Connoisseur's Guide to Chartering a Yacht
Choosing a charter yacht can be one of the most liberating experiences in travel. Unlike resorts or cruise ships, which come with prepackaged deals and itineraries, charter yachts come in countless shapes and sizes with crews ready to custom design a week or more onboard to your specific taste and desires.
The biggest mistake that most people make when chartering is trying to choose the yacht before anything else. In reality, the best move is first to choose your charter broker—who should know far more than you could ever learn about available charter yacht options around the globe.
Choosing a Charter Broker
Your primary goal when choosing a charter broker should be to ensure that he or she is reputable. There are more than a few tales about scam artists claiming to be brokers and taking your money without ensuring that you actually book a charter. To avoid these scams, you should work only with members of the world's four leading professional organizations for charter brokers. Each group has strict membership requirements and lists its members online for your verification:
- American Yacht Charter Association, www.ayca.net
- CYBA International, www.cyba.net
- Florida Yacht Brokers Association, www.fyba.org
- Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association, www.mybamembers.com
The charter brokers who are members of these organizations all have access to the same inventory of worldwide yachts at the same prices, much as real estate agents all use a central database of properties for rent. Once you have determined that a broker is a member of a proper professional group, you need only to ensure that your personality is a good match for his or hers. Some charter brokers have areas of expertise, be they destinations or types of charter yachts, but for the most part any charter broker can help you book any charter vacation at the same price.
Asking for What You Want
Even the best charter brokers won't be able to help you if you fail to articulate the kind of charter yacht vacation you have in mind. There are no preprinted brochures with lists of cabin prices and exact itineraries. The beauty of yacht charter is that every vacation is customized to your wishes. The inherent challenge in creating such a personalized experience is that you have to ask the charter broker for exactly what you want, so that she can match your desires to the available fleet of yachts around the world.
For instance, you may know that you want a motor yacht or a sailing yacht. Or you may know that you want to travel in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. Those details are a good start, but reputable brokers will ask you about things like your personal interests and habits. If you and your friends are wine connoisseurs, then a broker can match you with a yacht whose chef excels at wine-and-food pairings. Similarly, if you have teenagers who require a lot of activity, then a broker can match you to a yacht with an extensive set of water toys and an energetic crew. Reputable charter brokers can prearrange almost any type of activity or itinerary that you want—as long as you ask about them before booking the actual charter.
The pitfall you want to avoid is being less than honest with your broker at the start; otherwise your yacht may not be as good a match for your needs as it could be.
Putting People First
After your charter broker gets a feel for the type of vacation you would like, she will send you charter yacht brochures or links to look at specific yachts online. This is another point in the charter selection process where a lot of people go wrong. Yes, the yacht itself is important, but the yacht's crew is the more significant element.
Virtually every reputable charter broker in the world will tell you that a decent yacht with an outstanding crew is a better vacation bet than a perfect yacht with a so-so team working onboard. The most expensive charter yacht is not always the best. There are some outstanding teams who provide five-star service onboard mid-priced charter yachts from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, and there are some brand-new yachts that have brand-new crews who haven't yet gelled into a top-notch team.
You want to know two things about the crew: how their previous charters have gone, and why, exactly, the broker believes the crew will be a good fit for your particular family or group of friends. If your broker cannot answer both of these questions, then she is suggesting yachts based on their appearance, not their overall quality. You should demand better, and even work with another broker if you cannot get answers to these basic questions.
Selecting Your Itinerary
With cruise ships itineraries are preplanned. If it's Tuesday during a seven-day cruise, then the boat is going to be in Cozumel. Charter yachts are different. Your itinerary should be general before you step onboard so that you and the yacht's captain can fine-tune it daily depending on what you and your group desires.
For instance, you might choose the popular British Virgin Islands as your charter destination. You likely will embark and disembark from the island of Tortola, but every day in between can involve cruising to multiple islands in the chain. If your family loves to snorkel, then you may spend an extra day at Anegada. If you prefer beach bars, then you might spend additional time on Virgin Gorda. If you enjoy both options, then you might go back and forth between islands.
The point is that you should work with your charter broker to select a general region, not a specific day-to-day itinerary. Being able to adjust your course mid-charter is one of the benefits of this kind of vacation.
Stating Your Preferences
Before your charter begins, you will be asked to fill out a preference sheet. This is a formal document in which you list your likes, dislikes, and desires for both the charter broker and the yacht's crew. Filling out your preference sheet completely is the key to ensuring that you actually receive everything that you have requested.
Most preference sheets start by asking about your tastes in food, and whether there are any people traveling with you who have dietary restrictions due to health issues or lifestyle choices. You can be general, writing things like, "We love fresh fish," or you can be specific and write things like, "We prefer XYZ brand of Chardonnay and would like to have sushi every single afternoon."
Some preference sheets will also ask you about your sleeping habits. This may seem strange, but the answers to the questions will help the yacht's crew prepare for early risers or late-night partiers. As with your initial conversations with your charter broker, your best bet here is to be as honest as possible. The more you say in writing about what you want, the easier it will be for the crew to prepare for your arrival and make your wishes a reality.
Determining the Gratuity
After your charter is complete, you will want to consider leaving a gratuity. Your charter broker can help you determine an appropriate amount based on the service that you receive, but in general, a charter yacht crew typically receives gratuities of 5 to 20 percent on a sliding scale. You should base your percentage on the charter yacht's weekly base rate, not on the total amount you spend including food, fuel, and, dockage fees (which can add 25 percent or more to a published base rate).
If you are planning a high-end charter vacation, some brokers can hold your expected gratuity in an escrow account so that you do not have to carry large sums of cash. The broker will release the funds only at your discretion at the end of your charter vacation.