Everything You Need to Know Before Planning a Yacht Charter Vacation
What if you could sail the world with family and friends on your very own yacht, just like on the Bravo television series Below Deck? You can!
Imagine sailing among the rich and famous on a motor yacht along the French Riviera or discovering the hidden coves and secluded beaches of the Virgin Islands on a sailing catamaran with your own captain and crew taking care of your every need. Boat charters can also mean being your own captain, sailing through the beauty of the Florida Keys or along the River Thames in England with your route subject to your particular whim that day.
Carole Wacaster Borden, president and charter yacht broker for AquaSafaris, Inc., based in Charleston, South Carolina, succinctly explains that "a private charter is all about you!"
Ready to set sail? Here's what you need to know about yacht and boat charters.
How to Charter a Yacht
Unlike cruise ships where you simply pick a stateroom and you're good to go, chartering a yacht requires the help of an expert. A charter yacht broker does the legwork to find your perfect vessel among the thousands that are available worldwide.
"Charter yacht brokers are industry professionals who share a range of vessels with you and are there as your advocate no matter which vessel you prefer," says Borden. "It is our job to gather information from you, such as number of guests, preferred dates of travel, and a host of other preferences, and share with you vessel details including availability and rates," says Borden. "We can also share crew information in an unbiased manner so we are able to book the vessel best for you."
Borden is a past board member and current member of the Charter Yacht Brokers Association, Inc. (CYBA). Both CYBA and the American Yacht Charter Association (AYCA) are good places to find a qualified charter yacht broker.
Missy Johnston, president, owner, and senior charter specialist at Northrop Johnson Luxury Yacht Charters in Newport, Rhode Island and president of AYCA, adds, "By the time the charterer steps foot on board, their food and charter interests have been organized by the charter broker and sent to the captain, chef, and crew. If there are shoreside interests, the charter broker has had these interests organized."
Travelers can also work directly with a company like the Clearwater, Florida-based The Moorings, which classifies itself as a "premier yacht charter provider." It has a fleet of more than 400 yachts available in 20 charter destinations around the world. The Moorings offers both all-inclusive crewed and bareboat ("sail-it-yourself") vessels and by-the-cabin charters. Sister company Sunsail offers bareboat and skippered charters as well as by-the-cabin charters and flotilla vacations (where multiple boats sail together with a set sailing route, social events, and lead crew support.)
Where to Charter a Boat
When planning your charter, you need to decide on where in the world you want to sail first, and then your broker can see what yachts are available for your dates and your specifics, says Borden. She suggests the Virgin Islands as the best location for a first time charterer because of "great calm conditions" and that "you never lose sight of land."
Edita Sgovio, director of yachts for Kensington Yacht, based in Toronto, says "in the Caribbean, the top islands include the Bahamas and Exumas for the shallow, transparent blue waters and marine life including sharks, swimming pigs, and iguanas; St. Martin and St. Barts for the scene and to be 'seen'; [and the] British Virgin Islands for the natural beauty of each Island and great diving sites."
For those seeking to sail the Mediterranean, Debra Blackburn, a charter broker at Fraser based in Fort Lauderdale, says the "Western Mediterranean, including the French Riviera, Corsica, Sardinia, Balearics, Amalfi Coast, and Sicily, is known for shopping, dining, nightlife, views, villages, culture, and nature, while the Eastern Mediterranean — Croatia, Greece, and Turkey — is great for history, unique culture, nature, water sports, and beaches."
In the U.S., New England is one of Kensington's most requested places, "for its history, charming coastal towns, great seafood restaurants, and natural beauty," says Sgovio. She adds that the "big-city feel" of Miami and the Florida Keys' "stunning" coral cay archipelago are also popular close-to-home options.
Deciding Between Crew or Bareboat
Taking a charter with a crew is a very different experience compared to sailing your own yacht. "[A] crewed yacht is the ultimate luxury and a true charter experience," says Sgovio. "Each yacht comes with its own crew (captain, chief stewardess, chef, engineer, mates, deckhands, etc.) all of whom are experts at operating the yacht and arranging proper cruising routing. A bareboat charter comes without the crew and the [guest] is responsible for operating the vessel."
Experience level and qualifications to sail your own bareboat through The Moorings and Sunsail vary by destination. Sunsail also offers an opportunity to hire a skipper and has its own sailing schools. Le Boat, based in Sussex, U.K., has a rental fleet of 1,000 houseboats in the U.K., Europe, and Canada and does not require a boating license for guests. "Not many of our new customers have driven a boat before, but with the help of our knowledgeable staff, guests will find that it's pretty simple and will be able to drive a boat like a pro," says Lisa McLean, the sales and marketing manager of Le Boat.
Amenities and Adventures Await
Whether you're looking for pampering or adventures, yachting is anything you want it to be with many choices in onboard amenities and shore excursions.
"How you spend your time on board is up to you: enjoying Michelin-level cuisine, relaxing in an onboard spa or hot tub and enjoying treatments from an onboard spa therapist, getting active on water toys and onboard gyms, heading out to explore by tender, kayak, or paddle board, diving with onboard dive gear or even by submarine… the possibilities are endless," says Blackburn.
"With regards to activities ashore," says Ian Pedersen, senior marketing manager for The Moorings and Sunsail, "this is the beauty of a charter vacation in that the entirety of your destination is available to you. From snorkeling, to beach going, to touring quaint seaside towns, museums, bars, and restaurants, the world is your playground."