5 Tips – How to Be a Great Shipmate

Ignore this advice and you may be looking for a hotel




Your first cup of coffee is getting low. You have done a cursory look at the local and national news. Depressing. You know what to expect from today’s weather, or at least what the weather man thinks will happen. Now your favorite part of the day, time to read some island blogs. You click over to Zero to Cruising to check in on Mike and Rebecca and a smile appears on your face. The depressing news and cold weather seem a distant memory as your mind takes you to warm tropical islands, cold rum drinks and the thought of singing songs on the bow of ZTC as Mike plays Ukelele.

If this sounds like you, join the club. I read ZTC’s blog for a few months before I finally reached out to say hello, digitally, to Mike and Rebecca. Being the great people they are, we rapidly built a relationship online. One day, a crazy idea entered my head. What if I flew to Grenada and spent a week onboard ZTC? Would they be willing to add me to their crew and accept a stranger into their home? The answer came back in less than an hour. Absolutely.

Zero to Cruising from Roger's Bar

Zero to Cruising from Roger's Bar ©2011 Carl Grooms

Sounds dreamy doesn’t it? Reach out to a relative stranger, get an invite to live on a sailboat for a week and live the island lifestyle. Not to mention this solution is budget friendly. What you need to know are a few simple rules to ensure that if you are so lucky, you live up to your side of the bargain.

Life onboard a boat, especially a cruiser’s boat isn’t one long vacation. At least not for your host. This is their life. The boat is their home. Their home is a very complex and large machine that they are accustomed to operating. Sailors, full time cruisers especially, are very relaxed people but they are also very structured. At least in so far as maintaining and operating their vessel, which takes constant and mindful attention. You must keep all this in mind when you arrive. Some hints that will make you stay go smoothly.

      1. Fresh Water – If you are on a mooring or anchored the only fresh water you have is in the tanks. This water is used for everything from
        Fun times on ZTC.

        Fun times on ZTC. ©20111 Carl Grooms

        cooking to washing your hands. Producing fresh water is a slow, energy demanding process. Be mindful of this while aboard. Use water sparingly. Not sure what that means? Watch your fellow crew members and follow their lead. If the tanks are small, plan on bathing in ocean. Take a bar of soap and jump in. Sound less than refreshing? Think that isn’t for you? Then maybe you shouldn’t be onboard.

      2. Power – Batteries provide the electric energy. Just like water, there is a limited supply. Running a laptop is likely fine but be mindful of your use of lights. Try to avoid recharging batteries for your other electronics. The best solution is to bring extra batteries that are already pre-charged. If you still run low, charge up in a bar or restaurant. Better idea.
      3. Space – Boats, regardless of overall length, have limited living space. Remembering you are in someone’s home is key. You wouldn’t plop down in your friends favorite chair in their home to watch a movie would you? Don’t do it on a boat. You can ask where to put your things or where to sit but you also have eyes. Observe, pay attention and stay out of the way. Which brings us to how much stuff you bring aboard with you.
      4. What to Pack – Don’t bring too much. One small carry on bag is all you should need. T-shirts, swim suits and flip flops. This isn’t a big city and people don’t expect to see you wear color coordinated fashion. Nobody changes cloths a couple times a day depending on the event.
        Rebecca and Mike on ZTC

        Rebecca and Mike on ZTC ©2011 Carl Grooms

        Get up, pull on yesterday’s mostly dry swim suit, a clean T-shirt (or dirty if need be) and you are good until tomorrow. What you should pack is anything and everything your hosts ask for and a few items more. One cannot always get what they need or want living on a boat in the paradise. Save room in your bag for them and bring them as much as possible.

      5. The Head – That would be the bathroom, toilet, or crapper to you land lovers. This is a vital and often finicky piece of machinery on a boat. We all have to go eventually. If you can hold it until you are ashore, you should. Let’s face it, you will need to use it. Key advice here. Your hosts are used to dealing with their own crap. If you screw up the head they will end having to deal with yours. It’s likely that your welcome will rapidly run out thereafter. When you get aboard, learn EXACTLY how to operate the head. Be fastidious in your cleanliness and use only when you must.

Such is my advice and if you take it for what it is worth your tropical vacation aboard a beautiful sailboat will go smoothly. If you are incredibly lucky like me, it will go so smoothly that you will not only have a lifetime memory but create some lifetime friends.

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6 Responses to “5 Tips – How to Be a Great Shipmate”

  1. Conchyjoe September 27, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Tip 6: Don’t call her Becky!

  2. Rob September 27, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Good tips…I would include: when dining ashore, pay for drinks and/or dinner, offer to scrub the hull and deck, and always say please and thank you.

    • Carl Grooms
      Carl Grooms September 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      I can’t agree with you more Rob. All great points.

  3. Dave Russell September 28, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    great article, i’d like to see the second issue, tips 6-10.

  4. Robert Burr January 13, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your perspective and advice. Boat people are fun people. They’re living the dream on their own terms. In my experience, they’re happy to share and make friends easily. You ably point out some of the subtle and critical points in being a gracious boat host. Being a guest in someone’s home for a week is fraught with possible faux pas and unintentional minor conflicts, and then, accepting an invitation to visit on a boat is thrice the peril, and/or perhaps ten times the thrill. Bringing gifts is a big deal, as is being generous in every way – and helpful. Leaving no trace of your existence is a goal as well. I laughed at the idea of scrubbing the hull. Yes, take them to dinner, tell good jokes and remember to leave them plenty of space so they don’t feel obligated to entertain you 24/7. Lastly, the reciprocal is the best equation in the friendship formula, so be quick to invite them to stay with you as well, offering you the chance to be a gracious and magnanimous host in the future.

    • Carl Grooms
      Carl Grooms January 14, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      Robert. True on all points. Thanks for the comment and thoughts.

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