I haven’t been at this fishing thing that long, but I have learned a lot. First impressions matter. One thing I’ve noticed is that when people stop by the boat and I’m on deck working on a project they’ll ask me if the Captain is around. I usually just point them his way but sometimes I feel like saying, “I’m the Captain!” So, my first bit of advice is don’t assume a woman working on the boat isn’t the captain. I’ve also started wearing a captain’s hat.
Our actual Captain, David, with his 37+ years of all manner of commercial fishing experience offered a lot of useful advice for this post, so without further ado here’s our Long Weekend List of Ways to Maybe Land a Rockin’ Commercial Fishing Job in Alaska!
- If you don’t have any experience, get some before you come to Alaska. And it doesn’t have to be on a fishing boat. Woodworking, refrigeration, welding, electrical wiring, cooking, carpentry - these all are skills that can come in handy.
- Get out on the Water - another thing you want to have a handle on before you get on a boat is if you have issues with sea sickness. I do. I have spent plenty of time barfing over the rail which in itself isn’t fun but worse still if you’re supposed to be working. I was a useless member of an already small crew fishing halibut one summer, comatose in the bunk when I was needed on deck. We actually had to go back to town. That was an important lesson. It’s okay if you get sea sick, but you have got to deal with it. I take an over-the-counter meclizine tab every night before bed, some people get scopolamine patches - just make sure you’re covered in advance. If you’re not sure, assume you do and just take the dramamine (the night before which will help you be less drowsy)
- Learn some basic knots. At the very least be comfortable with a bowline, a clove hitch and a square knot. With your eyes closed. Now, if you can spice line? You’re moving to the front of the class.
- Gather up some basic gear (and put it in a duffle bag. David says a suitcase is “bad luck” it’s also cumbersome, the main reason you don’t want to drag it around). You’re going to need Xtratufs, Grundens rain gear, rubber gloves, a Victorinox knife in a sheath (on a knife belt) and some warm clothes (no cotton), especially good socks. Don’t overpack but don’t underpack. Stay organized. Bring a book, foot powder and an extra pair of sunglasses.
- Okay, think you’re ready to come to Alaska? Remember that it’s expensive up here. It’s also busy in the summer so have a plan for a place to stay and plenty of money to take care of yourself.
- Now you’re here. If you don’t have any contacts and are planning to walk the docks in search of work, our advice is to come ready to start. If you see someone sanding, offer to finish the job (a great chance to show that you’re comfortable with power tools). Bag of garbage on the deck? Take it up to the dumpster. Volunteer to bait hooks, paint, scrub or join in to whatever action is happening.
- If you are going to hand out a resume make it short and relevant. List your applicable experience. For instance, David wants to know “when was the last time you pulled an all-nighter with your buddy re-building your transmission?” Do you weld? Work on Fiberglass? Have experience with hydraulics? List it there. Me? I want to laugh and remember you. I’d love a resume wrapped around a snickers bar. Maybe a recipe on the back for your favorite chili (oh, you don’t know how to cook? You better learn.)
- Speaking of cooking - let’s talk a little more about cooking. Be a good cook, a fast cook and don’t skimp on the portions! On the other side of the table, don’t be a picky eater.
- Don’t have a hangover, don’t look at your phone and listen more than you talk.
I checked in with Lydia, a greenhorn who came to Sitka this year in search of work on a boat (and is currently working) to see what advice she had.
“Network like crazy, be outgoing and talk to people. You have to be outgoing and a little vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have any experience, but be willing to work.”
Lydia also made that cool sign pictured above before she got here, planning to hang it around the harbors, at the gear shop, etc. And she laminated it! It looks good, and will last. Market yourself.
What’s your story? Are you a deckhand who landed a sweet job in Alaska? Let us know how you did it. Are you a captain with advice you’d like to share? Post it here.