How Do You Go About Determining The Safety of Yourself and Crew With An Unknown Captain?

I'm new on float plan. I've not sailed with folks I don't know so this is new for me. How do you go about determining the safety of yourself and crew with an unknown captain? Does Float Plan keep resumes? Are there "reviews" of captains similar to what we can find on other professionals, doctors included. (I'm a retired physician.) I'd love to get some feedback from experienced members of this organization and I'd love to do some serious off-shore sailing but not anxious to get myself into trouble. I hope that there are others who may share this concern and join the discussion. How about you folks from Float Plan? Thanks and Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to everyone! Ned Yellig, MD

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A great insight into making the diesicion to join the boat you joined. Could you share the book you read before getting aboard? I think our members would really benifit from it.
Thank you

As for and check references! 

I've crewed a ton of boats and always supply a dozen or more references.  I'm constantly amazed at how few owners check these references and simply accept my word. 

Believe me, I've sailed with some very 'interesting' people.  Not only do I insist on talking to those I may sail with over the phone, I ask and always check the references of those I sail for or who have sailed on my own boat. 

A reference system on this web site sound like a good idea. Having said that the human dimension will distort the accuracy of the reference; read disgruntled crew or owner due to lack of chemistry rather than competence from either party. It would still be an interesting featured, each individual would have to take it with a grain of salt.

When it comes to evaluating potential crew, the written communication tells a lot, the free loaders are easy to spot. References are an excellent way to assess a potential crew or owner. A skype conversation to make the final decision is a must as experience is not the most important thing a owner/skipper expect from a crew but a good, positive attitude instead. Did  I 

mention a willingness and capacity to learn?

I suppose a would be crew would be more interested with the captain's experience but if it turn out to be a jerk it will not be a lot of fun on board. Again writing style, reference and skype will work.

By the way, I'm looking for crews, check out my post.

Fair winds,

Fair winds,

Being an active ocean sailor since 20 (I am 59 now) and after having met countless sailors and their ships, there are 2 main things I check on every boat I board:

While boarding I test the stanchion posts, the rail cables, the whole equipment to keep people from falling overboard. This is the number one reason of people dying on pleasure boats (see US. Coastguard stats). (Not so) funny, but true, this highly important part on any boat is vastly neglected by so many sailors, it blows my mind. With a knee high rail cable, 4 mm diameter, and a second, often thinner one in between, this is NOT seaworthy! So, just by looking at this, by trying to flex the stanchion posts, by checking, how well constructed their bases are, by checking, if a netting is rigged, which in my experience is a MUST on any ocean going yacht, I have a first glimpse about the mentality of the owner/captain of a sailing boat. Better to have no rail at all, knowing there is NOTHING to hold on and act accordingly, then having a skimpy wire, which does close to nothing, once you really need it, like in a storm. I know, it sounds cruel, but for this reason alone I regard a good two thirds of all yachts I have been on (not cruised around with...) as technically unfit to go offshore. I had nasty discussions about this simple point, but I do not step back from this opinion I have gathered sailing all oceans of the world in different ships.

My second marker of a well funded ship is the steering. Man, how many boats I know, who got in serious trouble because of rudder failiure! So, even it is not easy to access, this is the signature of how well a boat is made. A freestanding rudder needs to have a rudder shaft as thick as a beer can. But, in the end, it is not as solid, as a rudder hinged at the bottom, either directly to the back end of the keel, or to a skeg. And then, how is the connective mechanism to the steering wheel, which is in general more troublesome, than a tiller ((my favorit)? Is it hydraulic, then ask, if there are spares for ALL gascets, joints, etc. Is it by cable, are there spare cables, blocks, how old, etc.? I remember a Swede and his wife, who drifted two weeks without steering in the South Pacific because a block broke and there was no spare. This happened on a well known Hans Christian. I met the poor guy while he was repairing the THIRD time his rudder mechanism, which failed always on a different point. On top, you couldpractically not reach into the important part of the locker, where the mechanism had to be repaired.

This are only two points, but they tell you so much about the ability of a sailing boat, that you should start right there! The best mechanism for a rudder steering is a worm drive with NO cables. So, in my opinion, combining only this two criterias, MOST sailing ships traveling the big ocean routes are not safe. Whatever nice electronics they might have...

When it comes to captains, the ones who are rather trustworthy have not too many bad stories to tell, but lots of good ones. The more miles they have on their counters, the better they know, what they do. And the more likely, they travel around in well prepared boats. Prepared rather for the "daily life", which includes storms etc., than prepared for the exceptional. It is NOT (only) about having all kinds of emergency equipment, but about having everything prepared, so that nothing goes wrong in the first place!

For good reading, in my opinion one of the best: by Tristian Jones:

This "thread" has been out there for a while but I'll give you my 2 cents worth.  I've sailed on several boats and not once has any captain/owner gone through safety equipment locations and procedures should there be an emergency of any kind.  My last captain did go through the "Man Overboard" procedures which I did appreciate.  Safety procedures should be gone over upon coming aboard.  That includes man overboard procedures, location and deployment of the life raft and other survival equipment, floats to deploy for a man overboard, and any other procedures should a rescue be required.  Fire extinguisher location and condition. Check the hatches, my last boat had bars installed at all the hatches for theft prevention.  Had there been a galley or engine fire blocking the main cabin hatch, there would have been no means of escape.  Hatches need to be clear and accessible for safety reasons.  The list could go on and on.  All of us look at different areas regarding safety, make a checklist of items you deem to be important and present it to the captain.  Discuss any issues the two of you may have and try to work out any differences.

Being relatively inexperienced in marine matters, let me ask several questions:

I've communicated with several boat owners/Captains and have had several cease corresponding after I asked about things such as life rafts and AIS transponders. I'm anxious to get sailing experiences and I personally don't feel those questions went too far, but apparently they did. The life raft question was met with the attitude of "Life raft? We don't need no stinkin' life raft" and semi-ridiculed me for asking. Not that I expect the boat to sink, or even that it is likely to be needed, but it seems prudent to ask.

And I've not had a lot of experience, but I've only run across one captain so far that had several pages of the boat's details, standing orders, what was expected in duties and finances, etc. He was a captain in the navy and had everything beautifully prepared. Too bad I didn't meet his requirements for experience!

Is this too much? It looks better in PDF.

Navigation, communications, safety and survival equipment that is current, working, and on board are:
Paper Charts/Maps Date: ______________
Electronic Charts
GPS/DGPS Batteries Ship’s Power
Spot GPS device URL: _________________

Marine 25 W VHF MMSI: ______________
Interfaced to GPS
Marine MF/HF SSB Call: _______________
Interfaced to GPS
Satellite Service: ______________________
AIS Receiver
AIS Transponder
Amateur HF SSB Call: _________________
Marine handheld VHF
Cell Phone

Electrical S-O-S Light
Smoke signals
Red Flares
PFDs Types: ________________________
Drogue/Sea Anchor
Fire Extinguishers Exp: ________________
Signal Mirror
Foul Weather Gear
Life raft Exp: ________________________
Motor kW/HP: _________________
Registered Number: _____________
Battery checked Exp: ____________
Personal Locator Beacon
Registered Number: _____________
Battery checked Exp: ____________
MOB gear: ___________________________
other ______________________________

Knowing what you know, and with all of your experience, what questions would you ask IF you were going offshore on a boat?

Fair winds,

Craig RN
FCC Extra Class, GMDSS Maintainer/Operator + RADAR

Hi Craig

Nice to see someone ask so specific questions! I think they are all good questions, ask them!

Only thing I see, they are far not enough... Most they cover is, what happens, when the s*** hits the fan. I have many years of high seas sailing experience on my own andon other boats. I see it like, there are two "fences": The first is about avoiding, anything happens and the socond is, what do you do, IF something happens. About the latter, buy yourself an EPIRB and check the dinghy. I much rather have a decent dinghy (small boat) with ALL NECESSARY equipment, than a life raft. Its too much of a compromise... I have four dinghys on my ship, but no life raft. They might be important, but there are better solutions.

Check every important aspect of the ship, so nothing happens! RUDDER, HULL, RIGGING, EXPERIENCE of captain. Watch out for ships where every dollaris spent for SPEED! Look on the liveline, how high, how solid the stanchion posts, dies it have a NETTING all around. There are indirect ways to judge, if a captain is serious and up to the task. Its not only the gear for emergency. In my opinion, its rather secondary. The absolute important rule on my ship is, since many years, we do not make accidents. Period!



I have a standard email I send all potential crew with as much info packed in as possible. If they read it all and still want to go, we start talking via email. From there, basically if they can make it to the boat and take care of themselves, we're cool. I'm used to teaching though, so not expecting much at the start. Cant emphasize enough sharing as much information as possible, even if it reflects poorly on you or your boat. Most issues I've seen are caused by misplaced expectations on one side or the other

Relying on the words of others or websites to determine if a captain is safe or not is a bad idea.  This is something you need to do on your own.  The reason is simple:  people are not honest.  You could get great recommendations about a horrible captain just as easily as you could get horrible reviews about the safest captain ever.

The ONLY way to determine if a captain is a safe one, is to know as much about sailing and boats as you can.  And if you're crewing on a sailboat, you should know enough about sailing to be able to judge if a captain is safe or not.  If you don't know enough about sailing to be able to judge the fitness of a captain, then sailing is a risk for you, and you are just a working passenger.  And perhaps there ought to be a distinction in the sailing world.

For me, I don't care the experience of crew.  Actually, that's not true.  I prefer crew without any experience.  The reason is, I don't trust the teachers or the lessons they have taken.  Very few sailors, especially crew, have taught themselves sailing from a perspective of understanding sailing.  Far too often, sailing crew aren't anywhere near as competent as they are led to believe themselves to be by teachers and schools which cannot possibly provide the lessons that hardship and duress can provide in real life experiences.  And I don't want someone's teacher or book on my ship, I want crew who either understand, or are wholly dependent upon my understanding and thus will listen to me and do exactly what I say.

I thus would prefer working passengers to crew.

If I were to offer advice to inexeperienced crew, or working passengers, about how to find a safe boat, I would suggest going to the library, picking up "The Physics of Sailing Explained" and reading it, then reading Chapman's Piloting from Cover to Cover, then "Heavy Weather Sailing" from cover to cover.  I would then suggest looking for a captain who maintains a safe ship, who stresses safety over all other considerations, and to go out with your prospective captain for a shakedown before you commit to sailing.

The most important safety aspect aboard is a clean and sober crew. Once the anchor is up or dock lines aboard the drinking lamp is OUT. I tell all potential crew that medical or recreational marijuana is not allowed on board, never, nothing, not even a seed.If I find it you are off the boat then, no matter how far the swim to shore.Many people don't understand Customs and emigration in other countries. Even a seed could cost you your boat and jail time for everyone on board. Even on islands were its sold on the street BY NATIVES, you are a visitor. A defendant applies to you,rich gringo.

Next eveyone wears a harness when on deck after sundown.   

Jim Lussier said:

I can tell you it is hit and miss a lot of the time.  I have resumes for folks.  A couple even Lisc. Captains. They were worthless pretty much past being rail meat.  I have decided to meet with folks via SKYPE and emails and then if all goes well, offer a short cruise of a couple to a few days. I try to ask specific questions about their experiences, what they saw was good, and not so good.  What the ACTUALLY DID on the boat too. So many say 'I helmed the boat, I stood watch, I trimmed sails, and such, but when actually questioned start making noises like they are not really sure what they are talking about.  If a person tells me they know nothing but are willing to try and learn, that goes a lot further than lying about what the know.  Many only know for a day sail and reading books and watching videos.  Truth in advertising seems to be lost a lot here on the internet. If all goes well during our talks, well, it depends. I also have made it clear they are to pay all expenses to and from the boat.  I make no promises up front and until I can evaluate and verify that we will be compatible on MY HOME, it is still a short ride, maybe even just a day sail. I am not getting a lot of people volunteering to join me anymore since I have made these statements, but then, I can make passages alone too. Been there, done that.  Good luck.

I agree with you

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