How to Work on a Tall Ship

How to Work on Tall Ships

Want to Work on Tall Ships?

You are not alone. Brutal fact. 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.

The big difference between private yachts and ships that do charter or sail training is that our ships sail almost every day, rather than spend weeks in port polishing chrome winches and waiting for the owner to turn up. Adventure charter ships go to Antarctica, race in tall ships events, have a new guest crew each week to get to know and share experiences.

The Classic Sailing fleet has more than its fair share of female skippers and mates. There are skippers of awesome tall ships, sailing schooners and ketches that are only in their twenties or thirties and very experienced captain’s still inspiring young crews in their 60’s.

Many of our skippers made a career change to work at sea, and some have gone on to buy their own boat and set up their own adventure charter business. It is never too late……

Apply Direct to the Ships Operators Please

Please note Classic Sailing is purely a booking office. We can advise you on your career or where to send a CV, but we rarely handle recruitment processes.

We are not an employment agency for tall ships, and we are not responsible for employing the paid or voluntary crew on the vessels we work with.

  • Voluntary positions are available on some of the ships we work with but you have to be approved by the vessel owners or Captain.
  • The vessels offering volunteer positions change from time to time and you will need to contact them directly yourself.
  • Please bear in mind that to gain approval as a volunteer you may have to pay to sail on them first.
Work in wind, rain, blizzards and sun

Job Opportunities on Facebook

From time to time we may post on our Facebook Page job opportunities from our sailing partners.  Please LIKE our Classic Sailing Page and we can keep you in the loop.

Job advert example: joint effort between Classic Sailing and Salty Jobs
Job advert example: joint effort between Classic Sailing and Salty Jobs


 Classic Sailing Facebook


Job Opportunities Through Sail Training International

Sail Training International runs tall ships races in Europe and works to promote the value of international sail training. They have a job vacancies website for work on tall ships and smaller sailing vessels.

STI Website – Job Page

A Career on Tall Ships

Working on tall ships is a very desirable occupation for many reasons. 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.

If you live in the Americas the qualifications are different. The best source of information is:

the American Sail Training Organisation

Here are some ways into the Tall Ship Industry in the UK

Route 1: Volunteer tall ship crewing

Many professional tall ship sailors started off by working as a volunteer for nothing for an unspecified amount of time on a tall ship or large yachts. You can eventually get paid as your experience and knowledge of the ships staffing systems comes into play, but there is likely to be a limit on how far you can progress towards real wages without formal qualifications or specific trade skills like rigging, cooking, engineering or electronics.

Tip: Always record your sea time and get it signed by the captain, even on a Classic Sailing voyage where you have paid to be crew. If the ship signs you on as sail training crew, you are crew.

More information see ASTO The British ‘ Association of Sail Training Orgainsations’ 
ASTO has a popular job vacancies page which includes paid vacancies and volunteer opportunities on British Sail training Vessels from Tall Ships like Lord Nelson to yachts of all sizes.


Route 2: Cadetship in Merchant Navy

The second route is take a formal cadetship with a merchant shipping company and become a qualified, deck or engineering officer. If you want the definate prospect of wages throughout your training and are young enough to be selected by a shipping company then this is a long route in with good all round sea career prospects. We have seen a young woman with a degree in music and a passion for tall ships go from being a galley assistant on a tall ship to the chief officer of a chemical tanker. She now sails on Tall Ships as a 2nd mate in her free time in either a voluntary or paid role. Many of the ships officers on Stavros S Niarchos have come through this route.

These are some UK contacts that may be able to help
Trinity House


3. UK Deck Officer Training (Yachts & Sail Training Ships upto 3000 ton)

You can work your way up a career qualification chain similar to the merchant navy route but aimed at super yacht crew and sail training ships. The progression is a yacht rating -deck officer – chief mate – Officer of the Watch and eventually UK Master Certificate without joining the Merchant Navy. It requires a lot of sea time on vessels over 15m loadline length and the passing of about STCW 95 Courses and exam modules. The total cost of all these courses and exams is several thousand pounds. ASTO did offer grants for some of the course modules if you are under 40 and working already in sail training.

Recording Qualifying Seatime towards Yacht rating or Deck Officer with Classic Sailing:

If you sail on our larger vessels you can usually count it as qualifying seatime if you talk to the mate or Captain and explain what you are trying to achieve. It helps to obtain a Seamans Discharge book or similar seatime record book for your country of origin to be taken seriously. If you are British you will need an upto date MCA (Maritime Coastguard Agency) Training Record Book which you can download from the MCA website. Its a bit like a nautical NVQ where you have to gather evidence of your practical experience at sea. Tasks vary from washing decks to understanding the limitations of trial manourvres using Automated Radar Plotting Aids. You will need to ask very nicely to get officers or skippers to sign off any tasks completed if you are only there as guest crew.

Useful Contacts:

MGN Notice for tall ship qualifications & manning levels
Marine Coastguard Agency

UK Sailing Academy that offers the complete course and STCW95 modules

4. RYA Route: Work on Tall Ships under 200 tons

If a UK commercial sailing vessel is under 200 tons or 24 metres length then you can skipper it with a Commercially endorsed RYA Yachtmaster Offshore or RYA Yachtmaster Ocean qualification.

You can work your way up through the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) courses from Competent Crew to Day Skipper -with Classic Sailing and we can also help you gain experience as a voluntary mate and gain your 60 mile qualifying passages for Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster Offshore exam.

RYA Practical courses      RYA Theory Courses


The best way to pick our brains about marine careers is to sail with Adam or Debbie on Eve of St Mawes (then we can’t run away) 

Read more on our credentials as careers advisors.

Learning to ferry glide a boat with a bowsprit into a narrow gap
Learning to ferry glide a boat with a bowsprit into a narrow gap

RYA Professional Practices and Responsibilities (PPR)

A compulsory online course for new and revalidating RYA Commercial Endorsement holders. 

This course is designed to give you a better understanding of your obligations and the rules and regulations under which you operate in the commercial maritime world. More importantly, it will teach you where to find the information you need to ensure that you are operating within the law. 

You can complete the course and assessment at your own pace and in the comfort of your home or office.

You can buy and complete the course on line through Classic Sailing RYA Professional Practice and Responsibilities Course PPR


5. Bosun Schools & Similar Traditional Apprenticeships

The Canadian barque Picton Castle offers a land based Bosun’s School in Nova Scotia. Taught by the Captain Dan Moreland when he is ashore, this is one of the best – with small boat building, leatherwork, marlinspike seamanship, wire splicing, sail making ….and you get to live in Lunenberg and go sailing.

Picton Castle Website

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