Deadliest Catch FAQ answers from Time Bandit Captain Johnathan Hillstrand

Deadliest Catch Time Bandit FAQ frequently asked questions

I’ve been a huge fan of Discovery’s ground-breaking (sea-breaking?) reality series Deadliest Catch for a decade now, and after all those years I still had a number of questions about the show and Bering Sea crab fishing. Little did I realize that many of the questions I had (and many that I didn’t realize I wanted to know the answer to) have been answered each and every Friday on the Facebook page of F/V Time Bandit captain Johnathan Hillstrand!

With a whole lot of help from his assistant Sheryl, the page has answered hundreds of fan questions over the last few years, and I’ve gathered together a number of my favorites here. To see all of the questions already asked, and to keep up with future questions and answers, be sure to hop over to the Johnathan Hillstrand Facebook Page and give ’em a like!

OK, here are the questions (in bold) and answers in no particular order:

Deadliest Catch Time Bandit captain Johnathan Hillstrand

How do they get fresh water on the boat for cooking and showering? Do they have to bring it with them or do they filter sea water?

Some boats have a desalination system, which removes salt from the water. They are very expensive to maintain, and they break a lot. F/V Time Bandit has 5000 gallons of fresh water on board, and does not have a desalination system.

How’s the crabbing boys? I hope all is well! How’s their season going?

Anything that I (Sheryl) know about the boats, the crews and the catch has to be kept quiet until after the shows have aired. When asked, pretty much all I am allowed to say is “they’re fishing”. So, there you go – They’re fishing. 🙂

I was wondering what the circles you see on some boat windows are?

That is called a ‘SPEICH’ it is a spinning window that keeps the glass free of rain, snow or sea water by rotating fast (using centrifugal force to keep clean). Our Captains do not care for them, as a really strong/powerful wave can knock it out of the window and into the guy sitting in the captain’s chair
(F/V Time Bandit does not have one).

Was the bump on the nose of the Time Bandit recently attached? I seem to remember it not being on in earlier seasons. I imagine it helps with the ice.

The ‘Bulbous Bow’ was added to the front of Time Bandit in 2008. It is full of air, and floats, which helps the front of the boat stay up out of the waves; reducing drag, giving a smoother ride and improving fuel efficiency. While the Bulbous Bow is not actually used to break ice, it helps the front of the boat to ride above the ice, which helps lessen chances of the ice damaging the hull.

When you guys pull into port to off-load, how long do you stay and what do you do in that time?

It takes 12-14 hours to unload a full two weeks’ worth of captured King Crab. How long the boat stays around “town” before offload will depend upon how quickly the processor gets around to starting the offload. F/V Time Bandit leaves the town within a couple hours after the offload is complete. What we do around town is generally restock perishable groceries, refill the fresh water tank and top off the fuel tank.

Could you explain “quota” (again I’m sure!)? I believe it is set by Fish & Game – but not sure.

King Crab 2004 and Opilio Crab 2005 were the last seasons run under the old “derby” style – where boats could fish for as many pounds of crab as they could catch, within the unknown time-frame of the crab season. Once the Department of Fish and Game closed the season, the crabbers had to stop fishing (sometimes that was within 30 hours of when the season opened).

The quota style of fishing was implemented with the King Crab 2005 / Opilio Crab 2006 fishing seasons. Before the crab seasons start, the Department of Fish and Game determines how many pounds of each type of crab can be caught (without hurting the future of the fisheries), then divides that number up between the crab boats/captains – based upon percentages of the overall quota the boats/captains earned by their performance back in the derby years. Once each boat knows how many pounds of quota they are allowed to catch, there is some selling/trading of quota pounds between those who still own the quota but are not fishing, and those boats that are fishing the season but want/need more quota.

Can you go over/under your quota?

Most of the boats these days belong to a “Co-Op”. If one boat comes in a little over or under quota, they add or subtract the extra from the Co-Op’s spare quota – then the final boat picks up the remaining quota and makes VERY sure they are not over when they come in. This allows everyone in the Co-Op to avoid any fines if they come in with too many pounds of crab. If a boat does not belong to a Co-Op, and came in with more pounds of crab than their quota allows, they would get fined (and the excess crab would be seized without the boat being paid for it).

I read that the captains have to have a medical when getting there license. Is this mandatory for all crew members too?


I always wondered what is the annual cost of maintenance on the ship and how often do they repaint the ship? And is it boat or ship?

Repair and maintenance costs about one million for the year, provided there are not major repairs needed. The boat is painted once every year, just before King Crab season. F/V Time Bandit is a boat. For more information, you can check out:

What does that fuel bill look like?

Time Bandit has a 22,000 gallon fuel tank – figuring the cost of fuel (diesel) at $4.50 per gallon, it costs approximately $95,000 to $100,000 to fuel her up when she’s empty. Time Bandit burns approximately 30-36 gallons per hour (when steaming). Fuel usually lasts one month, depending on how hard the engines are pushed. The Hillstrands usually top up the fuel tank up every time they go to port (approximately every two weeks).

What happens if a boat breaks down in international waters (or out of US Coast Guard jurisdiction)? Who goes to help/rescue them?

Bering Sea crab boats should not be in international waters – the Alaska crab fishing grounds are in U.S. waters. If a boat wanders into international waters and breaks down, they would be on their own. I do not believe anyone would go to help/rescue them.

What are the superstitions about bananas and matchboxes?

The superstition about bananas started because they used to bring spiders over with bananas. Even though in this day and age the bananas are free from spiders, some guys just hold on to the superstition. We have never heard about a superstition about matchbooks.

Are there any female skippers? And if not, why not?

There used to be a couple female captains. I believe they retired. The factors stopping a woman from becoming a crab captain today are the same factors stopping young men from becoming crab captains today – they would have to come up with crab quota and a boat to fish the quota with. The crab quota is very difficult to get.

Does the crew get to bring some of there own favorite food or snacks, or do they just eat what they get?

The crew can bring anything that they want (that is legal) on board – and they also get their say in what groceries are bought.

Deadliest Catch Time Bandit crew

Does the Time Bandit fish for anything else other than crabs to make extra money?

After King Crab season and Opilio Crab season, F/V Time Bandit currently tenders for Salmon season and Herring season. Captain Johnathan still fishes for Salmon – but not on F/V Time Bandit. F/V Time Bandit used to also fish Cod and Halibut – but no longer does.

How would I go about getting a job? How do I become an addition to the Time Bandits Crew?

F/V Time Bandit is fully staffed and not looking for any new crew. Captain Johnathan’s suggestion for anyone interested in getting into the crab industry is for them to get a job on a crab processing boat. Once there, they would get to know the boat captains. If one of the captains find a need for a new deckhand, they might consider hiring a man who has already proven that they can handle the weather and the hard work environment – someone who is willing to do any job necessary (no matter how disgusting or smelly) without complaint.

Does anybody ever “accidentally” steal another boats pot to make their quota?

No – the buoys are VERY uniquely marked showing which boat they belong to, and the buoys are the first thing that is pulled over the rail. There is no way to make this type of mistake.

How long does it take a pot to get to the surface once it is hooked?

For King Crab season, we usually run two coils of line, and it takes less than 5 minutes to pull aboard. For Opilio Crab season, we run between two and six coils of line – it can take from less than five, to less than fifteen minutes to pull aboard.

How many people are actually on your boat that aren’t appearing on the show? We saw a rescue a few seasons back and there were 47.

At the absolute most we have 5-6 deckhands, 2 Captains, 2 Engineers and 2 cameramen/producers on board (usually we only have around 10). The boat involved in the rescue a few seasons back that had the 47 people on board was actually a processor boat, not a fishing boat.

What happens if a skipper goes over their limit or is unable to meet their quota? Are quotas bought, sold or traded? What happens when you have too much crab when you bring them in to land? Do you get fined or anything like that?

Most of the boats these days belong to a “Co-Op”. If one boat comes in a little over or under quota, they add or subtract the extra from the Co-Op’s spare quota – then the final boat pics up the remaining quota and makes VERY sure they are not over when they come in. This allows everyone in the Co-Op to avoid any fines if they come in with a little too many pounds of crab. To answer your question more simply: Yes, if a boat came in with more pounds of crab than their quota allows, they would get fined (and the excess crab would be seized without the boat being paid for it). However, belonging to Co-Ops allows the boat owners to avoid this. If a skipper is unable to meet their quota, and none of the other boats in the Co-Op is able to pick it up (for a cut of the income), then the boat just doesn’t make the money for that amount of crab. They’re leaving money on the bottom of the ocean. Yes, quotas can be bought, sold and traded between the owners of the quota and the boats/captains who are fishing.

Other than the boats on the show, how many other boats are out there fishing for the same crab? The quota that you are regulated by, does that include those other boats as well?

There are approximately 70 boats total currently fishing crab in the Bering Sea these days. There are usually around six boats that are featured on Deadliest Catch. The total allowable catch for the crab season is split based upon the quota percentages each boat owns.

In between strings or on a soak the greenhorn is usually watching the ship (as seen on the Wizard in past seasons). How long are they up exactly? A few hours / 8 hours after working on deck?

Our Captains generally has the deck working for 20 hours, then calls for a 4 hour sleep period. On other boats, if the Captain calls for a sleep-period he will shut down the deck for 4-6 hours, the Captain will get to sleep for all that time while the crewmembers have to take turns sitting wheel-watch for 60-90 minutes each. F/V Time Bandit usually has an extra Hillstrand available for wheel-watch, so our crew gets to sleep the entire time the Captain does.

I really would like to know how the crabbing was done before all the technology?

Before any technology, Captains had to write down information on paper (where they set the pots down, how many crab was found, etc.). When pulling up to where the captain thought the pot was the crew would have to go to the bow and look for the buoys. Pots were thrown over by hand, pulled up by hand, line was coiled by hand, and the pots were pushed around on the deck by hand.

When Capt. Johnathan and Capt. Andy are both on the boat who gets the captain’s cabin?

The Captain’s cabin actually has two queen-size beds (across the room from each other) – they share the cabin.

What’s the most crab (Opilio, King or Bairdi) that Time Bandit can haul safely?

F/V Time Bandit has three holds: 25,000 lbs capacity in the front hold, 50,000 lbs capacity in the middle hold, and 100,000 lbs capacity in the rear hold. The rear hold is filled first (for stability). (F/V stands for Fishing Vessel).

Is everyone responsible for their own laundry and towels? Do you have a schedule so there is no fighting over the washer? Do you have a washer/dryer on board?

Yes, we have a washer and dryer on the boat. Everyone is responsible for their own laundry. We have never had a fight over the washer.

Does everyone chip in for groceries at the beginning, or is that provided? Is there a menu plan or do you just get basics that you can make several things from? Is there any food you guys just can’t eat?

The boat buys the groceries at the beginning of the season, and then that amount is deducted from the crew shares after the season is over. There is rarely a menu plan, but Neal often thinks of a couple of good meals he wants to cook, and buys groceries accordingly. LOL – the only thing I can think of is that Neal won’t eat hot dogs.

Are you limited on time and what time of day for personal calls so that the airwaves stay clear or is there no time of day restrictions?

The satellite phones have no restriction on days or times that people can make personal calls. We have single side band MHz for the emergency channel, and 2 FHV standard radios.

Do you guys ever grab some crab from below deck and eat them, or do you ever eat crab or the fish you catch? Do they ever eat any of the crab they catch?

Yes, the guys eat a little crab when out fishing.

If F/V Time Bandit has a diesel generator that powers the propulsion (i.e. propellers), is the generator electric or hydraulic? Are the prop shafts then powered by electric or hydraulic motor? Is it unusual when a boat’s main diesel motor is not directly tied to the props?

Our two Cummins QSK-19 diesel engines running 600 HP powers the prop shaft, and the propellers. These are our mains. We have two hydraulic 175kw auxiliaries that run everything else. We have one 40kw generator forward that is for when we go dry at the dock, or for emergencies.

What is the story of the ship’s name?

F/V Time Bandit was custom built by the Hillstrands (John Sr., David, Johnathan, Andy, Michael and Neal). John Sr. came up with the name from the movie ‘Time Bandit’ and because “the sea steals your time”.

What’s up with Mike Fourtner? How is he doing? Is he going to be on the show? What is the reason Mike Fourtner is no longer on the Time Bandit?

On August 9, 2013, Mike’s wife delivered healthy twin girls Emma and Ella. The family is doing great. Mike is enjoying fatherhood and home life so much, that he will not be back crab fishing. Mike has a very successful and fun job working for Cummins Engines now, and in his spare time (ha) he has become a volunteer Firefighter EMT. You can keep track of Mike on his Facebook fan page:

How old is Time Bandit?

F/V Time Bandit was launched in 1991.

What is their cruising speed?

When running between the fishing grounds and the processors, F/V Time Bandit usually cruises at 8-9 knots (except when we have a head-wind pushing us backwards). 😉

How many King Crab can you fit in the holding tanks?

Approximately 27,000 (175,000 lbs.).

How was the skull and crossbones decided on?

The Jolly Roger was added onto Time Bandit in 2007, when the Hillstrands selected their trademark.

How often is the flag changed and do the fly it while they are fishing?

The American flag is changed every time we go to the processor to deliver crab (approximately every two weeks).

How many people, at a time, can use the Time Bandit sauna, after a long shift?

No more than two guys could fit in the sauna at a time. However, after a 20-hour shift, our crew is usually much more interested in grabbing a bite to eat and getting some sleep than sitting in the sauna.

Has Johnathan and Andy ever thought of doing a contest where a certain number of fans get to come aboard the time bandit and maybe go for a little ride? Obviously does not have to be in the Bering Sea but just a little taste of what it’s like to be on the ship? If not a contest then perhaps fans could pay for visit. Can I go for a ride?

For insurance reason no one is allowed on F/V Time Bandit unless they are an employee. We cannot take passengers, and only have enough bunks for our Captains and crew and Deadliest Catch cameramen.

There was one episode last season where Junior and the guys on the Seabrooke had a particularly heavy amount of dead loss. What does the cannery do with the dead loss? Do they deduct that from the boat’s total haul? What do they actually do with the dead crab, as far as disposal of it?

The processors will not accept any dead crab (dead loss). The weight of the dead loss will be deducted from the amount of crab quota the boat is allowed to catch – so the boat loses the income from that amount of crab. After the live crab is removed from the boat, the boat is made to sail out to a specified number of miles from the shore, and then the boat dumps the dead crab overboard.

Where can we buy crab that were caught by these boats? Does the time bandit supply crab to Tracy’s Crab Shack? Why don’t we have those amazing crab over here (Ireland)? Where can I get some real crab legs like the ones on the show?

All Bering Sea crab is sold to processors, and there is no guarantee that the crab coming out of the processor belongs to a single boat. However, our processor sells to a few company’s where it is a good likelihood that some of the crab is from Time Bandit:
o The Crabbroker:
o Coal Point Seafood:
o FishEx:

Do they enjoy eating the crab as much as catching it? Do you get tired of eating it yourself? Do you actually eat crab while on the boat?

Yes, we all love eating crab! No, we never get tired of eating it. Yes, we actually do eat some crab while on the boat – not as much as you think (we are too busy working to have big crab-feeds).

How many pounds of crab legs can you take home for yourself? Does someone have a pot of boiling water ready for you to cook the biggest crabs for yourselves?

We have enough problem keeping crab alive in the tanks until we can get them to the processor. Crab would not make it home alive, and when crab die it begins emitting a toxin. Therefore, any crab we take home has to come from the processor, and they must be paid for.

Do you go out and catch your own fish to bait with?

We have done that in the past, when we the bait available was not good quality (old/dried out). However, the cost of fuel and time to catch our own bait doesn’t usually make it worthwhile. It’s better to buy it when we can.

What do they mean by “red sky at morning, sailor take warning”?

“Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning – Red sky at night, sailor delight”. It´s a saying (that is very accurate). It refers to weather conditions and rough or calm seas. Red sky at morning predicts stormy weather with rough seas later that day.

What is the biggest crab they have ever caught and does it hold a world record for its size?

A king crab weighing 13 lbs was our biggest. That was not a world record – I do not know what the world record is.

When the captains press the buzzer to tell the deckhands to set a pot does that buzzer also mark the pot location on the screen or do the captains have to input their string locations another way?

No, the buzzer does not automatically enter the pot location on the screen, we have to enter each pot position.

How is the boat and crew protected from lightning strikes?

The boat is not protected from lightning, but we rarely ever see any lightning out on the Bering Sea.

What do Captain John and Captain Andy feel are their most important superstitions. Are there things they absolutely must do or not do before or while on a trip?

There are no superstitions that we feel must be done every time before or during a trip. We are not really superstitious, and don’t really want to start something that has to be done every trip. We occasionally do a ‘backward Swedish circle’, and frequently knock on wood – but that’s about it.

Hydro Leaks. Do you ever worry about the oil killing crab? How does it not hurt them, leaking through the deck?

ANDY: Yes, we do worry about hydro leaks. The guys on deck have to constantly watch for them. If a hydro leak is found, we fix it as quickly as possible.

Yes, oil would kill the crab if it got into the tank with them. However, the spacing in the deck boards do not lead directly down into the crab holds. There is a solid plate of steel under the deck boards, and the deck boards rest on top of steel beams that are on top of the steel deck.

The hatches that open into the crab holds have raised lips (they are as high as the wooden decking). Those lips keep pretty much all of the water that may be floating between the deck boards and the steel decking out of the holds. The water under the deck boards drains off over the side of the boat, not into the crab holds.

Also, the crab holds have sea water constantly being pumped into them. That causes the holds to be under pressure, constantly pushing water up out of any deck hatches that happen to be open – which helps ensure that any liquid from on the deck doesn’t drain into the crab holds.

In summation, yes we worry about hydro leaks, but having a hydro leak doesn’t mean instant death to our crab.

A question we’ve received several times is about dead loss, and what the boats have to do to get rid of it.

Some background … When crab are packed into the crab holds on the boats, fresh ocean water is constantly pumped through the holds to keep the crab alive. However, crab can only survive for approximately two weeks in the holds. Once a crab dies, it begins emitting a toxin that spreads through its body that poisons its meat, as well as any other crab around it – which those crab then begin emitting more toxins and it all spreads through the crab holds killing more and more crab (it is a vicious cycle!). Dead crab can not be sold or given away for human consumption.

Captains work very hard to deliver their crab within that two week timeframe, to avoid the crab dying before arriving at the processor. The crab that are dead before the processor unloads the boat is called dead loss.

Unfortunately, sometimes things happen that prevent the boats from delivering on time. Regardless of who causes the delay or changes the schedule, the processors will not accept dead crab. Crab boats only get paid for the pounds of live crab they successfully deliver. The amount of pounds of dead crab are documented and deducted from the total number of pounds (quota) of that species of crab that the boat is allowed to catch for that crab season (that year)

So, going back to the original question of what happens to dead-loss … When the processor unloads the crab holds, the workers will pile the dead crab in totes and on the deck of the boat (if there is more crab than will fit in the totes), while putting the live crab into brailers to send them to the cannery.

When the crab holds are empty and the Captain has received a payment slip for the amount live crab that were successfully delivered, the crab boat will drive out a specified number of miles away from the processor (away from land). The crew will then grind up the dead crab into small (legal size) chunks, and dump the pieces overboard to become food for other sea creatures.

What are the crab season time-frames?

King Crab season generally runs from mid-October thru mid-December … With a couple weeks before dedicated to preparing and stocking the boat. Yes, F/V Time Bandit is in Dutch Harbor right now, getting stocked and ready for the King Crab season! Opilio Crab season generally runs from mid-January thru mid-March … With a couple of weeks before dedicated to preparing and stocking the boat, and an additional week (or more) after the season to cleaning up the boat.

When you guys pull into port to off-load, how long do you stay and what do you do in that time?

It takes 12-14 hours to unload a full two weeks’ worth of captured King Crab. How long the boat stays around “town” before offload will depend upon how quickly the processor gets around to starting the offload. F/V Time Bandit leaves the town within a couple hours after the offload is complete. What we do around town is generally restock perishable groceries, refill the fresh water tank and top off the fuel tank.

How long does it take to get to the fishing grounds once they leave the dock from an offload?

This depends on whether they are fishing for Kings or Opilio, and where they are delivering their offload (a processor boat near Dutch Harbor, or one near St Paul Island). Generally, it takes 6 to 12 hours to get to the King grounds from Dutch Harbor, where it might take 18 to 24 hours to get from St Paul to the King Grounds. Opilio grounds can be a bit closer to St Paul, but much further from Dutch Harbor.

In the early years Deadliest Catch the emphasis was placed on dead loss and making sure you didn’t stay out too long at sea lest the crab die. I haven’t seen a lot of that broadcast in the past years. Is dead loss less of a problem these days or is it just good editing?

The boats who are fishing now have much more experienced crew than back in the earliest days of Deadliest Catch. In addition, the quota system doesn’t necessitate the boats staying out on the grounds longer for fear that the crabbing season might close before they can offload and get back to the grounds (like during the derby days). Dead loss can still be a major issue if the boat doesn’t get to offload when they need to (either because the boat missed their appointment time at the processor and has to wait for a space in the schedule to get a turn at offloading – or because the processor changes their offload appointment time without any input from the boat).

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That’s it — for now. AMAZING right? As I mentioned above, be sure to like Johnathan Hillstrand’s Facebook Page and tune in every Friday for more answers to fan questions. And get more question inspiration by tuning in to new episodes of Deadliest Catch airing Tuesday nights at 10/9c on Discovery!

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