For those of you who have fantasized about sailing in the tropical paradise of the Caribbean waters, but are not sure what is really going on... this page is for you! There's a lot of info on this page, but if you read it through, I think it will clear a few things up.
What are the different types of charters?
Well... it seems a little confusing at first, because there several types of charter businesses that you keep stumbling over as you read your way through the chartering and cruising WEB sites.
Here are the FOUR common, charter arrangements :1. Day sailing or chartering: This is just what it sounds like. It always includes a crew and necessary amenities, depending on the length of the sail. It is usually offered as either a half day or full day sail, and almost always includes snorkeling stops. Commercial outfits that offer this experience may have a relatively small boat accommodating 6-8 people, or a large yacht taking on 50 people. You can often reserve an entire boat for you and your friends, or just join in with an existing, scheduled trip. It can be a pleasant and inexpensive way for folks new to boating to get a sense of whether they like being out on the water. This is a "must" activity for those staying on land for their stay in the BVI. Although this site doesn't deal directly with this kind of arrangement, you can Click here for a list of BVI day sail companies.
2. Crewed charter: This is a big business in the Caribbean, and, in fact, around the world. It is usually a man and woman who often crew their own boat as a business. They usually have extensive sailing experience and impressive licenses and credentials. They act as skipper, mate, cook, tour guide, diving instructor... the whole ball of wax. Some folks charter with people whom they've never met, but often a group of friends will charter the entire yacht and crew just for themselves. This latter scenario is obviously preferable, since there is no risk of sharing a boat with people you don't like. Cost can range from quite inexpensive to very pricey, depending on the size and age of the yacht, the amenities included, and the number of people who are sharing the weekly cost. Generally, the crew is a married couple who are very friendly and accommodating, and the food is a major highlight of the trip. There are hundreds of web sites depicting these businesses, however, as with "bareboat" charters, most are arranged through booking agents.
3. Bareboat chartering : This is probably the most common type of sail boat charter. The term "bareboat" is a bit deceiving, because it implies "minimally appointed." This is far from the case. "Bareboat" simply designates a charterboat that does not include a skipper, crew, or food as part of the basic package. I used to think all the yachts I saw cruising around the Virgin Islands were a bunch of rich people who owned boats, living the life of leisure. In fact, most of the yachts you see are folks like you and me who are merely renting a charter boat for a week. In many instances, there is really just one person in the group of chartering folks who is the experienced sailor. The rest are just helping out.
4. Bareboat charter WITH Skipper: This is an option people often forget. It can be a nice compromise between a Crewed and Bareboat charter, both for cost and independence. For total "non-sailors" as well as people who have sailed, but lack the confidence or experience to go it alone, hiring a skipper can make all the difference. It allows you to call your own shots, yet have the security of an excellent sailor who knows the local waters. There is also the option of hiring an instructional skipper for a small additional charge. Charterers can even arrange to receive certification for ASA (American Sailing Association) courses, Certified Diver training, and more. The good news is that skippers are very affordable, usually about $135 or so per day plus food. Divided by 6 people in your charter group makes this a fairly modest expenditure. Other crew, like cooks, are available for hire as well - although most folks find better ways to spend their food dollars.
There are a few things to remember when considering bareboat charters and add-on-skippers:
(a) The skipper is just a boat captain, not servant crew, or an official tour guide. Although most skippers are very friendly and obliging, they are not paid to perform the services expected on a Crewed Charter.
(b) There is always the issue of where the skipper sleeps. If you have an unused cabin, this is an obvious solution. On nights when you're anchored in a Tortolan cove, the skipper may be able to go home for the night, and come back in the morning. On other islands, alternative accommodations may need to be found. Most people anchor at the end of a sailing day by 3:00 PM when cruising in season, so there is usually plenty of time to decide any variations in night arrangements. Needless to say, this is a discussion to have with your skipper before you negotiate the fee. With charterers who are inexperienced sailors, it is expected that they leave a cabin free where the skipper can sleep.
(c) Also on the subject of sleeping quarters -- make sure that when you select a boat size, the number of available cabins really matches your sleeping arrangements. The number of people in your group has no meaning unless you factor in WHO is sleeping together. For example, 4 large, single men may require 4 cabins, whereas 6 people (as 3 couples) only need 3 cabins.
(d) When comparing costs, make sure you are considering all a` la carte fees and taxes. Some things that are already included in a Crewed Charter may arise as extra charges on a bareboat rental with skipper. Gratuities are the norm for both crewed and skippered bareboat charters, but this will be higher for the former.
Who are all of these charterboat companies?
This is another area that may require clarification. Who are these companies advertising yacht charters? Essentially, there are two services being offered in this industry. There are charterboat booking agents and yacht/charter management companies.
- Booking agents are people who arrange charters for people. A company like this can be an office located anywhere, that knows what boats are available in what location. They will book and arrange the deal for you, and generally require no fee. They are basically the "travel agents" of the charter industry. There is no cost to you when you book through a booking agent. Nor is there any cost incurred by the management company that serves you during your charter. The commission costs are incurred by the owner of the boat. An honest, conscientious agent can often find you the best deals. Agents make money by repeat business, so they should be motivated to find you discounts and make you happy. A $500 savings means a lot to you, but very little to the booking agent's commission, in the long run. The term "broker" is sometimes used in lieu of the title, "booking agent", but this can be confusing because a yacht "brokerage" usually refers to companies selling and purchasing yachts.
- Management companies are typically the people who keep and manage the yacht in a specific location. They are the ones who greet you at your charter destination and support you during your charter experience. In many instances, the management companies have in-house booking agents who book charters for yachts in their own fleets. This is pretty standard, however it goes without saying that they are motivated to book a yacht for you only from their fleet. Many of these management companies are also yacht brokers who would love to sell you a yacht and place in their charter fleet. This is subject would require a web site of its own! Examples are : TMM, Horizon Yacht Charters, Moorings, etc.
For a personal & casual description of what it's like to charter in the BVI,
Please see my "What's it Really Like" page
~ You may be surprised at misconceptions you have about this experience. ~
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