Volunteer Abroad

How to Sail and Volunteer Around the World for Free

Sail around the world for free as a volunteer crew member with these pro tips and resources. Gain new skills and visit exotic destinations without spending a dime!

How to Sail and Volunteer Around the World for Free

An isolated island paradise. The sun beaming down on the deck of your yacht. Beer in hand and the toughest decision of the day: trying out the pink sand or snorkeling with manta rays? Maybe it’s the romance of it… Looking at Tahiti, as in, the island in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly realizing, “holy #%*&@, I sailed here from Mexico!” Maybe it’s the adventure or the bragging rights… But we’re willing to bet that the fact that you can sail around the world, for free, while gaining qualifications for a highly paid career the whole time doesn’t exactly hurt either.

We are a married couple and have spent the past year sailing on 35 – 50 foot luxury yachts. In that year, we have sailed from San Diego, CA to Tahiti as well as visited twenty other South Pacific islands in the process. We did not pay for a single day aboard any of these ships.

While our adventure may sound too good to be true, it's not and we're here to tell you how you can sail and volunteer around the world for free, too.

How to Join a Volunteer Crew

Volunteer crewing is something that has been going on for years and why more people haven’t heard of it, we still don’t understand. Here’s the basic deal: Every year there are thousands of yachts that sail around the most amazing destinations in the world. Think Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Asia, Tahiti, the Mediterranean, and Caribbean.

Many of these boats are not the mega-yachts you’re probably thinking of that are owned by billionaires. Those are, in fact, a minuscule minority of the overall yachting community. The average yacht is 35 – 50 feet long and the crew is comprised of two people: the owners out for a vacation of a lifetime. These people are sailing the world to live a dream, but usually pretty quickly that dream catches a snag.

Your Volunteer Duties

So where do you come in and what is expected of you? Ships have to be driven 24 hours a day; it’s not like they have overnight parking out there in the middle of the ocean and it’s hard to anchor when the bottom is over a mile straight down. So unless the owners want to go without sleep and steer the boat for 12 hours a day each, they’re going to need some help.

Volunteer crew people meet up with these yachts, and in exchange for a place to sleep and a ride to wherever they are going, they take a few shifts of driving the boat and help out with the ship’s chores.

Do you think you could handle steering for a few hours a day in exchange for exploring tropical islands that about 100 people per year even lay eyes on? Do you think doing the dishes might be a fair trade to learn the ukulele from the people who invented the instrument…in their home town? If so, then this might be for you.

Work Toward a New Career

If you’re of the mindset that the sea may be your new profession, you will quickly find out that to get any level of professional qualification, you need to have “sea time:” or days spent working at sea. t’s kind of a catch 22: you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job…unless you work as a volunteer. And yes, sea time on a yacht counts. What better way to work on a professional qualification, try out an exciting career, help someone out and have the memories that most people only dream of…for free?

You can earn certificates of competence through organizations like the Royal Yachting Association which require practical sailing experience and completion of an exam -- no formal courses required.

Start Your Sailing Adventure

Person standing on a yacht at sea.

There are tons of ways to get started looking for a boat, many of them online. Below are some popular sites to start your search for a crew to join near you.

We also keep a list on our blog along with how we did what we did to get started, so feel free to come by and check it out.

As they say out here, fair winds and following seas!