Joining the team

How to become one of our volunteer sea staff, helping to run voyages - at any level from 16-year-old trainee bosun to experienced skipper

Sea staff

Joining the team

Volunteering brings benefits to our volunteers as well as to the charity. Our volunteers can learn new skills, make new friends and have a lot of fun – alongside the immense satisfaction which comes from making a lasting difference to young people. Read what some of our volunteers say about why they do it.

There are five stages to joining the team as a volunteer watch leader:

Skipper’s recommendation
Application form and mates donation, and DBS check
Safeguarding and Food Hygiene courses
Assessment voyage
Qualified mate

1) Skipper’s recommendation

The first step, if you are new to OYT South, is to sail on the boat and aim to get a recommendation from the skipper to come back and train as a member of volunteer sea staff.

These recommendations are not necessarily about having extensive sailing experience, though this is always welcome. But the skipper will be looking for people who will be enthusiastic, committed and reliable, and who have the potential to lead, teach and look after a watch of young people, making sure they all enjoy their voyages, get as much as possible out of the experience and, above all, stay safe.

If you are aged 25 or under, you can book on any standard voyage in the normal way and try to earn your recommendation there.

If you are over 25, you will need to book on an adults-only voyage.

People aged 18-25 may also choose to try to get their recommendation on an adult voyage.

Prospective volunteer bosuns aged 16 or 17 must do their training on youth voyages.

Adult voyages in 2024:

3-5 May, Southampton, 2 nights, age range 18+, £255 per person, adult weekend voyage (Friday evening to Sunday evening)
11-13 Oct, Southampton, 2 nights, age range 18+, £255 per person, adult weekend voyage (Friday evening to Sunday evening)
If possible there will also be a longer adult voyage of four or five nights – dates tbc.

Please note that volunteer berths on youth voyages for the whole season are allocated over the winter, so new volunteers earning recommendations in September will be eligible to bid for voyages the following year. Volunteers in contact with OYT South over the winter can ask about making provisional bookings for the year subject to getting a recommendation on the May voyage; otherwise anyone who gets a recommendation in May can apply for suitable short-notice vacancies later in the season, but otherwise will be eligible for the full round of volunteer bookings for the following season – we will start requesting bids in November.

Volunteer training voyages are charged at a subsidised rate, and we can also take your annual membership and mate’s sailing fee out of your voyage fee. However, the charge for volunteer training voyages is designed as a contribution to charitable funds from those who can afford it. If you can’t afford it, then please apply to for bursary funding – no-one with the potential to become a valuable volunteer should be excluded from these weekends by the cost.

These voyages can be booked by emailing the webmaster.

Doing one of these trips enables you to learn about our boat Prolific, a 30-metre ketch, and to find out how we work, without having to take responsibility for young crew members at the same time. If you enjoy the experience and feel that you have learned enough about the boat to have a go at teaching youngsters, then ask if the skipper will recommend you, so that you can be booked on an assessment voyage next time.

People sometimes ask why we don’t have more training and familiarisation voyages for new sea staff; but the answer is that these voyages tend to give us about the right number of new people to join our sea staff each year. Any more and there would be a risk of encouraging people to get trained and qualified, only to find that we can’t actually fit them on the boat to sail as mates.

It is occasionally possible for experienced sailors with a background in larger vessels (over 60 feet) and in sail training or other youth work to go straight to the assessment stage without a familiarisation voyage, in consultation with the skipper.

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2) Application form, mate’s donation and DBS check

This stage can take a few weeks to complete, so you can always start the process before earning your recommendation – which would mean that you will be ready to move to the next step as soon as the skipper says yes.

You will need to complete a mates application form and return it to us along with a copy of the OYT South Code of Conduct, signed to confirm that you have read and understood it and agree to abide by it.

There is no fee for sailing as a volunteer mate but an annual donation of £100 towards voyage costs would be welcome, plus annual membership of £36. If you have already booked on a voyage this year, then this sum will be taken out of your voyage fee in the first year – you won’t have to pay twice. If you haven’t paid for a voyage, you can email us to get the details for a bank transfer; or send a cheque (payable to “Ocean Youth Trust South”) to Ocean Youth Trust South, 8 North Meadow, Weevil Lane, Gosport, Hampshire PO12 1BP; or you can pay online here:

Once you have paid your annual mate’s fee, there is no further charge for any voyages on which you sail as a mate in that year. If you are allocated a sea staff berth in any year in which you genuinely cannot afford the membership and / or sailing donation, you can apply for bursary funding. If we want you to sail with us then we will make it possible for you to do so – no-one who offers valuable skills and enthusiasm will be excluded on cost grounds.

If you are a taxpayer and have completed and returned a Gift Aid form, we can claim the tax back on this and any other donations you make.

Please note that if you are aged over 65, you would also need to do an ENG1 medical (which can only be carried out by approved MCA doctors) before you can sail as a volunteer watch leader. These medicals can cost over £100 (fees can vary). We can deduct this from the mates’ fee for experienced or senior volunteers, at the skipper’s discretion. New volunteers aged 65+ are encouraged to discuss this issue with us before booking on a training or familiarisation voyage.

DBS background check

Before you can take responsibility for young crew members on board, or sail as an adult on any voyage with children, you will need to have a Disclosure and Barring Service background check (similar to what used to be the CRB or Criminal Records Bureau check), just to make sure there is no known reason why you shouldn’t be working with young people. This can take several weeks to arrange, so please plan ahead! Sending in your mates application forms will start the process, or you can email the office for more information on arranging a DBS check for OYT South.

Once you have a recommendation and DBS clearance, your next voyage can be your assessment.

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3) Safeguarding and Food Hygiene courses

It is compulsory for OYT South volunteers to have done some form of Safeguarding training (updated every three years) and a Food Hygiene course. If you have already done either, just send your certificates or details of the course to Otherwise, we can arrange both as very cheap online courses (alongside a range of other optional but interesting courses) which you can do in your own time – see here for details.

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4) Assessment voyage

An assessment voyage must be a voyage with crew members aged under 25, lasting at least four nights. There are assessment forms which list all the areas to be assessed: these are available on the members-only section of this website (if you are a paid-up member, email the webmaster for a password). For new third mates and bosuns, the assessment is not an exam: as much as anything it is a checklist of things we need to teach you and then make sure you can do it!

For bosuns: your assessment will involve working for the skipper and/or the engineer, getting to grips with basic maintenance and our routine list of daily, weekly and other checks that need to be carried out on the vessel and her equipment.

For watchleaders: during your assessment, you will start the voyage running a watch jointly with a more experienced OYT South watchleader – probably the first mate. The first couple of days of the assessment will include a great deal of training – you are not under exam conditions through the whole voyage! If all goes well, as you become familiar with the vessel and with OYT South routines, the watch will be progressively handed over to you. If this is successful, by the end of the voyage you should be happily taking responsibility for your watch of three to six young people. You will then have a debrief with the skipper and should be signed off as a mate – probably as a third mate to begin with, though an experienced sailor with strong youth work skills will sometimes be assessed as a second mate straight away.

Sometimes the skipper will decide that you need further training or experience in certain areas before you can be signed off as a qualified mate; or, occasionally, conditions may mean that you are unable to complete the assessment (for example, if it has been flat calm all week, we may need another chance to see how you run your watch under sail). If you don’t complete your assessment, you should agree with the skipper what needs to be done next and, if appropriate, book a second assessment voyage.

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5) Qualified mate

Once you are a qualified mate, you can then sail whenever there is a suitable space on the boat, and in consultation with the skipper you may do further assessments and take on greater responsibility. If you need any certificates or qualifications as you progress within OYT South, we can help you to achieve this. The regular newsletter (contact the webmaster if you want to receive this by email) will keep you in touch with news about voyage vacancies, training days and other activities, such as the vessel refit, at which all sea staff are asked to help over the winter.

Allocating berths to qualified mates is not an easy process. We aim to do much of the allocation over the winter so volunteers can plan time off work, family holidays etc. But each voyage needs a team on board – different people qualified at different levels, a mix of male and female volunteers and staff, not putting several people who are new in their roles all on the same voyage, and allowing for any special skills or interests (some of our volunteers are particularly good on gentle voyages with young people with physical or learning difficulties; others are motivated by more challenging trips and adventurous sailing, for example). Some people are very restricted as to when they can sail, others have more flexible availability and want more voyages; some people will have earned places on more voyages by helping the charity in other ways (e.g. working on the vessel refit); and we have to allow space to train and assess new people, and others who are progressing up the ladder to second mate, first mate or skipper. So at some point in the winter, the weekly newsletter will ask people to send in bids for when they would like to sail, and we look at that entire initial round of bids all together to try and make sure we fit everyone in for at least one or two suitable voyages, before offering extra trips to people who have more spare time. Please bear with us as the process does take a while!

After that there are usually still some gaps, and other vacancies arise as things change during the season – these are all advertised in the newsletter.

If you have booked a voyage as a volunteer, PLEASE do all you can not to cancel it, and if you MUST cancel, please try to give us several weeks’ notice if you can. Of course we understand that illness or family emergency can strike; but it isn’t always at all easy to find someone else who can take time off work to cover a voyage at short notice, and we really do need a full team of sea staff to run each voyage safely and deliver the right standards of youthwork to our crew members. In some cases, a volunteer cancellation can actually put us at risk of cancelling the whole voyage. Even if you are new or doing an assessment, we’ll be counting you as one of the essential adults on board – it’s not just skippers and senior mates who are vital!

Click here to see some of our current volunteer sea staff. If you have just qualified, make sure you send in a photo so that you can be added to this page.

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How you can help

Become a non-sailing member

Booking a Voyage

Guide to booking a voyage

Tracking our boat

Find out where we are sailing

How to sail with us

Ocean Youth Trust South is an adventure sail training charity which takes young people aged 11-25 to sea in our 30-metre vessel Prolific.

Individual Voyages

Voyages for people aged 11-25

 Group Voyages

Introduction for adult leaders

Adult Voyages

Voyages for people aged over 18