‘Deadliest Catch’: How To Become a Deckhand on a Boat

by John Jamison
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Alaskan crab fishermen, like those depicted on “Deadliest Catch,” are a rare breed. For months at a time, the daring souls put to sea in search of crustaceans and compensation. For a deckhand on an Alaskan crabber that’s scouring the Bering Sea, those things are one and the same. And for the risks they’re taking, they stand to make upwards of six figures in a single season. But the money is far from guaranteed.

“Deadliest Catch” has attracted all sorts of new people to the crab fishing industry. The promises of wealth and adventure are a powerful draw. And while it’s not for everyone, there are plenty out there willing to accept the challenge. But how does one go about becoming a deckhand on an Alaskan crab vessel?

To become a greenhorn the least experienced member of the crew one has to put in some effort. Not only do you have to pay for your own license and equipment, but you can also expect to earn a half-share of the boat’s haul.

Of course, all of that is dependent on getting hired in the first place. Like many industries, it’s all about finding an in. Whether it’s more of a corporate operation or a single boat captain, the first step is convincing someone in charge that you can do the job.

According to HowStuffWorks, many greenhorns get their start in salmon fishing and graduate to the more lucrative crab industry. It may prove to be a waiting game, however. There aren’t many deckhand spots available on crab boats, and due to regulations, fewer boats than ever are allowed to go out each season.

Are the Risks Taken on ‘Deadliest Catch’ Worth the Money?

Like a salesman, a deckhand’s compensation is primarily based on performance. If a boat has a bad season, so too will the deckhand’s wallet. Unlike a salesman, deckhands on “Deadliest Catch” have to worry about being thrown overboard and drowning, catching a piece of heavy equipment to the side of the head, and above all, hypothermia.

All of the risks are well-known, and precautions are taken to prevent the worst from happening. But at the end of the day, the open ocean is an extremely unforgiving place. It will take its toll.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the most common cause of death among crab fishermen is falling overboard. And given how rough the seas can get in the Northern Pacific and the Bering Sea, that is a very real possibility for any that step aboard a crab boat.

So is it worth it? The short answer is yes. For many, the prospect of $100,000 for a few months’ work is too good an opportunity to pass up. For reference, the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission reported that roughly 500 fishermen brought in nearly $130 million worth of crab in 2006. That comes out to a quarter of a million dollars for each fisherman.

Alas, different boats, deckhands, and captains mean that the compensation can’t be broken down so neatly. But the deckhands on “Deadliest Catch” aren’t too far off those numbers after a good season.

Outsider.com