Tips for Crewing Offshore

Ingen dåligt väder, bara dåligt kläder. // There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing!
— Nordic Adage


November 1, 2014

by Isbjorn crewmember & friend Lee Cumberland

As someone who is new to the offshore sailing world, I had many questions before going on my first offshore passage. What do I pack? How much time should I budget?  I thought I would share some things I have learned about being a crew that will help you be more prepared, less annoying to the skipper and other crew, and hopefully get invited back.

Limit your luggage to one bag. 

A large duffel bag should be all you need for a 3-5 day passage, more than that is not only unnecessary but more to move to and from the boat and more stuff the other crew members have to deal with on the passage. I found that I could fit three changes of clothes, foul weather gear, towel, and toiletries in my Henri Lloyd Sea bag with no issues. Showing up to the boat is everyone’s first impression of you. Get off on a good foot by having efficiently packed luggage.

Bring a sleeping system. 

Have a sleeping bag that you’re comfortable in; you’ll be in an environment that is completely unfamiliar. If all else fails, at least when your off watch in your bunk having a comfortable and familiar sleeping setup will allow you to get more sleep and ultimately have a better experience.  Make sure the bag is adequate for the conditions the boat will be sailing through. It also helps if the material can be easily dried — god knows at some point water will find wherever you store your gear. If the boat is small, make sure to clean up your bedding area when you go on watch. That way it is out of everyone’s way when you’re topside and everyone else is living down below.

Pack for 20 degrees colder than you think you will encounter. 

Even in the summer the temperature offshore is always colder than near shore. Picture how it feels to be on a ski lift: you’re frozen by the time you get to the top of the mountain.  Sitting on a boat with a 15-knot breeze can feel very similar depending on the season. The key is layers. I try to pack clothes so that they can be worn as separate outfits but can all be used together if and when you need extra protection from the cold.

Dietary restrictions? 

Think ahead and pack what you need. Let the skipper know ahead of time if you have allergies. A reaction offshore can be deadly. If you do have specific dietary preferences bring along your own supply of food. Be sure to share with the other crewmembers. You may introduce them to some new types of food, and by offering you’ll alleviate any tension made by being “some dude eating weird food.”

Bring something small and simple to occupy your down time. 

One of the best things about being offshore is it limits. Not having the option to work or be distracted with the routine and stress of daily life leaves you open to read that book you’ve had for a while or write that long letter to Aunt Jemima. An e-reader is nice and compact, but beware of the charging requirements. Paper books never need charging!

Keep all your personal items in your bag. 

Don’t leave your shit lying around the boat! It’s already a super small space and any clutter you can avoid will gain you tons of points with the crew and skipper.

Packing Lists

In the 2nd Newsletter to our crew, we include an updated packing list for that specific trip. Below you can read a few general guidelines regarding packing and what gear to bring (and not to bring)

Essentials to pack

  • Your wallet

  • A passport

  • A good attitude

What not to bring - we provide this onboard

  • Towel (we provide quick-dry ‘cotton’ towels), sheets & pillow

  • Large electronics (like laptops - iPad's & Kindle's are okay)

  • PFD and tether (we provide Helly Hansen inflateble PFD with integrated harness & KONG double tether for all crew.)

  • Insulated travel mug / thermos (we provide onboard)

Helpful tips and general guidelines:

  • All items must fit in one (1) soft-sided duffel bag.

  • Make sure to carry-on your essential items in case your checked bag gets lost - it’s a good idea to simply wear your foul-weather jacket on the plane to save space!

  • Long underwear & lightweight foulie pants work better than cotton pants or jeans if it’s chilly.


We have been using Helly Hansen gear ever since we started sailing and became ambassadors for their gear a few years ago. When you sign up to sail with us, Helly Hansen give all 59 North crew a ‘One time discount code of 25%’ to use in the online shop. Check out their gear on