Blueprint for Choosing the Perfect Crewed Yacht

It’s seems like everything is automated these days. It would be highly convenient if the same held true for booking a crewed yacht charter e.g. Click on the button “Book Now”, enter your credit card number, and bingo, it’s booked. Like an airline ticket.

Unfortunately, this will be a tough nut to crack because the devil is in the details and here are some of the obstacles:

  • The cost of a week’s charter is in the thousands of dollars. You want the best boat for that kind of money.
  • Whether they be motor yachts, catamarans or mono-hulls, ocean going vessels deteriorate quickly in the salty marine environment. The owners need to maintain them, paint them, varnish them, replace corroded parts and generally make the boat functional, safe, attractive and comfortable.
  • The captain and crew are VITAL to the success of the charter. The crew can make or break your vacation. Crews change frequently, the glossy brochures do not always reflect this.
  • On the larger yachts, the chef is a vital part of the overall picture. The chef’s experience cooking for large groups, with varied likes and dislikes and allergies, especially under the usually cramped conditions on a boat with finite refrigeration capacity. Chefs must be part cook, part magician and part sailor. Cooking gourmet meals and having food available any time of day on a yacht is a completely different proposition from cooking in a restaurant environment.

Once you understand these basic differences, you can appreciate the incredibly important role that a charter yacht broker (or agent) plays in the booking of a yacht. The broker needs to know the answers to all these questions, beyond the suggested itineraries and the best shore excursions. The brokers need to know each and every boat personally or have access, perhaps via an association such as CYBA or AYCA, to the opinions of trusted colleagues.

Brokers attend charter shows all over the world and in many instances personally know, not only the vessels and their condition but more importantly, the captains and crews or have their references, and most importantly the reviews they have received from previous charters.

Brokers are un-biased, have no financial interest in booking one boat or another, have no axes to grind.

All this pre-amble leads me to the main point of this paper.

The Most Important Person in the Room is the Charter Broker

Rule #1:

Choose your charter broker carefully. He / She is going to be managing one of the most important events of your life—your vacation. Choose a broker who belongs to one of the major charter broker associations. Choose a broker with whom you feel comfortable speaking with frankly. Trust your broker, don’t try to second guess. Its good to ask questions but the broker’s depth of knowledge must be respected.

Rule #2:

Open your soul to the broker. We need to know how many guests there will be. Their ages, their gender, who can sleep with who and who needs a cabin alone. If it’s family, you’ll probably have all this info at the tip of your fingers. If they are friends maybe, you’ll have to ask. The net result if this is that the broker needs to “size” the vessel for you. How many cabins, how many “heads” (bathrooms) will be needed. What budget we are working with, etc. What your group likes to do on vacation, are they outdoorsy? Do they like historic places? Do you like the concept of sailing or do you prefer a motor yacht experience?

Rule #3:

Don’t invite people as guests, especially paying guests, if you don’t know them very well. Unless you are chartering a mega-yacht, a boat can be an awfully small place to spend a week in close quarters with someone who annoys you. Trust me.

Rule #4:

Don’t be too ambitious with your itinerary, don’t try to see too much territory in a week or two. Don’t plan to visit too many places. Here’s the rule of thumb: Have breakfast, sail in the morning, have a late lunch, explore ashore in the afternoon. Have dinner ashore if there are good restaurants or interesting cuisine. If not, have dinner aboard. A “sailing vacation” does not necessarily mean that you should sail 24/7.

Rule #5:

After absorbing the basic information outlined in RULE #2, Your broker will provide you with a short list of vessels and their crews that match or come close to matching the requirements. It would not be uncommon for a broker to provide you with e-brochures for up to 5 vessels at different price-points.

Rule #6:

Ask a lot of questions. Your broker should have answers. Pay special attention to the crew profiles, ask if the crew shown in the brochure will be the crew on your specific charter. Captains and Crews move around and change jobs, just like anyone. Plan on tipping the crew after the charter is finished. 15% of the base charter rate in the Caribbean and 5% to 10% in the Mediterranean is about right.

Rule #7:

Read the charter contract carefully, make sure you understand, up-front, all the relevant legal aspects of your charter. Remember that maritime contracts are subject to international maritime law and not necessarily US law or the laws of the countries you are visiting.

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