Even if you’re new to racing, cruising, or day sailing… there are ways that you can pitch in that will make you such a valuable member of any crew that you will be sure to be asked to return!
Clothes: It can be cold and wet on the water. Bring appropriate clothing – but – try to pack light. Skippers like their crew to bring small, light bags (doesn’t apply to day sailing).
Weather: It’s likely the skipper has checked the weather forecast on race day, but if they haven’t you can have the information at the ready. Check the previous day’s weather at UCLA’s weather station (http://marinaaquaticcenter.org/weather/MAC_Conditions.htm). It might be useful information to know, for example, that yesterday, between 2 and 4pm, the wind clocked from SSW to SW, increasing from 8-13 knots. Additionally, people often forget to check the tides, it helps to know when to expect the tide to change during the day.
The Race: Read over a copy of the sailing instructions before getting to the starting area and familiarize yourself especially with the number of races and possible courses (doesn’t apply to day sailing).
Food: Some skippers bring food and drink for the crew, some don’t. Ask ahead of time so you can know what to expect.
Traffic: Help the skipper be aware of other boat traffic. Be specific when indicating other boats. For example: something along the lines of “Have you got the Martin sail #100 on starboard tack, 3 boats lengths away, at 2 o’clock?” is much more helpful than “Hey see that boat over there?” Try to get a boat identifier (sail #, type, color), distance (in boat lengths), heading (port or starboard) and approximate location (the clock face is a useful reference).
Your weight and placement on the boat: Unless your job puts you in the cockpit, it probably isn’t a good place to be. If it’s windy, your weight will need to be on the windward side. If the wind is light, it might be best to have your weight to leeward. In extremely light conditions, the skipper may ask for volunteers to hang out down below. Don’t volunteer for that if you are prone to seasickness!
The Start: In the excitement of the start it is not uncommon for someone to forget to look at the course flag. Know the possible courses ( MdR course chart ), and the indicators for each, and either know your flags or bring a cheat sheet (many boats have “flag” stickers on board) and make it your business to note the course. The course flag will usually go up at the same time as the class flag (5 minutes before the start), but sometimes it goes up as late as the preparatory flag (4 minutes before the start).
Kelp: Kelp can slow you down a LOT. Keep an eye out for it and rather than just yelling “kelp” when you see it, give the skipper a clue about the best way to avoid it – for example “up two degrees for kelp”. If the boat has a kelp window, know where it is and how to get the best angle to view the keel. Also know where the kelp stick or flossing line are stowed.
Pitch in and Get Involved
In between races is a very busy time for the crew: Lines need to be cleaned up, spinnakers checked and possibly repacked, etc. If you don’t have a specific job to do this is a great time to learn more about another job by asking if you can help others in readying the boat for the next race. Also, don’t forget to take this time to get a quick bite to eat and something to drink as it’s usually too busy while racing to get food/water.
Ask questions – after the race is over: Skippers and crew enjoy discussing all the nuances of the race, and will be delighted to talk with you about questions you might have. But try to hold the questions until after the race. It’s easy to get distracted during the race talking about past incidents, when instead everyone should be focusing on the present.
Stay and help put away the boat: Every skipper is different and has different ways of putting away the boat once the day sail or race is over. Take time to learn and ask questions about how the boat you are on gets put away. Never jump off the boat once you’ve docked and head home, whether you want to be asked back or not!