Boating Lifestyle

The World’s Top Five Charter Boat Destinations

Whether you like motorboating, sailing or fishing, chartering lets you do it from any of the finest cruising grounds in the world. While some of the top destinations are highlighted here, if you want browse others, Cruising World magazine keeps a nicely updated Charter Directory. Beware: You’ll find yourself daydreaming while you decide where to get on the water next.

Caribbean Basin

Of all the charter destinations in the world, the Caribbean is far and away the most popular, attracting more than two-thirds of all charterers. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is the most popular Caribbean region to explore by boat. It’s easy to see why: air connections from the United States are relatively simple; the tropical climate offers steady breezes and moderate temperatures through the winter; divers love the fascinating wrecks; and the fishing can’t be beat. What else? The lush mountainous islands are seldom more than five miles apart from each other, and the beachside bars and local music are legendary. When it comes to service, the world’s top charter companies built their reputations in the BVI. Why aren’t we there right now?

While the BVI are deservedly the most popular, they aren’t the beginning and end of the Caribbean. Further down the chain into the Windward Islands, you’ll find popular charter bases in St. Lucia, which offers such breathtaking natural formations as the Pitons. Closer to sea level, the Tobago Cays offer excellent diving and snorkeling and another good beach bar or two. And 1,500 miles to the west lies another great treasure of Caribbean chartering: Belize. With its world-famous reef, it’s a charter destination divers shouldn’t miss.

Croatia

For most of the second half of the 20th century, the Adriatic Sea’s Croatian coast was locked behind the Iron Curtain. Its opening revealed this boating gem, rich with Venetian and Roman history. The Dalmatian Islands offer secluded scenic views of Kornati National Park, and the city of Split is nothing short of magnificent. It’s a fascinating face of Europe that’s best seen by boat.

Bahamas

For all the mountainous charms of the British Virgin Islands, nothing beats the Bahamas for crystal-clear water. Watch a giant ray float past 20 feet below your keel and you’ll feel like you’re flying. Plus, the Bahamas are easy to reach from the United States.

“We catch the American Airlines flight at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, and by Saturday afternoon we’re on a buoy in our family’s happy spot,” says Tom McCaffrey, who owns a Beneteau 42.3 in The Moorings Abaco fleet.

Pacific Northwest

Parks, islands, inlets, and abundant sea life along the winding coastline of Washington State’s Puget Sound make this region a top domestic charter destination. The San Juan Islands are a particularly popular spot with trawlers and sailboats. Take your pick between bustling downtowns or perfectly secluded coves. June through September are the best months.

Tahiti and French Polynesia

Ever danced the tamure to the ecstatic rhythm and harmony of a dozen Polynesian musicians on a moon-kissed beach with the Southern Cross hanging overhead? No? Well, then it’s time to add Tahiti to your bucket list. With mountains, motus and fringing reefs, the Leeward Islands of French Polynesia truly are all that. After the initial decompression of a long plane ride from anywhere, you’ll find everything in Tahiti is about as perfect as anywhere on Earth. The wide lagoons around Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora offer plenty of protected flat-water sailing, and outside the reefs, the long Pacific swells will give you a taste of ocean sailing at its dreamiest.

Tim Murphy is a Cruising World Editor-at-Large and the coauthor of Fundamentals of Marine Service Technology (American Boat & Yacht Council, 2012).