A Mate's Tale Part 1: Day Sail

So you want to work on a boat huh?  Great!  It was one of the most rewarding and fun jobs I ever had, but also one of the most challenging.  It is an ever changing position that will test you everyday, but if you stick with it you will never regret it.  There are many different types of mate jobs, whether it is on a cruise ship, a day sail, or motor charter.  I worked on day sails, sunset sails, and motor charters with various destinations and excursions.  Some were snorkel trips, some dinner cruises, some booze cruises, and some had all of that with a hike involved.  It didn't really matter where we were going, it mattered more what we were doing with our guests.  I can only speak to my personal experience, so I will tell you about my experiences with the particular boats I worked on. Today we will focus just on the day sails.

There are mono hauls and catamarans you can work on, both unique and not much difference in them from a mate standpoint.  I worked on both, and only the captain really notices the differences based on performance and handling.  For us mates, we have the same tasks no matter which type of boat we are on.


Whether it is filling up Dinghies with beer, water, and ice, or prepping for lunch, there is usually at least an hour of prep before guests are on the boat.  Once prepped we had to put on our logo golf shirts and greet the guests.  They are typically lined up along the dock where they can board the boat, very eager to get on.  These trips are a little later in the morning typically, so it was a little more relaxed and a little easier to get going.  We would get the guests on board, have them remove their shoes or sandals, get them situated, and bring them drinks before we left.  The mates would then retreat to the galley while the Captain addressed them and gave them a run down of what our day will look like.  During this time we could wash dishes, sweep up, and get the snorkel room prepped before we are underway.  Once the Captain has finished his address it was up to us to get the boat out of the slip.

Getting the boat out of the slip was a bit of a challenge for some boats.  One of the sailboats I worked on weighed over eighty eight thousand pounds, was made of cement, and as you can imagine didn't have the best turning radius.  One of us had to hop in the dinghy and push the bow out as instructed by the Captain while we were backing out of the slip.  This was another part of training that you will most likely not have to do but it was a good skill to learn, made us learn how to use this specific dinghy in case of emergency.  Dinghies sound hilariously easy to use, but that's not always the case, they can be hard to use (giggity).  Anyhoo, one of us would tend to the ropes, and the other would hop in the dinghy and get the boat out of the slip.  Once we were turned out and facing the right way, we would tie up the dinghy and get started with the trip.  For other boats we would drop off mates and materials at all the boats and get them ready to go, stranding ourselves out in the harbor until it was quitting time.


As a mate, especially the first mate you act as the relief Captain in case of emergency, or if he/she needs to leave the helm for any reason.  One of the reasons for us was that we had a manual sail, which only the Captain was allowed to put up.  While the Captain set up the main, one of us had to steer and take over the helm, making sure we were heading directly into the wind (this made it easier to release the sail).  Other times it was so the Captain could, well, you know, relieve him/herself, always be prepared!

In addition to sailing to a couple of islands, we also had a snorkel/lunch stop, so once the Captain was set it was our job to get every guest outfitted for snorkeling.  Giving everyone masks and a snorkel was pretty easy, it was when we needed to get shoe sizes from everyone (in Euro sizes) for fins and only had a limited time.  People would typically give you a range, and you had to bring multiple sizes in order you to find their fit.  Sometimes it would take until we were right at anchor point, but there were usually two of us mates so one could finish up and the other could drop anchor or moor (depending on which spot we went to that day).  Once tied up, one of us would have to "life guard."  Typically it was up to the Captain, but we would usually just rock-paper-scissors for it, unless one of us wanted to do it.  I was the only male mate for this company, and most of the women I worked with didn't want to get their hair wet, so I typically jumped in.  It was a lot easier than staying on the boat during that time, all I had to do was float on a buoy in a breathtaking place, usually off an uninhabited island and get tan!

While all the guests were snorkeling or setup tanning on the beach tanning, the mate left on the boat had to make lunch.  We had a full kitchen in our boat, so we were able to provide a hot lunch.  We made sure to have vegetarian options, as well as options for children too since this was a day trip.  The Captain will ring the bell, we will finish up and then help get all of the guests back on board.  Once everyone is situated, the Captain will make a little speech about what we offer for lunch, how to go about lining up, and where the trash cans are (that was us, we were the trash can).  Once everyone is done with lunch, we would bring up the anchor (or untie from the mooring ball) and sail to our next stop.

This was our history and interaction time, our main task during this stretch was to mingle with guests, make them laugh, and give them historical facts about the area.  It's also a great time to photo bomb every guest on board.  It was also a good time to answer some let's call them interesting questions.  Some of my favorites were "why is the water so blue?" as well as "what makes the water so salty?"  Making up random and incorrect answers on the spot became a specialty of ours, lots of talks about pirates salting their food, to tourists throwing blue jeans in the water to answer those...It was also a time where they would like to get to know their mates and captain.  The captain had group around the helm that he/she was always engaging with, and it was our job to walk around and make friends.  Lots of questions about where we were from, and what brought us down here ("airplane" was my response to that usually).


On the way back in is one of the only times where we can pretty much ignore every guest on board, it's too important to focus on the tasks.  Some guests will ask you for another rum drink while you have lines in your hand, but the day is over for them and we need to safely get the boat back in.  One of us has to pull the dinghy in, hop in and help push the bow while the Captain backs the boat back in.  The other mate has to make sure the lines are ready and ties us up as soon as we are backed in.  Once we are all tied up we run to the back of the boat to say our farewells, thanks, and hold out the tip jar!  We do get a mate wage per trip, but the tips are really what puts our wages up to "livable."  All the guests are off the boat, we are all done for the day right?  Not so fast, we have a dirty boat that isn't ready for the next trip, that's right it's cleanup time!

There are a few things that are nice about cleanup time.  First and most importantly, we are allowed a shift beverage once all the guests are off the boat (rum and something typically).  We usually take about fifteen minutes to wind down, sit and chill before we get working, talk about the day, blast some music and hang out.  Once the first drink is done, we all choose our tasks and get to work.  We get paid by the trip, so there really isn't any time frame, we can take as much time to cleanup as we want and the drinks are cheaper on board.  One of the other nice things about cleanup time is if something cool happens, we are free to go check it out.  For instance, one evening we were cleaning up I was folding t-shirts down below, and my mates yelled "Dolphins!!" and all I heard was a bunch of splashes.  I ran up and my Captain and mates were all swimming with a school of Dolphins, so what do you think I did?  Heck yea, I dove right in and swam around with a school of dolphins during sunset, it was absolutely incredible.  There are perks!!  Once we were done swimming with dolphins, cleaning the boat, making sure it was ready for the next day it was go time.  What does a mate do after a long day?  I'll cover that a few articles from now under "A Mate's Tale Part 4: A Mate's Time Off."