WELCOME TO THE first in Matador Life’s new series, How’d You Get That Gig. Each article will focus on a type of job or even career that you’ve always wanted to know more about or maybe wanted to try, but never knew how to do it.
We’ll explore what the work entails, what certification you’d need, and how to find work for yourself. Most of the jobs will be flexible enough to leave you time and space to travel.
Now without further delay, Matador Life brings you Q&A with Mike Collins, expert in boat repair and sailing.
What skills are useful to learn and how can you learn them?
The best way to learn necessary boating skills is to volunteer to crew a sailboat with an experienced skipper. It’s relatively easy to find, particularly if you don’t expect to be paid much (or at all). Almost all Marinas have crew opportunities posted on bulletin boards.
Ask the captain as many questions as you can about the boat and volunteer to help fix anything that needs fixing while in port before the trip. You may not know what a thru-hull or a cutlass bearing is right now, but passing wrenches is a good way to learn.
Once you have mastered the basic skills, you’re ready to move onto a position with better pay.
Are there some types of boats that are better than others to work on?
I prefer sailboats as a primary source of income although any type of yacht offers opportunities. Sailboats have a few unique tasks that many people prefer to avoid. This niche seems to bring in the most money for the least amount of effort.
What types of jobs should people look for?
First, it’s useful to know the parts of the boat so you can tell your spreaders from your shrouds and mast.
You know those pesky little lights at the top of the mast? Well, they’re easy to change, but many boat owners are scared of going aloft. If you’re not afraid of heights, it takes very little effort or skill to change a light bulb. I charge $100 to go up the mast.
My fee includes changing all of the lights on the mast head and spreaders, needed or not. I’ll often inspect the fittings while I’m on the mast for an additional fee.
A sailboat has two types of rigging, standing and running. Standing rigging are the metal cables that hold up the mast. Running rigging are the lines connected to the sails used to raise, lower and trim the sails while underway. Anyone with a modicum of mechanical aptitude can replace running rigging simply by tracing the lines to their starting points.
Standing rigging requires some experience to install and inspect but is relatively simple once you know how. Rigging a sailboat from scratch can take anywhere from a day to a week and bring in $1000 profit or more.
Sailors dread this job most of any on a boat, but it’s as simple as scraping greasy muck off a saucepan. Except, you’re scraping everything from a thin coat of algae to the floating oyster bar that builds up on the bottom of a boat.
It’s messy and requires quite a bit of the so-called elbow grease, but a 40-foot boat will take about three hours and bring in $400 at the fair price of $10 per foot.
The boat owner provides the scraper and dive gear required for the job. Obviously, you’ll want to be a certified open water diver before doing this. I only accept bottom jobs that have soft growth because I am not fond of barnacle scraped knuckles.
What jobs should I avoid, even though I know how to do them?
The key to making money in boat repair while traveling is to choose the jobs many people dislike but are simple to accomplish, as mentioned here. I don’t do engine repair, electronics or anything that requires too much time, a collection of tools or possibility of complications.
Even though I may have the skills to do other things, I prefer not to because getting locked into a job ends up taking more time than I have to spare. Keeping it as simple as possible makes more money and fewer headaches.
How do you find work when you have no contacts or a work visa?
Finding work is a lot easier than people might think. If you have access to a VHF radio — the radio all boats use to communicate — a hail announcing that you are in port and offering services almost always brings a quick burst of chatter.
Walking the docks at night looking for burned out lights can also produce work prospects. I go boat to boat offering free rigging inspections. One job usually turns into many by working slowly and steadily. And remember, when you’re sitting on top of a mast, it’s like your own personal job billboard. The longer I am up there, the more people come by offering work.
If I plan on being around for a while I leave a flyer on the bulletin board describing my services with a place for them to write down their slip number and boat name so I can follow up later.
What single most important tip should be followed at all costs?
Don’t fake it. Taking on a job that you are not confident in doing could end up costing you money and time or even hurting someone. Simple tasks pay well, so stick to those.
Is it worth taking it a step further and becoming a Boat Captain?
Seasonal work schlepping tourists out to watch the sunset is one of many ways you can benefit from being a captain. You can also consider boat delivery as a shorter term gig. It’s very common for boat owners to plan a cruising vacation in places like the Caribbean, Mediterranean or South Pacific, but they don’t want to drive their boat from home port to wherever they plan their trip. A licensed captain makes decent amount money chaufering the boat to or from the destination.
International maritime law requires you to be licensed to receive money for services operating a boat with passengers. Obtain your captain’s license by taking a USCG exam. The easiest license is the Six Pack, which allows you to carry up to six passengers on vessels up to 100 tons.
Potential captains must also have 360 documented days at sea to qualify. A full day consists of 4 hours on board any vessel. You do not have to be working; sunbathing counts.
I highly recommend taking a course such as Mariners School Online. The Mariners School website offers all the information needed for a captains license.
Have any further questions for Mike? Feel free to ask them in the comments below.