how to get a job on a crab boat

How to Get a Job on a Crab Boat as a Greenhorn (Advice)

So maybe you’ve been binge watching Deadliest Catch and all that action aboard the ship has made you curious as to what life might be like on a crab boat. Heck, maybe you’ve even been thinking about a curious career change to crab fisherman for a while now. Whatever the case, it’s definitely an exciting line of work.

Seeing as how as action-packed a crab boat might be, you really can’t help but wonder, how do those people end up working that kind of job? Do you send in a resume and sit in for a interview? Or do they put you on a crab fishing demo? Here’s the interesting process of how to get a job on a crab boat.

How to Get a Job on a Crab Boat in Alaska

The Bering Sea is the place to be for any crab fisherman. The location is teeming with Alaskan king crab and snow crab that’s estimated to produce roughly 550 million dollars of dockside value each year. So it’s definitely not a small market.

Needless to say, the industry is often on the lookout for potential laborers to keep the business alive. And because life on a crab boat is anything but easy, not a lot of people want to take on the work. So to make the offer a little more enticing, they don’t really require a lot.

The thing about working on a crab boat is that it’s anything but formal employment. They’ll usually hire anyone who’s willing and physically fit for the job. They won’t require any previous experience, but knowledge on fishing and boating is a definite plus.

There’s no formal training for the job of a crab boat deckhand, so there really aren’t any courses you can take to improve your chances of getting hired. You can try to visit the dock and ask around if anyone is open for a new hire. They’ll probably take you on the spot.

How to Get Hired as a Greenhorn on a Crab Boat

red king crab

‘Greenhorn’ is the termed used to identify people who have zero experience in the crab fishing industry. The term was coined in reference to animals whose horns were only starting to grow in, pointing to the idea that they were inexperienced and immature.

There are no requirements for greenhorn crab boat deckhands, and you won’t even need to provide ID or a resume. According to people in the industry, anyone hoping to get started as a greenhorn can simply walk into the dock and chat up a captain or crew member.

If they’re looking to add to their crew, they can take you right then and there. If they aren’t you can ask them to point you in the direction of a vessel that might need the extra hand. Keep in mind though that most of these crab fishing vessels are family owned and operated. So it really does matter who you know.

Another thing about crab boat greenhorns is that everything you need to know about crab fishing, you’ll learn on the fly. So it doesn’t really matter if you’ve had previous experience. As long as you’re willing to learn and you’re physically up for the challenge, there should be a place for you on the boat.

What Do Greenhorns Do?

In essence, a greenhorn is a crab fishing apprentice. You’re there to learn the ropes from more experienced crab boat fishermen. Depending on what the boat needs, that’s the purpose you will ultimately serve. Think of yourself as a deckhand of sorts.

Communication is one of the most important responsibilities of the greenhorn. They need to make sure that any and all important information about the haul is relayed to the members of the crew for safe and proper loading. This helps everyone coordinate the specifics of the process, allowing the captain to coordinate drop operations with other members on deck.

Other than that, they also dump back anything caught that shouldn’t be included in the haul. Of course, they should try to return these creatures causing as little damage and injury as possible. A greenhorn who’s been around for a while can also help with the deployment and retrieval of the pots.

How Much Do Greenhorns Make?

In terms of salaries, a greenhorn can’t expect to make as much as members of the crew who have more experience. In the industry, they get what’s called a half-share. That means they only receive half the amount that tenured members of the crew make.

Actual figures place their annual salary at around $30,000. But that’s a very loose estimate of how much they can actually generate. In the end, it’s really about how much crab they catch. According to sources, a greenhorn makes about 6% to 8% of the total haul. So if the boat hauls in $200,000 worth of crab, the greenhorn can rake in $12,000 for that trip.

It’s also worth mentioning that a greenhorn will work around 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for around three months at a time. When crab season is over, they head to the dock and stay on dry land for several months until it’s time to head back out for another bout of crab fishing. That’s why greenhorns are always working double time to maximize their haul since whatever they make on a trip will have to sustain them for several months.

Another thing is that all of their fishing licenses, equipment, and food allocations are paid for out of their own pocket, as opposed to senior crew members who get their share in full.

What Type of Person is Best Suited to Become a Greenhorn?

blue crab

Life on a crab boat is not easy, and the job of a greenhorn might feel like a labor of love. That said, not everyone can fit the bill, and a lot of people might find themselves bowing out of the job soon after they take on the challenge. Needless to say, there are certain types of people who might be better suited to the greenhorn calling.

Thick-Skinned

You are going to get bullied as a greenhorn on a crab boat. That’s just the way of the world. Those seniors are going to push you around, shout at you, and serve some seriously scathing remarks. But it’s all part of the initiation. In a lot of ways, they’re just trying to toughen you up because crab fishing can be demanding - both physically and mentally.

Quick Problem Solving Skills

Crab fishing on the Bering Sea is one of the most dangerous occupations across the globe. In the face of potential accidents and injuries, you have to be quick to think of a solution. Coming up with answers on the fly can help prevent a world’s worth of injuries and millions of dollars in losses.

Fast Reaction Time

It’s one thing to think quick, and another thing to act quick. The crab boat is a fast paced environment, and the rest of the crew expects you to be able to react as quickly as possible when they tell you to do something. In most cases, they might even want you to move without being prompted. So it helps to be aware of your surroundings and quick on your feet.

Physically Fit

This is perhaps one of the most important qualities you can have on a crab boat. You will quite literally serve as the backbone of the crab fishing industry. That entails a lot of hauling, heavy lifting, and manual labor. Crab boat fishermen need to demonstrate physical capabilities that can keep up with the demanding conditions of the job.

Mentally Well

You’d be surprised how depressing things can get on a crab boat. The stressful work combined with long nights, seemingly endless travels, and that looming feeling of being lost at sea can take a toll on your mental state.

It’s important that greenhorns demonstrate strong mental resilience against these potential dangers lest they develop symptoms of unwellness on board. Seasickness for example can be really bad for some people (see: can seasickness kill you?) and can be unbearable for some. It's important to prepare and be able to deal with such things, so check out our guide on how to get rid of seasickness on a boat for some help.

Resilient

The work of a greenhorn is demanding, physically taxing, and even emotionally and mentally degrading. That, plus the measly pay, might have you wondering why you decided to join the industry in the first place. A greenhorn should be resilient and dedicated.

If you ever decide to take on the work, see to it that you’re willing to stick with it. The pay and benefits might not be great today, but with time, you should start to see your hard work pay off.

It’s Not for Everyone

That’s for sure. It seems the question shouldn’t really be how to get a job on a crab boat as much as how to survive a job on a crab boat. These guys put in a lot of work just to make a measly amount of money. So the next time you sit down to enjoy a hot Alaskan king crab, say a little prayer for the hard working guys and greenhorns that worked hard to put that sumptuous meal on your plate.

Scroll to Top