Giving Back -- Think Global, Act Local

18 June 2009 By Rubi McGrory

Let’s face it; the motives of most of us working in the yachting industry are not seated in any sense of altruism. Of course we want our boss and guests to have a wonderful stay on board, but our work is never going to earn any of us a Nobel Peace prize. But just because we aren’t developing a cure for cancer or creating an alternate fuel source doesn’t mean we can’t find some way of helping to make the world a better place.

Clearly, the easiest thing to do is send some money to a good cause and head off to the bar. While this may help create a feel-good situation – and in this economy, so many organizations can use the extra capital – there are plenty more ways of giving back.

Start by looking around. If you are based somewhere for a season, or even a month, there should be ways you can help make a positive impact in that community.

Most coastal areas have a beach-cleaning organization, which survives mainly on people-power. Debris that washes ashore doesn’t necessarily come from locals, but from boats far offshore. In an afternoon spent picking up trash, you become an ambassador for the yachting community as well as getting the exercise equivalent of an hour at the gym, and may even make some local friends.

If you really miss your four-legged friends, find the local animal shelter. They're almost always looking for people to play with and love on dogs waiting for adoption. You may have to bring a buddy to help ensure you don’t get hooked; captains don’t usually appreciate furry stowaways!

You can always put your skills and knowledge to use by volunteering for a Habitat for Humanity program or the like, helping to build homes for people who can’t afford them. Or you could teach local students about what you do. After-school programs that teach life skills would benefit from a chef showing teens how to create a simple pasta dish, or a stew presenting the basics of high-end service. Our world of travel is fascinating; many school groups would love an in-depth presentation and slide show of life in the yachting industry—and you can be a low-grade celebrity for a day.

Perhaps you are short on time and just need to focus on your job. When you finally make your way to cleaning out the cupboards and lockers, think twice before you toss everything out. Local shelters and organizations can benefit from those sheets that aren’t pristine enough for the boss, the 212 cartons of long-life milk approaching their expiration date or the case of wrong-sized filters.

Don’t be daunted about trying to connect locally. Most people will welcome you with open arms, and if they don’t, there are plenty of other groups who would love to have your help. The best way to get started is by asking the people you come in contact with on a daily basis: marina staff, bartenders, provisioners or even taxi drivers. Or “let your fingers do the walking” and pick up a phone directory to find the animal shelter closest to you, the local United Way or a church to help connect you with a charitable organization.

As always, it is best to exercise caution when navigating through an unfamiliar city or town. Try to recruit a fellow crewmember or crew from another boat to join you. Then you’ll have something other than life on board to talk about.

How do you “give back” when you’re on board?