boat
- 1.5 Sailboat Hitchhiking Routes
- 1.6 Experiences
- 1.7 Weblinks with information
- 1.8 Blogs and stories
- 1.9 Videos
- 1.10 Resources for sailing
- 1.11 Books
- 2 Hitchhiking Other Kinds of Boats (Besides Sailboats/Yachts)
Hitchhiking a Sailboat or Yacht
Hitchhiking a sailboat or yacht can be quite an endeavor for some, but can be done with the right amount of persistence and flexibility. It generally means finding sail boats that need an extra hand on deck, and becoming part of their crew. With boats, the procedure of hitching is not so much about finding someone going to your destination, but more about finding the right boat and/or captain for you. In general, a lot of captains are ready to take persons (crew members) on their boat to aid with watch keeping, general tasks, or just purely for company.
Some sailboats are the only home of someone living on a tight budget, while others are owned by people from affluent backgrounds who want to sail recreationally with their friends. Often their friends think it is a good idea and agree to come along and then find out that sailing is not their cup of tea (too dirty, bumpy, boring, cramped - any number of reasons). Or maybe a captain needs to more help to operate the sails for a big trip they're planning, and doesn't know enough people who want to help, or has had a crewmember drop out for personal or family reasons. Thus crews are constantly and unexpectedly reforming. This is your opportunity for a ride.
Important Differences from Land Hitchhiking
Be aware of the huge and important differences between hitchhiking a boat and hitchhiking a car. Unless you've been invited aboard a rich person's superyacht, you will almost always be expected to help out with various kinds of work on a boat, and you will usually also be asked to pay your share of food and maybe other expenses too (see "Requirements" below). Getting on a stranger's boat is also much bigger commitment than hopping in a car, for both you and for the captain - if you're a week's sail out into the open ocean (or even an hour off the coast), getting out of the vehicle on short notice is not an option.
To make sure you don't come off as naive and entitled to boat captains, first read this article about boat hitchhiking from a cynical captain's point of view. But don't get discouraged: Next, start following a Facebook group like this one and watch some captains agreeing and others disagreeing with his attitude. The take-home message is that there are almost as many types of captains as regular people, and nothing is impossible, as long you're prepared to approach the world of boats with a hard-working and humble attitude.
There are lots of good captains out there, with good intentions. But the high seas can also be a getaway for the unscrupulous, or a refuge for people with attitudes that don't play well in polite society. Just like with car hitchhiking, the odds are vanishingly small that you'll end up with a psychopathic murderer, but unlike car hitchhiking, you have basically zero options to escape once you're out at sea. And there are many other things that can go wrong - so it makes sense to be more careful than you usually would be.
Also like car hitchhiking, the biggest danger is probably careless captains. An otherwise well-meaning captain who doesn't care about safety protocols, doesn't stock safety equipment, or doesn't take good care of his boat can be just as dangerous as as a bad-intentioned captain. Once you're on a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean, fallen overboard at night while the rest of the crew is asleep and the boat sails on without you, or seriously injured our sick and days away from medical help, it won't matter how well-intentioned the captain is. Luckily most captains want to protect their own skins too, and will have thought of all these things already, but it still pays to be aware of the exceptions. And of course, make sure you pay close attention and follow all safety instructions that the captain does give you. They're trying to protect you from dangers that you may not even realize exist yet.
Once you're a few dozen miles from shore you'll have no cell phone reception, you're much to0 far from land to swim back, and it's unlikely there will be any other boats near enough to notice you need help without a call from the ship's radio. On long passages, there might not even be ships in radio range - you could go a week or more without even seening another boat. Boats at sea almost never have onboard internet access, except sometimes an option to send short emails or text messages through a satellite phone (which is likely controlled by the captain).
So how do you go about taking safety precautions? Well, if possible start by analyzing how well the captain cares for their crew. Or their boat. How prudent they are about security. What kind of personal imbalance they might be experiencing based on their insistence on getting certain types of crew (like young, good-looking women). If you've met them at a marina or pub, ask other locals what they think of them. If you've found them online, check if they have any reviews from other hitchhikers or sailors (they generally won't anyway, but it's worthwhile to check just in case).
One safety benefit over car hitchhiking is that with a boat, it's easier to share the boat and captain's identifying information with a friend or family member before you leave. Boats have their names and often registration numbers painted on the side, and you'll have plenty of time to get the captain's full name and any other details you might want. Your family and friends might even be able to track your GPS position throughout the trip - most larger boats (and some smaller ones) have a system called AIS that regularly reports their GPS position to a public server so anyone can look up their current location on a map online. And captains who don't have this might still have another method, like a Garmin GPS system that reports back to a password-protected website. Others might have nothing.
You can, of course, bring your own safety equipment - life jacket, harness, even your own GPS/satellite phone (Garmin has good devices for a few hundred dollars plus around $50-100 per month for a satellite communications subscription). But check what the captain already is providing before you go out and spend a lot of money.
Also be aware of weather-related hazards. It's the captain's responsibility to avoid sailing into a dangerous storm (another reason to choose the captain wisely), but you may be held responsible for your own personal preparations. On a boat you're more exposed to rain, wind, sun, and cold than you would be in a house or even a car. Most boats have an indoor or covered area, but you may not have access to it for long hours of the day and night that you're standing watch or otherwise working on deck. In other words, make sure to bring a rain jacket, warm clothes, a sun hat, and sunscreen. Expect conditions at sea to sometimes be much colder than on land, and possibly sometimes hotter as well.
Requirements and Useful Skills
Different captains have different requirements, and different personalities. Above all, be helpful and interested in their trade. Even if you do not have any experience in sailing, be honest with the fact and state that you are eager to learn. Show respect towards their skills, their boat and the seas and the elements of nature. Learn about sailing, the races, the seasons and major routes. Be willing to help for work needed before the departure, like cleaning the hull.
Here's an overview of things you may need, though you can always find exceptions, and you'll rarely be expected to meet all of these requirements:
Attitude and Personality
- Positivity and humility: No captain wants to give a ride to someone who will be complaining the whole time, acts entitled, or thinks they know better about everything. You have much to learn, young grasshopper.
- Can-do attitude: There's a lot of work to be done on a boat, and the captain knows better than you about how things work at sea. Enthusiastically follow instructions first, and ask questions later. Be ready to work hard, including on unusual schedules.
- Patience and flexibility: Unless you're on a super-nice boat, life aboard is sometimes surprisingly simple, austere, and even difficult. Be prepared to endure hardship and find your inner peace, especially if you'll be at sea for more than a few days.
- Interest in sailing: Captains are generally much more enthusiastic about taking on people who want to learn about sailing than people who are just trying to get from point A to point B. Cruising the seas is their passion and hobby, and they want to share it with like-minded people. Presenting yourself only as a "hitchhiker" can be a way to get a quick "no".
- Chipping in: Unless you're very experienced and applying for a paid job, or have made friends with a well-to-do yacht owner, expect to be asked to chip in for your share of food, and possibly other expenses as well, such as fuel, cruising fees (charged by national governments for bringing a boat into their territory), or even maintenance. It's likely you'll be expected to cover your own visa fee for any country you enter (if any), which is usually similar to whatever you'd pay if arriving on your own by plane or land border. Talk about all these things with the captain in advance. A total of US$15-30 per day is considered a good deal, and $50 or even more is not unheard of (may depend on the region of the world). During the ARC regatta you can even expect boats ask as much as €50 per day since inscription fees are pretty high. An Atlantic crossing takes between 15 to 25 days, depending on boat and winds, so for example you'd likely need US$300-500 for the crossing alone - count on at least a week of land expenses in the marina till you find your lift, too. This may sound like a lot of money, but remember that you won't have any other expenses while at sea (except any monthly bills), so compare it to what you would normally spend over that number of days.
- Higher rates: Some boats will ask for much higher daily contributions, up to hundreds of dollars per day. Some will even insist that it's only your share of the costs. They're not necessarily trying to rip you off - they may just be trying to cover all their costs (maintenance, repairs, registration fees, insurance, etc.), and could genuinely be offering a unique opportunity depending on where they're going. But don't let them convince you that this is your only option for getting sailing experience - it's absolutely not.
- Getting a free ride: It is possible to get an entirely free lift food included, mostly on bigger yachts where you'll be needed to scrub the deck and polish the silver railing. But in general, don't expect to have all your costs paid by the captain just because you're working, unless (1) you are experienced and (2) the captain is running a business or otherwise seems to have a lot of money to spend. Remember that, unlike with land hitchhiking, an absolutely free ride on a boat means that the captain is buying you days or weeks' worth of food. Still, you never know - there are generous people out there. Just don't be demanding or act entitled, and maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Abilities and Knowledge
- Ability to swim: Not always required - some captains supposedly can't even swim - but generally useful, and honestly pretty critical for your own safety.
- Knowledge about sailing: Most captains prefer a total noob to a know-it-all, but it doesn't hurt to learn a little bit about sailing in advance. Useful knowledge and skills incldude tying knots (specific ones used on boats), international collision regulations or "COLREGS" ("rules of the road" for how to avoid crashing into other boats), understanding of how to interpret ship lights, ability to understand the symbols on a navigational chart, knowing how to go fishing and clean fish, etc.
- Tolerance to seasickness: Most people get motionsick on a boat in rough weather, and some even in calm weather. But often the body gets used to it after a couple of hours or days. A few find out they can't just take it and must break off their trip. It's important that you find out how you deal with seasickness (and eventually find your own tricks to cope with it), and let the captain know it. The best cure is usually to stay above deck and watch the horizon, or to lay down flat in your bunk. Running to the toilet is strongly discouraged - it's cleaner and less smelly to vomit into the ocean, and you won't risk clogging the toilet either. On catamarans (double-hulled boats) you will likely experience less symptoms of seasickness than on monohull sailing boat (which is designed to rock back and forth without tipping over). There are drugs to cure some symptoms, or some people use ginger. Better pack some in advance especially in case you're planning a longer cruise and you don't yet know your reaction to exposure. Seasickness is no fun at all and can actually be dangerous for yourself and annoying for the rest of the crew, since you wont be able to fulfill any tasks below deck.
- Physical fitness: Most work on a boat includes some physical effort, and even walking around may take some extra energy and good balance when the boat is rocking back and forth. There's no need to be super-buff, but captains will generally expect you to be reasonably in-shape.
- Cooking: Being a good cook isn't a free ticket to a life on the seas, but it often helps a little. Many captains either prefer not to cook themselves, or like themeselves and the crew to take turns cooking meals. If you can't cook at all, you better be enthusiastic about washing the dishes.
- Sailing experience: Experience in sailing is often not necessary - many captains will tell you it's easy to teach someone to sail if they have the right attitude. But the more experience you get, the more doors will open to you.
- Language: Obviously all foreign languages can help, but for the Atlantic crossing speaking at least some French can make a huge difference, since over 60% of sailors on this route are French-speakers. French is also useful in the Caribbean and parts of the South Pacific, and many recreational sailors are French, so that may be the next most useful worldwide sailing language after English. Local languages in the countries where you're making port will also be highly valued, of course.
- Technical know-how: Rarely required, but captains love people who know how to help fix, maintain, or upgrade the boat: diesel engine mechanics, carpenters, electricians, etc.
- Medical qualifications: Also not a requirement, but who wouldn't love to have a doctor or nurse aboard their boat just in case?
What You Carry
- Pack light: There's usually very little storage space on a boat, after fitting in necessary equipment, stocks of food, and other supplies. You may even be asked to store all your luggage in your bunk with you. A backpack should be okay, especially if it's not the biggest kind, but you may have a hard time finding a boat that will let you bring a large musical instrument or a bicycle, for example (even on top of the boat there's not much extra space, and a bicycle not security packed up will quickly rust).
- Passport or ID, even when you're just travelling within Europe! The skipper must be able to provide identification documents for all crew members. Entering a country by boat requires passport checks and (often) visas just like entering any other way, though the details of the procedure may be different (don't be surprised if you have to give your passport to the captain so he can take it to the immigration and customs people).
- Equipment: Head lamp (ideally with a red light option). Waterproof boots and good shoes are recommended, though some boats may provide them and others may ask you go barefoot anyway. All-weather clothing and sun screen. Ask the captain for a list of what to bring - some things may be provided already, and other things may be specific to that boat. If you do need to buy equipment for an Atlantic crossing, the Canary Islands are cheaper when compared with mainland Europe and in Gibraltar for example. Apparently there are sailor’s “jumble sales” so you might pay less.
- Presentation: How you look and dress may or may not matter, depending on the captain. Many captains are conservative or old-fashioned sailor-men types, who may scorn "hippies", punks, etc. Some will be concerned that customs will give them a hard time about you when entering the destination country - if you get turned away at the border, or caught with illegal substances, it may be considered the captain's responsibility. On the other hand, some captains are hippies themselves, so never say never.
- Diet: Your diet may need to be compatible with the captains. If you're vegetarian or vegan, many carnivorous captains will refuse to let you on the boat, not wanting to stock different kinds of food just for you, or not wanting the kitchen to be in use twice as much of the time (remember, space and fuel are both in short supply on many boats). But other captains are vegetarians themselves, or are happy to make what they see as small accomodations. It just depends.
How to Find a Boat
Finding a boat can take you a lot of time. Be prepared to change your schedules and plans accordingly. Unlike with cars, boat rides are not happening every day - it can take from a couple of days to a couple of months to find a boat. The weather can be unpredictable, and so can the length of the voyage. All these things together mean that you can't really plan on arriving at place X at time Y. Time takes a different shape and form on the seas.
Being extremely flexible about time and place helps a lot too, especially as a beginniner. Don't expect to be able to find a boat from your chosen point A to your chosen point B, unless you know for sure that it's a common route and the correct season (sailboats can't just easily go wherever they want - there has to be wind blowing in roughly the right direction; even for motor yachts, weather conditions and sea currents matter a lot). A much more successful strategy is to just say, "I'll go anywhere, as long as it's on a sailboat" - enjoy the adventure! Most captains will appreciate this attitude, and it's probably the best way to gain the skills and experience necessary to be a little pickier in the future.
If you're looking for boats online, it also helps to be very flexible about your depature point. People who just love sailing (like captains) often will fly halfway around the world to join the right boat. You don't have to do that, but you will of course have more opportunities if you're ready to take a bus or hitchhike across a province, country, or continent to get to the boat.
Traditionally, boat-hitchers would try hanging out at the harbor for a week, talking to almost anyone, possibly finding a pub where sailors tend to drink their beer. Another way people often get rides on boats in the San Francisco area is to go to the pier with some beers and offer them to folks who look like they are heading out.
The best way of encountering a suitable ride is to visit popular marinas and anchorages that outbound captains frequent. They are probably there for overnighting, waiting for suitable weather and winds, provisioning or repairing. They might be short of crew because of some force majeure (people change their plans and get seasick and so on...) - this means that they could actually need your hand on board.
Be assured that once you hit the marinas everything will be pretty obvious. You will meet other boat hitchhikers and they will share their information with you. Basically you'll be putting up notices offering your help, pacing the docks approaching people cleaning their yachts, trying to make contact with sailors in the bar etc. Try to talk to as many people as possible. After a while everyone will know you and will give you hints as to which boat is looking for someone.
Be aware that not every coastal town or city has a lot of yachts or sailboats around, and probably the majority of yachts and sailboats aren't planning to make a long trip at any given time (many people only do day trips, or even just live full time on their boat in one spot). A little research on your starting location can go a long way.
You may be able to meet captains who are anchored nearby by participating in radion conversations. For example, it used to be that in all the ports in Central America and the South Pacific including Australia at 8am local time all boats in the harbor talk with each other over radio on channel 19. Thus you can listen and participate of you can either get on a boat with a radio or from a radio on land. They talk about all kinds of things they need, like where to get the bottoms of boats scraped and where is a good place to buy diesel fuel that is not watered down. And at the end of this broadcast you can generally say "My name is Wombat and I am looking for a ride to the Marquesas and I can cook." Ask around to learn about the current practices where you are.
On the Internet
Finding a boat (or a crew for your boat) online is now quite common - by some accounts more common than the traditional in-person method. There are many options, and if you work a few of them (and are flexible enough), you can probably find something.
- CrewBay has much fewer boats than Find a Crew, but you can share and see most contact details for free, and some users have found that its simplicity makes it easier to use than other sites. It does have some premium paid features (£1.63/week subscription), but you can easily get by without them if you need to. Crewbay is by probably the best crew site if you're looking to find boats for free or without spending very much. User:Treefrog found a boat from Florida to Panama this way, and his crewmates also found the boat using free CrewBay accounts.
- Crewseekers is the oldest crew site of them all with many boats as they don't have to pay to register or use the site, but there is a fee for crew to register to make sure they are committed to finding a boat. Many captains and their boat are UK based, but there are some in other places too.
- Find a Crew is by far the largest website for finding crew and boats around the world, and maybe your best chance to find a boat quickly if you can afford it (AUD75 for 30 days only, down to AUD28/month if you pay for a year in advance). Some users have found it a little overly complex or difficult to use, as it has lot of different features and very detailed profiles (with exact locations and contact details hidden to free members). As a free member you can't contact captains unless by "waving" to them - if they have a paid account, they can then start a message conversation with you; if they have a free account like you, they can reply with a "yes", "maybe", or "decline" message but no additional text. The site does provide some ways for captains in search of crew to find you, but unless you have a competitive resume or the captain has some other reason to be interested in you specifically, this is probably a long shot. A lot of members also pay to have their Personal Identity Verified (PIV) and many of them don't allow you to contact them unless you verified your identity too. (Treefrog had no luck finding a boat after several months with a free account, but it seemed like there were a lot of possibilities for paid members.)
- Vogue avec moi
- Bourse aux Equipiers, in french.
- Others (just do some web searches)
For people aren't able or willing to pay for help finding a boat, some of the best options today are Facebook groups. There are many captains posting sailing trips in these all the time, and many don't expect any experience. It generally works best to search the group for your desired place of departure, or closely follow all new posts, and comment or message when a captain posts a trip that looks suitable to you (User:Treefrog got five or six potential offers out of Florida this way in early 2020, and only ended up turning them down because something sooner and surer came up on CrewBay). You can also post an ad for yourself, describing who you are, where you are, and what you have to offer, and hope that a captain in your area will see it and contact you. But don't expect this to work great unless you're experienced or a young woman (usual caveats apply). Also expect to be laughed at for your naivety - try to take it in stride, as many captains have a "sailors will be sailors" attitude and expect you to have a "thick skin".
- Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection is the largest such Facebook group. Lightly moderated, so don't expect people to be polite, but hey, at least it has "Hitchhikers" right in the title!
- Sailboat Crewfinder Worldwide is only a little bit smaller than the above group, and a bit more moderated. Definitely worth trying both of them.
- Sailors Find a Crew or Be Crew is quite a bit smaller, but you might still find something there.
"Crew wanted" or "Boat wanted" listings on marina bulletin boards may be a dying breed, but there are still some online equivalents
- Latitude 38 Crew List is fairly active, depending on where you are and how flexible you are about location. Most of the trips hitchhikers will be looking for will be listed under "Cruising", but "Racing" and "Daysailing" can also be good for building up experience.
Sailboat Hitchhiking Routes
The two most common long-distance crossings are discussed below. Shorter-distance sailing, such as between islands in the Caribbean or Southeast Asia, or around the Mediterranean, is probably generally easier.
Apart from making your way round the Caribbean or Polynesia by offering a hand onboard yachts which seems to be common and easy, the most common route is the Atlantic crossing from Europe to the Americas (mostly to the Caribbean or Brazil).
East-West from Europe
When to go: Boats go with the trade winds that start to move from East to West across the Atlantic in autumn. So the season is from September to January-February. Top season is October, November. In the end of November each year there is a regatta called ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) leaving from Las Palmas. There will be more boats than at any other time in the marinas and it can be considered safer than leaving with a boat that is going unassisted. There will be more competition on finding a lift though, too.
Be aware that for the past three to five years the winds have started to go haywire a little bit, acting less predictably with more storms happening. This is most probably because of global climate change. The way most sailors comment on this is "the winds are going through a transitional phase to find a new rhythm".
- France: South: Antibes North: Brest
- Southern Spain: If you are English speaking: obviously Gibraltar/La Línea ("Alcaidesa Marina"), Malaga.
- Portugal: Lisbon: Marina de Cascais, Marina Parque das Nações, Doca de Alcântara; Algarve: Marina de Lagos
- Canary Islands: The biggest marina is on Gran Canaria, in Las Palmas.
- Morocco to the Canary Islands: Essaouira,Agadir.
- Senegal: Dakar and Casamance (see "Africa to America" further down).
East-West from Africa
If you don’t want to pay the ferry in Algeciras it is possible to sail to Africa, although unless you are extraordinairily lucky, you’ll have to go via the Cape Verde islands which are a stopover for many trans-atlantic sailors. They are between 10 and 14 days from Gibraltar. From there you’ll have to catch a new boat to get to Senegal which is three days away. It is an experience in and of itself although maybe not the perfect swap for a one-and-a-half hour long ferry ride that’ll cost you €25 You also miss out on Morocco and the crossing of the Sahara Desert, which are highlights of any visit to Africa.
- From Morocco: Essaouira is your best bet, you can also try Agadir. No one crosses over directly from here though, all boats will be going somewhere in the vicinity (Canaries or Senegal for example) with other plans put up for later.
- From Senegal: Dakar or Casamance. With a very likely stopover on the Cape Verde islands.
- If you want to take a flight to the Cape Verde islands: the biggest marina is in Mindelo on Sao Vicente, the second biggest one is on Sal where the international airport is.
- Since sub-Saharan Africa is out of the influence of the trade winds you can hitch from Senegal almost all year round, although the main bulk of boats will be leaving when it is top season in Europe, that is October to December.
- There are three sailing clubs in Dakar. “La Voile d’Or” with shallow water which therefore attracts catamarans only, the “CVD” (Club des Voiliers Dakar) where the majority of boats can be found and a third one also in the vicinity of the two ones mentioned. They are all situated not far from another to the South of the “Cap Vert” peninsula and the town centre. If you try to hitch from there it is strongly recommended you speak some French.
The Pacific being about 6 times larger than the Atlantic. Most boats leave America and go through the south Pacific Islands towards Australia or New Zealand. This is because of the trafe winds.
East to West
Boats normally leave from central America, mostly Panama.
West to East
There are two different options from where boats start in the beginning of the year till mid of June.
Going through the south Pacific starting from New Zealand. The route is called theroaring forties. Most boats avoid going there as the weather conditions are very rough. Also without sailing experience or just a little it is very unlikely that someone is willing to take you on board.
Starting in Japan boats will go towards Alaska, Canada or the Westcoast of the US. There are only 10 to 20 boats doing this route each year and most will start between the beginning of June and mid of June as it is not that incredible cold and the taifun season normally has not started yet. Most boats leave from Hokkaido, Kushiro but as there is no marina they will most likely be in Hakkodate before. Also make sure you got your B1 or B2 Visa for the US before departure as the Visa Waiver Program does not apply for private vessels and you would illegaly enter the US just holding your visa waiver.
Many recreational sailboats and yachts spend their time cruising around the Caribbean. Hurricane season is May to October, so there are very few boats sailing during this period. Cruising north along the string of islands in the eastern Caribbean is more of a thing than going the other direction, but the boats have to get south somehow. Many captains in the US head south to the islands at the beginning of the season (November or December) and spend the next few months cruising around.
Paxus hitched from LA to Sydney over 10 months in 1989/90. He sailed across the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles to Sydney with 10 different boats, mostly on the west coast of the Americas. Ten different captains and ten slightly different agreements for passage. Mostly, it was berth space, food and passage in exchange for some work around the boat and especially steering and adjusting sails. In one case a skipper asked me to pay 1/4 of the diesel fuel bill for the passage, so I would sail as much as possible. We sailed a lot, even with very little wind and when we arrived in Panama he declined my offer to pay my agreed share, saying he just wanted to cut fuel expenses which we did.
Suzanne Oceanpreneur] has been hitchhiking on sailboats for the last years on +25 different boats. She hitchhiked across the Atlantic 4 times (twice from Europe to the Caribbean and twice from the Caribbean to Europe). She has explored almost every ocean on the planet with this alternative way of travel. She has figured out how (and how not) to catch rides on other people’s boats. Her ocean adventures have amazed her to the beauty of nature, but also the challenges the oceans are facing. She wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Atlantic. And with the Ocean Nomads Community] Suzanne aims to connect more (aspiring) sailors and ocean change-makers with each other with the bigger goal to protect our playground and save the ocean.
Weblinks with information
- Floatplan is a free to join sailing community, great information for when and where to find a yacht and an interactive member map.
- Cruiser Log, has some very useful info, some specific for hitchhikers, including a rough guide of movements of cruising yachts
- Detailed Account of hitching Yachts and cargo freighters on Wikivoyage
- 7knots has a practical way of finding boats
- Boating OZ, mostly in Australia, some Pacific
- aferry click on the map to see lots of ferry connections from all over Europe
- Boat hitchhiking, a dummies guide
Blogs and stories
- A skippers' point of view on people looking for a boat
- Short blog post called 'How to Hitchhike a Boat'
- How to Find a Sailboat Ride? | Boathitchhike Tips
- Documentary called 'Hitchhiking across the Atlantic', 2012
- Le temps de prendre le temps, hitchhiker Kiko's documentary about hitchhiking across the Atlantic (french and portuguese).
- Top Tips on Hitchhiking the Atlantic (based on 4x sailing across)
- Boat hitchhiking – 10 tips on hitchhiking across the Atlantic from Europe to the Americas' by Gringo Ben in 2014.
- Hitching a boat - Weekly Blog (2010, in Dutch). A Weblog from two Dutch students hitchhiking across the world by ship.
- Hitchhiking sailing boats, May 2015
- 10 tips for boat hitchhiking across the Atlantic (french)
- 7 Crew Websites to Find a Boat (or Crew) to Sail Across the Atlantic
- Catching a Ride Across the Atlantic (2011). Excellent overview. How to Improve Your Chances of Being One of the Chosen Few.
- see Paxus his experiences hitching Sailboats in 1989/90.
- Ocean Adventure Travel Blog Has hitch-Sailing stories and 'How To's.' A blog from a seasoned sailboat hitchhiker.
- Atlantic Boathitchhikers in Las Palmas
- Youtube Channel on Boat Hitchhiking, Sailing & Sustainability
Resources for sailing
- CS Group: Sailing. Forum about couch surfers and their interest in the Sea, Sun and the Blue Sky.
- CS Group: Vagabond Sailing
- CS Group: Couchsailing International
- Trustroots's "sailors" tribe
- Noonsite - For seasonal info and ports etc
- Yachting and Boating World Forums - Crewing Opportunities Forum
- Sailing Anarchy - Crewing Opportunities Forum
- Cruising Sailor - Crew Positions
- Desperate Sailors (free crew, boat, services and event finder)
- World Cruising Club
- Ocean Nomads Ocean Explorers & Impact Community
- Ocean Nomad The Complete Atlantic Sailing Crew Guide - How to Catch a Ride & Make a Difference for a Healthier Ocean by Suzanne van der Veeken (2017)
- Ocean Nomad - Catch A Sailboat Ride & Contribute to a Healthier Ocean
Hitchhiking Other Kinds of Boats (Besides Sailboats/Yachts)
Hitching a ferry
Hitchhiking a ferry is easy. Simply ask drivers or truck drivers if you can board the ferry in their truck - they often only have to pay for the vehicle, so you're not costing them anything extra. See also Category:Ferries for different routes that involve ferries. It's advised to find out in advance if the ferry charges per vehicle (good) or for each passenger as well (bad). Some ferries are also free (sometimes in just one direction), or charge very small fees for pedestrians, in which case you might as well just walk on.
Hitching a cargo ship
There are stories floating around of people who always know someone else who managed to go for free on a freighter, but the only reliable stories really date back to the seventies. Regulations and insurances made it much harder to work abord in exchange for the passage. Cargoship travelling is commercialized now virtually everywhere: for quite an expensive fare you can rent a cabin on them. Expect it to cost at least as much as a plane ticket. Make sure to bring a few books to read. You will likely be restricted to only a small part of the boat, and may not have any contact with the outside world for days or weeks.
Hitching a fishing boat
It is generally very hard to hitch a fishing boat, even if you're offering to work - unless you know the captain, crew, or boat owner. Most fishing boats leave and come back to the same harbor, so this is not much use anyway unless you just want to get out on the ocean or see some remote coastlines.
Hitching a Barge
Some inland routes are navigable. Big rivers, canals... Barges and private boat cruise them. Barges are very long and flat boats that can carry thousands of tons of goods, slowly along the river. If you're not in a hurry they are easy to hitch.
Barges won't stop if you wave at them from the bank. The best place to get to them is a "lock", where they have to stop to be adjusted to the level of the river-canal. But they usually have a restricted access.
Apparently they do not operate at night (10pm-6am). If you go to the main gate, there should be a button to call the operator (only one person is usually operating). From my experience in Germany, they are very hitch-hiker friendly. If you explain to them what you're up to over the intercom, they let you in or even ask the boats for you over the radio.
Traffic is low but the boat drivers are usually open to travellers. And during the time needed for the lock to operate, it is easy to talk to them from the bank.
The cruising speed of a riverboat is circa 13 km/h. But counting the time spend in the locks, it can go down to 6 km/h. But as they stop only at night, it is still faster than walking.
Plus, given the size of the vehicle, it is very comfortable. And depending on what river you're cruising, it can also be very beautiful. nomad:Hitchhiking a boat