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#QuickTips - How to Charter a Yacht

By: Captain Bill Jennings

Taking your family or friends for a cruise in your own private yacht can be a wonderful experience. Yet, did you know that only 5.4% of boaters ever consider chartering a bareboat yacht for a holiday? Okay -- I made that number up, but I do know that very few boaters seriously investigate chartering a full-sized yacht -- and they should.

Charter companies will tell you that the two main reasons more boaters don’t charter yachts for a holiday are the perceived costs and the required qualifications. Before addressing these concerns, the more important question is whether a bareboat charter is right for you. If your definition of a holiday is one where people serve you hand and foot, you may not like bareboating. If you like to stay in one location for your holiday, you may not be a bareboating candidate. “Bareboating” is exactly that --- you board a vacant boat with no helpers and drive it to the destination(s) you choose to visit. You plan your own meals and move at your own pace. You can wake up each morning in a different location with new and different things to do, or you can relax on the same beach for a couple of days. For most of us, it is also an exciting opportunity to captain a boat that is larger than what we are accustomed to. Boaters who already own a large boat at home will appreciate enjoying a yachting experience with a change of environment.

Once you decide that a bareboat charter is in your future, here is what you need to know and do. The first step is to select areas of interest. The most popular charters are ones where the weather is good, and the water is easy (you don’t want to charter in the North Sea in November). Your next decision can be the most important one -- who goes with you? People often take their own family, but if you are thinking of going with another couple, use caution. Several days confined in a small space with others can often ignite issues. Openly discuss in advance the expectations of those travelling with you and be clear on what they can and are willing to do to help with boat operations. Talking through all possibilities is well worth the time taken.

Once the area and participants have been decided upon, check out all of the companies that offer charter boats in that area and the choice of yachts listed in their fleet. Ask what protocol they follow in the event of a mechanical breakdown during the charter period. On one charter, we had a starter break on day three. With one call, the company dispatched a boat and mechanic to replace the starter. The entire down time was less than three hours.

The specific boat to choose is one that is large enough to provide sufficient space for the number in your group, but small enough for you to handle. Reviews and ratings can be just as important as prices. Large savings can be found in off season rates and shoulder season can be as much fun as peak season. Prices for one week in an average sized yacht will run about $5,000. Add insurance at $700 another $1,500 for fuel and a projected moorage allowance of $450 and the total cost will be around $7,650, or $1,900 per person. I did not include meals because you will have food expenses anywhere and actual meal costs will vary depending on how much you cook onboard and how many times you eat out at local restaurants.

Boat captain at helm
At the helm on one of my charters in British Columbia / Photo- Bill Jennings

When completing the company application form, list everything you have driven that floats and the years you have boated. Include your local operator certification and any courses you have taken such as Power Squadron or club courses. A VHF marine radio license is easy to acquire and is good to hold. If the only boat you have driven is under 16’, you might want to arrange a lesson in a friend’s 40’ cruiser. But remember, in most countries there is no specific licensing or certification required to bareboat charter, and because they want your business they will prove to be most helpful.

Packing will be simple. Only casual clothing and swimwear is needed, along with a couple of warm jackets and hats. Some boats will have a washer/dryer and if not, they can be found at most marinas. Food provisions should be picked up just prior to boarding. I pack breakfast and easy lunches for the boat, leaving dinners to different types of local restaurants. You can restock your bar almost everywhere.

Ask if you may sleep onboard the night before departing, to make things easier and save time in the morning. It’s sort of a discount that most companies will offer, and it gives them time to evaluate your qualifications. Some companies will schedule a formal briefing and check ride. Others will suggest that you and one of their captains’ boat over to ‘fill the fuel tanks’, which kills two birds with one stone. Either way, I recommend a last-minute fuel fill because there can be significant dollars between where the tanks are truly full and where the fuel gauge reads full.

What if your casual check ride ends when you can’t figure how to untie the boat from the dock? One possibility is they will exercise their right per the contract to supply a captain to join you. The main downside of this is the added cost. You may also be given the option to charter a smaller boat that is easier for you to handle.

Always remember that in many ways a large boat is easier and more comfortable to drive than a small boat. The best tip I can offer is “pay attention and plan ahead”. Now take the wheel and take the plunge.

Bareboat chartering is worthwhile considering as a viable alternative to packaged holidays. You will see and do things that are not possible on other holidays and your experience of driving a custom yacht will make it just that much better.

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