Want to Work on Tall Ships?
Please note, Classic Sailing is not an employment agency, and we are not responsible for employing the paid or voluntary crew on the vessels we work with.
You are not alone. Brutal fact many people want to learn how to work on tall ships. Very few tall ships can afford to pay staff at ‘entry level’ like deck hands or watch leaders. These are generally filled by volunteers and some have to pay living costs. You can spend a lot of time and money gaining qualifications but you will nearly always earn more on private yachts than sail training ships, but it’s not so much fun.
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A Career on Tall Ships
Working on tall ships is a very desirable occupation to many people. Unfortunately this gives rise to a situation where tall ship owners, who all have very difficult finances, can either charge people to work for them or pay practically nothing. As many of them are also charities you can see the logic of this, but it is very frustrating if you have your heart set on a sailing career.
Here are some ways into the Tall Ship Industry in the UK
If you live in the Americas the qualifications are different. The best source of information is the American Sail Training Organisation https://tallships.sailtraining.org
Routes 1 to 4
You can pay to sail on any voyage, provided you are over 16. A short taster voyage is recommended if you have not sailed before. Gain experience, get to know the crew, express your interest in working aboard. If you make yourself useful the crew will keep you up to date with any training schemes and refit opportunities, as well as explaining how recruitment works on board that particular ship.
Sail as a volunteer. This is the tricky one. Tall ships have a constant stream of people trying to volunteer to sail with them. They will only pick people that have sailed with them before which puts you back to the first option. The working crew have a big influence on who gets to be a volunteer, show them how good you are working in a team and be prepared for some grotty tasks and they may invite you onboard.
You are much more likely to be accepted as a volunteer during the winter refit and maintenance months. That way you get to learn the ship, the crew. and they get a chance to assess you too. In return you may then be able to sail as a volunteer or as a paid deckhand.
Route Four Get Lucky
It is not unknown to jump aboard a ship just before they leave port if they have an unexpected crew vacancy. It helps if you have relevant experience and that you just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
Keep Track of ALL of Your Experience
Make sure you keep a log from day one, and have it signed off by the skipper or refit manager after every stretch of sailing or maintenance, whether this is paid or not. The biggest factor in choosing professional crew is experience, and the more breadth and interest you can show, the better.
Being multi-talented also helps enormously. Practice your tender driving skills and your practical maintenance techniques. Teach yourself the basics of sail repair. If you have an engineering mind, use it! If you can cook, make sure the ship is aware of this. Everyone is after the romantic deckhand jobs, and there’s a misconception that it’s all rig-climbing in a rolling sea. We guarantee that a CV starting with “I can service both Blakes and Jabsco sea toilets, and know my way around a bilge pump” will always be preferable to one that begins “I’ve always had a passion for the ocean waves.”
Keep at it!
The most important thing is to keep jumping at those opportunities as they come up. The traditional sailing industry is a small world, and if you get a name for yourself as someone who is enthusiastic, cheerful and competent, you’ll go far. If you are genuinely in it for the right reasons: a passion for the ships and a desire to learn, then you will be most welcome!