How to Charter a Boat
Editor's Note: Thinking about chartering a boat? During the age of coronavirus, boating is one of the best forms of a safe, outdoor recreational activity you can do with close friends and family. But when chartering a boat—whether locally, domestically, or internationally—there are some new factors to keep in mind to ensure a fun, safe experience. Learn more in Chartering a Boat During COVID-19.
Chartering offers an unbeatable chance to explore a new kind of boating and to try out a particular boat on the way to owning your own. Whether you charter with a professional crew or bareboat under your own command, chartering lets you hone your boating skills like nothing else. There are many types of charters, which vary by specific activity, needed experience and cost, including:
- Bareboat Charters
- Crewed Charters
- Cabin Charters
- Yacht Charters
- Fishing Charters
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The most common is the bareboat sailing charter. You work with a charter company to reserve a boat that you’ll provision, navigate, berth and command on your own. This is called bareboat because you will be the captain creating the itinerary, sailing, anchoring and caring for the boat yourself. A level of sailing experience is needed.
Most bareboat charters are done on sailing monohulls or catamarans although more companies are now offering motor yachts in bareboat service. Bareboat charter can be done in popular areas around the world but also in your local waters via sailing or boat clubs that offer everything from daysailers to 25-foot bowriders and pontoon boats.
Bareboat doesn’t mean bare service. Most charter companies will:
- Help you select a vessel for specific dates
- Offer partial or full provisioning
- Provide charts and a briefing to share highlights of local attractions, information on hazards
- Walkthrough a tutorial on the boat’s equipment
There are several global companies that specialize in charters as well as many second and third tier providers. These latter ones may provide good customer service but their boats are typically older or more sparsely equipped but they’re also more cost effective. Online research will help you narrow down which companies offer fleets in which parts of the world.
The pros of bareboat chartering are you pick your specific location and make all the decisions including where you go and how long you stay. The challenges include having to know how to sail, dock and manage a boat and having a level of local knowledge to handle safety issues, language barriers and cultural differences.
If you’d rather leave the driving and the details to someone else, or would like instruction during your vacation, you may wish to find companies that offer crewed charters. On smaller yachts, (say below 60 feet) a crew can consist of a captain only or a captain and a chef. Provisioning may be done for you and will be reflected in the price.
The captain manages the boat and usually takes you to the most popular parts of the cruising grounds. He or she will know the details of what to see, where to eat, and how to sail. They’re the responsible party in case anything breaks or goes wrong so your vacation is more about relaxing rather than working.
The downside of crewed charter is that your captain is on your vessel with you and therefore a part of the group at all times. A professional captain also adds to the charter fee and is usually tipped at the end of the charter for good service.
Charters by the cabin are crewed but instead of renting a whole boat, you pay for a cabin on a boat that is shared with others. The pros include having a knowledgeable captain who provides expertise and safety and may agree to also teach the basics. Cabin charters are also cheaper when you don’t have a group of like-minded friends who want to split the cost of a boat.
The downside of cabin charters includes being on a boat with strangers. This can be a great way to meet people or a long week of putting up with personalities you don’t care for. It also means that the captain will try to appease the majority in where to go and what to do.
Although arguably a 50-foot catamaran may be called a yacht, true yacht charters typically involve luxurious crewed superyachts over 80 feet. These vessels are generally all-inclusive (food, fuel, alcohol, dockage, etc.) and provide a captain, mate, chef and perhaps other crew who are dedicated to running the vessel and serving your specific needs. Expenses are generally paid via an advanced provisioning allowance (APA), which is added to the cost of the vessel.
Superyachts generally stay in one region for a season and then move to new cruising grounds. Costs vary with the size of the boat, number of crew, amenities and location of the yacht and can run from $10,000 to in excess of $300,000 per week.
A fishing charter can be a great afternoon of inshore angling or a serious week of offshore action. The first thing to consider is the type of fishing you want to do—is it bonefishing in the flats, trolling for tuna or deep sea fishing for marlin? The second thing to note is the type of boat and group size. Smaller private boats can take up to six paying passengers and are called Six Packs while party boats can take up to 60 people for a day outing.
Fishing charters should include the cost of the captain and vessel, fuel and dockage. In some cases food and beverages may be added at an extra cost. If the charter is overnight, the boat should provide heads (bathrooms) and berths (beds). Most charters will allow you to keep your catch assuming it’s legal and some will also filet it for you and keep it on ice.
Fishing charter boats vary dramatically in equipment, size and amenities. It’s best to research the company and its captains and boats prior to payment. Catching fish is usually not guaranteed but if the captain works hard to fulfill your expectations, a tip of 15-20% is standard.
In the end, chartering is a cost-effective way to get out on the water and your boating will be all fun and no maintenance.
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