Our Most Frequently Asked Questions...

How can you be sure that I'll get along with the rest of the crew?

In short, you have to ;) That’s the beauty of ocean sailing on a small boat. One of the challenges is being open-minded enough to get along with the rest of the crew regardless of background, politics, personalities, etc. Everyone’s gotta work towards the goal of a successful passage. After 25,000 miles and over 100 crew, we’ve yet to have an issue. Our crew are AWESOME!

Are there any traits consistent among the crew who do the best on the boat?

Yes! Go to 59-north.com/sailingcrew to get an idea of who sails with us and to read some personal testimonials from our crew past and present.

How much experience is required to sign on for a passage?

The short answer? NONE! We have had several crew who have never even set foot on a sailboat before, but they have the dream, and that’s what’s important. Our crew, John M., always dreamed of seeing the ‘stars down to the horizon,’ yet he’d never been sailing. He changed that with us, and has since been as far as South Africa to complete a coastal nav. course and sails regularly on Lake Ontario in his free time. You’ll of course understand more of what’s going on the more experience you have, but it’s not in fact required.

That said, we DO require a certain level of physical fitness to join us offshore. Regardless of how much we emphasize it, most people still underestimate how difficult it is simply to LIVE on the boat offshore, even on a nice day. Our friend and former crewmember Ben Doerr sums it up best here, talking about using the head. It’s a comedy routine really, but Ben is not joking here at all, we promise…

What type of person makes for good crew offshore?

Quite simply, the folks who get along with others in confined spaces will do best onboard. There is no privacy on the boat except for in the head (and trust me, you don’t want to be there long!). Sailing skills are far down the list of things we look for. More importantly, potential crew should be open-minded, willing to work as a team, content with limited resources, know their limits (and when to wake the captain) and happy living simply.

Crew also need to have a minimum level of fitness and a clean bill of health. If you’re active in your daily life and have a solid exercise routine, you’ll do great offshore. If you don’t, we should discuss the realities of ocean sailing, which are far more rigorous physically than any other kind. If you’re unsure about this, please don’t hesitate to email us on crew@59-north.com.

What’s the best way to prepare myself for going offshore?

Everybody who’s not been offshore, even the experienced coastal or inshore sailors, underestimates the physical toll just living on the boat at sea takes. Everybody. The boat is constantly in motion, even on the nice days. Things like brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, just putting on socks take time and physical effort. To make it more difficult, you’ll be sleep-deprived during most of it, especially before you fully adjust to the rhythm. Offshore sailing is closer to living like an astronaut than coastal sailing where you get to stop and anchor for the night! Bottom line, the fitter you are to begin with, the easier time you’ll have at sea. Eat right and exercise!

What amenities are there aboard Isbjorn & Ice Bear?

Not too many! Both Swan's offer a very simple offshore sailing platform. Both boats have hot water, but the only shower is in the cockpit, so it's bikini and board shorts for showering time (unless your really adventurous...or Finnish). Beds are proper sea bunks, and we provide sheets, quick-dry 'pack towels' and pillows. You'll need a sleeping bag on colder trips. Isbjorn now have heat, making colder passages a lot more enjoyable.

How do couples fit in with the crew?

We occasionally get a couple join us who have plans of their own to sail over the horizon together. This sometimes provides a conundrum - on one hand, we like to split couples up on the watch schedule so they can get independent experience sailing the boat. Also, if you sail double-handed in the future, you won’t be on watch together then either, so might as well get used to it! Other times we do pair couples together, depending on their goals. 

What are the duties aboard?

Check out our 'Expectations & Roles' on the What to Expect page.

How long are the watches?

Our watch schedule is flexible and based on the experience and comfort level of the crew. Normally, crew are paired off in groups of two and do four hours on, eight off. Mia does a single-handed watch in settled conditions, while Andy ‘floats’ - meaning he doesn’t take any formal watch, but rather helps out when needed on all watches and makes sure to spend time sailing with all the crew. On an ocean race, where all crew is given specific roles, a ‘watch captain’ would ultimately be in charge of decisions on their watch. However, given the range of experience of the crew, we do not assign watch captains - rather, if there is discussion among the crew as to what to do, then the captain is woken up to settle the debate! 

Watch Standing Checklist

Watchkeeper Duties

Scan horizon 360º AT LEAST every 10 minutes for traffic
Check AIS periodically for traffic
Listening watch on VHF ch. 16
Keep the sails trimmed efficiently & the boat on course within 10º 

STANDING ORDERS (When to wake the skipper)

ANYTIME there is DOUBT for ANY reason!
‘CBDR’: Traffic on collision course (‘Constant Bearing, Decreasing Range’)
Wind-shift that requires more than 10º course change
Feel the need to reef (you may shake a reef without waking the skipper)


Wake ‘on-deck’ watch at least 15 minutes prior & put kettle on
‘Turnover’: wind & weather conditions, course adjustments, traffic seen, etc. 
Check the bilge, pump if necessary w/ manual pump & COUNT STROKES
Complete log book, including engine hours & bilge pump strokes

Will I be able to communicate with friends or family during the passage?

Yes! We partner with YB Tracking to offer text and email services via the Iridium satellite network, even when offshore! Crew download the ‘YB Connect’ app prior to joining the boat, setup an account (at their expense - normal text-based messages cost 1 YB ‘credit’ per 50 characters). Once aboard, they can Bluetooth connect to our built-in YB Tracker to send and receive messages.

What clothes and gear should I bring?

Be sure to check our Packing Lists on the What to Expect page.

How do we make travel plans given the uncertain nature of ocean sailing?

Our passages are scheduled based on an average speed of 5.5 knots VMG (that’s ‘velocity made good.’). This is a very conservative estimate for Isbjorn - after 9,000 miles of sailing in our first year, we’re actually averaging over 6.5 knots VMG. The conservative estimate, however, ensures that we’ll get to our destination with time to spare before the ‘last day’ of the trip. We still encourage crew not to book return air travel until we know for sure when we’re departing (some passages are easier to predict weather-wise than others, in the Trades in the Caribbean for example). Normally, if you book ahead, booking a ticket out on the final scheduled day of the passage will ensure you make your flight. Crew normally book a few days later and spend some time ashore before they depart.

What is the best way to get travel and trip cancellation insurance?

That said, anything can - and does - happen offshore. We recommend CSA Travel Protection for travel insurance, just in case. They’re on csatravelprotection.com or 1-800-348-9505.

Where can I get further information on ocean sailing, in the style that Andy & Mia promote?

Go and check out our continually updated Books page!