Even expert charterers must find the sheer choice in the yacht charter market a little bewildering, so we feel for the charter newbies who fancy that first holiday afloat but may not know where to start.
Our best advice is to look at potential destinations first, and start from a shortlist of the places you’re keen to visit. From there you can work on the details.
The Caribbean, Croatia… where will you go?
Chartering needn’t be all about the sailing, and everyone has their own perfect compromise between time spent on the water, on the beach, and sight-seeing or other entertainments ashore.
There are thousands of destinations around the globe offering a huge variety of sailing and cultural opportunities, but thankfully plenty of other charterers have ‘been there, done that’. That means there shouldn’t be too many unknowns to trip you up.
To help frame your research, it’s often easiest to think of a ‘big six’ list of typical charter destinations for sailors based in Europe. In alphabetical order that would be the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, Croatia and the Dalmatian Islands in the Adriatic, Greece and especially the Ionian Sea, Turkey, and Thailand around Phuket.
These destinations have become established favourites for good reason. The Caribbean combines trade winds, paradise anchorages and reliable winter sun, while Europe offers spectacular coastlines and all the history and culture you could wish for.
Pick your moment…
If you know when you want to go on holiday, then your chosen season will effectively help to narrow your options.
European charter destinations tend to operate mainly from April to October, but opting for the cheaper extremes of the season – April or October – can leave you exposed to less than desirable weather and temperatures. Saving a few hundred quid takes may not feel so clever if you’re holed up in port with rain drumming on the coachroof. Likewise, high season in the Med – July and August – can be tiresome if you’re not keen on crowds, and are averse to paying peak rates.
In the Caribbean, mid-winter is the sweet spot, and prices tend to tail off rapidly in late spring. July to October is hurricane season, which rather speaks for itself.
Flotilla or bareboat?
There are various types of yacht charter, and less experienced sailors – or those who are particularly sociable – should enjoy the reassurance and party feel of a flotilla holiday. This means you cruise in company with other boats and under the supervision of a professional lead boat, so you’ll always have help on hand when it comes to mooring or if problems arise. You’re stuck to a group itinerary, but good flotilla leaders often allow a bit of leeway for crews who want to race ahead or dawdle.
The other end of the spectrum is bareboat charter, which gives you freedom to cruise in your specified area, but also means you’re out there on your own. Assisted bareboat means you sail with an instructor/skipper for a period before setting off on your own, or you can book a fully crewed charter if you want to focus on sunbathing and cocktails and let others do the hard work.
Which company to choose?
There’s no shortage of yachts for charter, or of companies tempting you with glossy brochures. Giants of the industry include Dream Yacht Charter and Sunsail, but there are many thousands of smaller outfits, some with only a handful of boats – sometimes just one.
While the larger operations provide a level of experience and support that many will find invaluable, smaller outfits can provide a more personal touch.
If you’re chartering for the first time, we’d definitely recommend opting for one of the major names. Dream Yacht Charter is a huge operator with a significant bases in the Caribbean, while Sunsail is very well known for both bareboat and flotilla operations and its sister company The Moorings for bigger more luxurious boats.
There are Med and Greek specialists too, including names like Kiriacoulis and Seafarer both earning strong reputations over the years.
Likely charter costs
As you’d expect in a competitive market, prices tend to be pretty evenly matched whoever you charter with. As a rule of thumb you’ll be looking at between £1,000 and £2,500 for a week in a 37ft yacht in the Med or Ionian, depending on the time of year. Yachts in the Caribbean tend to be a few hundred pounds more expensive on a like-for-like basis, but the travel can be considerably more expensive.
Package deals with flights included can often be the best value, but naturally you’ll be shopping around.
Other factors to consider
The type of boat you want to charter is a pretty basic consideration. Spacious multihulls look fantastic when they’re anchored in the Caribbean, but crowded Med marinas typically charge extra for the space they take up. Equally a catamaran is great for sunbathing, but may not sail as well as a monohull – it’s all down to your individual priorities.
Most yacht charter agreements will have hidden costs that need to be factored in, such as post-charter pump out, and fuel. You should also be prepared to stump up a hefty deposit, which may be needed to cover the cost of damage incurred during your cruise. Make sure you know what sort of insurance cover is in place, before you set off. You’ll also need to check the paperwork requirements of your particular charter supplier.
Taking the plunge…
You can spend hours searching websites, comparing brochures and stitching together the different elements of your charter holiday. It might even save you money to do it that way, but for those of us who are time poor the aggregator websites are a lifesaver.
Boatbookings.com and Latesail.com are online resources that provide access to some pretty good deals, and should definitely be explored. Word of mouth recommendations are invaluable too, which is why we hope you’ll join the new Sailing Today Yacht Charter Group on Facebook – and share your experiences in return!