Train To Be Mate or Skipper of a Thames Sailing Barge

The Thames Sailing Barge Trust is looking for passionate, highly-motivated individuals who want to become mate or skipper of a traditional Thames Sailing Barge. No previous sailing experience is required.

This is an amazing opportunity for anyone wishing to get afloat and develop their personal skills. It’s completely free and often includes accommodation and meals.

The Trust is a registered charity and our training scheme is run entirely by volunteers and funded by our members, grants and donations.

The Trust usually recruits around ten new volunteer third hands to train as barge crew every January.

Our home port is Maldon in Essex, although throughout the summer our barges will also be based at Ipswich and in the Medway area. 

Training barge crews since 1948

The Thames Sailing Barge Trust has been sailing Thames Barges and training barge crews since 1948.

We are keeping alive the skills needed to sail, maintain and repair Thames barges, as well as preserving two Thames Sailing Barges, Pudge and Centaur, in their original sailing condition.

Trainees will need to be available to volunteer approximately one weekend a month, Friday evening to Sunday. It normally takes between three and five years to reach competent Mate, and approximately ten years to become a Skipper. As you can see this is a long-term commitment, but you will quickly find the rewards are endless.

What We Are Offering

  • Around 20 sailing days free of charge per year
  • A personal development plan, customised to your availability, previous sailing experience, (if any) and ambitions
  • A personal mentor to assist in your development
  • Training in a complete range of traditional seafaring skills, including ropework, gear and rigging, sail setting and trim, rules of the road, navigation, meteorology, small boat work, maintenance, leadership skills and much more.
  • Access to Thames barges sailing in Essex, Kent, Suffolk and London

In volunteering, you will not only be helping to preserve Thames Sailing Barges themselves but also the skills and knowledge required to sail them. Hopefully you will in turn be able to pass these skills on to future generations.

You will get the chance to meet lots of interesting people from different backgrounds as you enjoy the wonders of Thames Barge sailing

Personal Development Plan

A good crew member is someone who can turn their hand to many tasks, and be alert and proactive. They must be friendly and fit enough for tasks such as climbing up the ratlines and winding the anchor.

We have created a Personal Development Plan, with over seven hundred key learning points, to help trainee barge crew monitor their learning progress. It is designed to allow the volunteer crew members to learn at a pace that suits their individual needs.

The TSBT are committed to providing you with all the support and guidance you need to help you fulfil your plan and will endeavour to find you sailing vacancies to suit your needs. The scheme is supported by barge owners, operators and Trusts up and down the East Coast and we encourage you to sail with as many different skippers as possible.

Self-study and Learning Afloat

The modules can be completed by self-study as well as learning afloat. The TSBT will provide specific Training Days aboard the barges and also encourage the trainees to develop themselves and ask for advice whenever they have the opportunity. 

The way it works is that you manage your own development. When you consider yourself competent in a particular task, you then ask to be assessed by one of our verifiers, and if they agree, they will complete the relevant log entry.

The Personal Development Plan consists of a range of modules.  These include… Knots and rope work, Mooring the barge, Anchoring, Foresail, Topsail, Mainsail, Mizzen, Staysail, Leeboards, Barge Boat work, Navigation and Charts, Rules of the road, River knowledge, VHF radio, Safety equipment, Lamps, lights and torches, Diesel Engines, Weather, Helming, Sailing - General, Miscellaneous, Standing rigging, Crew briefings, General maintenance, Bowsprit barges, Jib topsail, Jib sail, and Mullie rig mizzens.

How To Apply

If you’re interested in finding out more, send an email to with your name, contact details and a few words explaining why you would like to be considered for this opportunity, and we will send you an application form to complete.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Some of the requirements

  • Be willing to give up one weekend a month, Friday evening to Sunday, including through the winter months

  • Be passionate about learning to sail a Thames Sailing Barge

  • Be willing to learn and apply yourself

  • Be reliable and flexible (hours depend on tide and weather etc)

  • Be reasonably fit, and capable of climbing up the mast and winding up the heavy anchor

  • Be willing to share knowledge with others and pass on your skills

  • Be proactive and a good team player.

  • Be sociable with good communication skills

  • Be able to lead and motivate others

  • Be able to interact with our passengers and provide exceptional customer service