Similar to renting a boat for a day or joining a boat club, another great alternative to boat ownership is chartering a boat—whether that's chartering a large motor yacht or sailboat for an extended, island-hopping getaway, or heading out for an offshore adventure on a local fishing charter. Like many other businesses across the country, charters of all kinds have been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, and in response, have shifted their efforts to adapt to this new way of living through safe social distancing.
As the pandemic first unfolded, no charter boats moved in the Mediterranean, Caribbean or South Pacific during March, April and most of May; but now we’re starting to see rays of sunshine break through the clouds once again. Although the situation changes daily and international travel is still a guessing game, here are some updates that may help you plan to get back out on the water if you're interested in chartering a boat.
Where Can I Charter a Boat?
Chances are that most charter destinations (outside of the Caribbean) will open by July and August in some capacity; however, if international travel and flying isn’t something you feel comfortable with in the immediate, the good news is that you do have other options available. Finding and booking a charter that is close to home is a great alternative to chartering a boat overseas.
There are many local charter companies offering domestic travel vacations this summer. For example, local charter bases are opening in the Chesapeake Bay, Southern California and New England regions. For those lucky enough to live nearby or those looking to embark on a road trip, these will be an option as people stay closer to home. Not only is this a great opportunity to support local businesses, but it's also the perfect way to get your boating fix in a safe and responsible way.
Meanwhile, it's likely that European charter companies will see fewer Americans this year. It’s possible for Germans to drive to Greece for a vacation, but most Americans will likely stay on this side of the Atlantic.
Is Now a Good Time to Charter a Boat?
Like most businesses, charter companies have been looking for ways to conserve or enhance cash during this difficult economic time, so although not all are processing refunds, they are offering free re-bookings and maybe sweetening the pot with upgrades to larger or newer boats.
Many companies, including local charter operators, have been offering a wide range of discounts and in some cases, up to 20 percent off early bookings at certain destinations for 2020 and 2021. Some smaller companies are allowing clients to reserve boats with just $200 down, with the ability to postpone charters up to a year in the event that travel isn’t possible due to potential travel restrictions. Likewise, most organizations are waiving change fees and allowing schedules to reach well out into 2021.
As shutdowns ease around the world, charter business leaders are noticing an uptick in demand in the Caribbean and the Bahamas for the Fall 2020 and are encouraging people to set schedules as early as possible. Not only will the companies need to accommodate rebooked traffic, but they’ll also need to service the number of regularly expected customers and vessel inventories are bound to be stretched.
It doesn't come as a surprise to many that Europe is still a question mark. Croatia was the first to open in late May with the government stating that there will be no enforcement of the 14-day quarantine so guests will be able to travel into the country, take possession of the vessel and sightsee as usual. England and France are also opening soon.
International Travel Restrictions
As coronavirus began in March, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) closed as did most other Caribbean isles. The BVI will reopen for travel by residents in June, but tourism will have to wait until September and that looks about the same for Grenada, another charter hotspot. Because September is the height of hurricane season when many charter companies shutter anyway, don’t expect to book a trip for earlier than November 2020.
Meanwhile, the US Virgin Islands (USVI), including St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, are open for business.
European bases, specifically in the Mediterranean, typically ramp up during the shoulder season of April and companies have already felt the squeeze of the closures. The large charter organizations are anxiously awaiting word as each country sets its own opening schedule.
Down in the South Pacific, there’s been no word thus far, but island communities such as Hawaii and Tahiti, which are more vulnerable due to limited health care facilities, have reacted strongly to the pandemic. Some are still enforcing 14-day quarantine laws on arrival or won’t allow visitors at all.
Ready to Plan a Charter?
So, the good news is charters are still happening—particularly locally and domestically. While your dreams of visiting Tahiti may have to wait, you can to still get out on the water with local charter operators and save yourself time and money by skipping long distance travel.
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- Coronavirus & Boat Shopping: What You Should Know
- Find the Right Boat for Your Lifestyle
Editor's Note: Closing and travel restrictions are accurate as last date of publish, June 16, 2020. Please check with local and international agencies for the latest updates on operating status in that region.