Need a ride on the Great Lakes? Check Out These Crew Opportunities

Wind Dancer reaching to the horizon (Photo by K. Walters)
I was recently contacted by a reader requesting recommendations for crewing opportunities on the Great Lakes for the upcoming season.  Since I'm sure she isn't the only one looking to catch a ride on OPB's (other people's boats) here in the Great Lakes, I thought I'd share my recommendations in this blog post.

My first recommendation for those with a hunger for adventure is to check the crew opportunities for the Chicago to Mackinac race.  You've probably heard of the race.  Maybe some of you have even sailed in a Mac race.  But for those who haven't, I know first hand that there are plenty of opportunities for both crew and media (writer/photographer) ride alongs.  Obviously your chances of scoring a crew position on one of the boats is greatly increased if you have race experience, but some captains/boats are willing to coach newbies and provide a thrilling learning experience.  Remember, this is a 333 mile open water race from Chicago's Navy Pier to Mackinac Island and will take at least 24 hours (usually much longer) and include night sailing, potential storms, very competitive sailors and some of the big time yachts from well known ocean races like the Trans Pac.  Perfect for adrenaline junkies!

Other opportunities for crewing include working for a charter cruise boat such as the schooner Wind Dancer out of Grand Haven or one of the Appledore Tall Ships out of Traverse City.  Again, opportunities vary with experience and need, but working on one of these classic sailing vessels would make for a memorable summer and a terrific introduciton to Great Lakes sailing.  If you're sailing as part of the crew, you'll likely have tasks including passenger safety, line handling, boat cleaning, and sailing.  If you're not sure you want to commit to a full season as crew, pay your fees and enjoy a sunset sail as a passenger.

You might also consider helping out on a Great Lakes school ship such as those sailed by the Inland Seas Education Association.  They currently own two ships, a 77-foot schooner and a 31-foot Friendship sloop, used to provide science experiences on the Great Lakes.  In addition to a wide variety of shipboard experiences, they also offer public, youth, and school programs at their shoreside Inland Seas Education Center.  From a birding cruise, to maritime history lessons, or learning about local environmental issues such as invasive species, ISEA builds brainpower.  Whether you're an educator, sailor or student, you might just find the perfect opportunity with ISEA.

Schooner Inland Seas and her beautiful tanbark sails
(Photo courtesy of Inland Seas Education Association)
If all of this is too organized or the boats are bigger than what you're looking for, I encourage you to just walk the docks at your local harbor and ask around.  Invariably someone is always looking for able crew.  The Wednesday night club races and weekend regattas both offer potentially shorter opportunities on smaller private vessels.  In fact, I crewed on a 37-foot boat for a season while I was learning to sail and can honestly say that you'll learn a ton that's applicable to cruising even if you don't have any real interest in racing.

The Great Lakes are great for a reason.  Even if you don't have a boat of your own, you owe it to yourself to get out there on the water and experience some of the best sweetwater sailing anywhere in the world! 


  1. Such beautiful boats. It would be a great opportunity to sail in one of these. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Grace McSmith08 February

    I have seen boats like these in Long Island. I believe they are selling those Long Island used boats.


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