How to sail around the world for free: Five ways to live the dream

Sheena McKenzieUpdated 28th August 2013
(CNN) — Imagine if your commute to work was as easy as stepping onto a sun-drenched yacht. Or if your office window overlooked the open seas. How about waking up each morning in a different exotic port?
Now imagine if you could do it for free.
From 20-year-old backpackers to 80-year-old retirees, an increasing number of people are volunteering on boats for a remarkable chance to travel the world -- all without spending a dollar.
Here are our top five tips for living the yachting lifestyle, without the luxury price tag.

1. Volunteer as crew

You don't need sailing experience to crew a yacht -- but you do need to be flexible. From cleaning to night watch shifts and stocking supplies, crew members are the worker bees of the boating world.
Many private yacht owners will offer free board and food, in return for volunteer deck hands.
"A lot of boat owners are more than happy to have someone with no experience because it means they can teach them how to do things their way," said Kylie Gretener, of the website.
"What's most important is your attitude -- you've got to be adventurous and open to learning. It's a bit like being an exchange student in someone's home."

2. Be a friend

If crewing sounds more like work than pleasure, perhaps your charming company is enough to earn you a free ride.
"We had one man from Italy who had a two-man submarine," explained Gretener. "He would take it out on weekends and wanted a companion to share the experience.
"Then there was the 80-year-old couple from Alaska who joined a yacht in Greece -- they contributed as deck hands but also told great stories to keep the crew entertained."

3. Teach the kids

It's not just the adults that need entertaining on board -- there's also their children.
Families traveling the high seas may need a teacher or nanny to care for youngsters on long voyages.
"We had one family who were circumnavigating Australia and needed a teacher to home-school their children," said Gretener, adding "As much as you're sailing the world for free you're still contributing in some way, whether it be your time or expertise."

4. Jump on a research ship

From submarines to superyachts, vessels looking for volunteers come in all shapes and sizes -- including research ships.
Many environmental groups, such as Greenpeace or the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, have research vessels that spend months at sea gathering marine samples and conducting experiments.
Volunteers range from deck hands to administration staff and scientists working in onboard laboratories.

5. Cook up a storm

Often preparing meals before any of the crew has even woken up, cooking is one of the most demanding jobs aboard a yacht.
While bigger vessels such as research ships or superyachts usually require a trained chef, smaller boats tend to take on versatile crew members able to lend a hand on deck as well as in the galley.
With limited access to supermarkets, on board cooks must also be creative with the local produce -- even if that sometimes means fishing for dinner.
It seems you don't need to be a wealthy yacht owner to sail into the sunset. If you're willing to roll up your sleeves, the world could be your oyster.