The ABCs of chartering a yacht

Plotting out an on-water holiday for next summer but don’t know where to start? We walk you through the process.

We have all seen photos of sunglassed and bikinied celebrities lounging on sun pads or sipping Champagne in the on-deck hot tub of a large white yacht anchored somewhere in the Mediterranean. That said, we don’t usually see the photos of the same celebrities racing on Jet Skis, burrowing underwater on SeaBobs, snorkelling coral reefs, or stand-up paddle-boarding. Whether they’re making the most of their time on the sea or just sunbathing for Instagram we may never know—but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the ocean adventure of your dreams. There is a charter-yacht holiday that is right for everyone; whether you’re looking for something glamourous, adventurous, wellness-focused, or just plain fun, it’s all within easy reach. It all starts with a yacht charter, and if you’ve never done it, rest assured that it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think. Let us walk you through the need-to-know details of how to charter a yacht. Whether you want to go straight for the best charter yachts on the sea today or something more conservative, we’ve got you covered.

MYBA Charter Show

The MYBA Charter Show in Barcelona. Photo: Courtesy E-nonymous

Choosing Your Charter

The first step is to determine how you would like to contract for a charter: Would you like the help of a reputable charter broker or do you feel more comfortable charging £75,000 and more to your credit card via an app? The charter broker will go over all of your options with you and can steer you toward crews that may be better with families, or know how to throw the best beach bash or costume party, or the chef who specialises in your favourite fare. Brokers are good with the personal touch. You can find a listing of charter brokers and companies that adhere to global guidelines at the MYBA, the yachting industry’s technical and ethics guide, as well as that of the International Yacht Brokers Association.

For those who feel safer behind a screen, several different apps (such as Ahoy Club) and websites (Yotha) have popped up in recent years that allow you to scroll and book your yacht. Just be sure you have contact info for a live human in case anything goes wrong on your charter holiday.

OceanScape Yachts Membership Yacht Charter

Mulder Firefly via OceanScape Yachts. Photo: Kristina Strobel

Similar to aviation charter memberships, OceanScape Yachts offers tiered memberships for chartering the 30 yachts offered by its partners.

Before you can choose a yacht, where would you like to go and when? Are you thinking watersports and snorkelling in the Caribbean or Bahamas, or exploring UNESCO World Heritage sites along Croatia in the Adriatic Sea? Different yachts are based in different locations and usually move throughout the year. The most common migration is the Mediterranean in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter. However, you will also find yachts cruising the waters of Central and South America, Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe, New England—you name it. Antarctica cruising is best between November and April, while New Zealand and Southeast Asia are in season year-round.

men fishing Fiji

Fishing in Fiji. Photo: Kokomo Private Island Fiji

Have a Plan

Part of the destination question is what you’ll be doing. Do you picture yourself doing yoga on a stand-up paddleboard, or water-skiing behind a jet tender, or maybe traveling in a sub to the depths of the ocean looking for signs of life? Most yachts carry the basic water toys and tenders for being towed and simple snorkelling exploration. However, others do carry personal submarines, scuba gear, and inflatable slides. Depending on the destination and time of year, different yachts may offer different amenities. Or maybe you and your fellow travellers are content to relax in the marina at St. Barts or Monaco or Dubai, in which case you’ll need to make sure the yacht offers what you need to, say, entertain a crowd or host a business meeting.

Hung Shing Yeh sandy sea beach with trees on Family Walk trail on sunny day on Lamma Island, Hong Kong; Shutterstock ID 475513441; Notes: Island-hopping in Hong Kong

Hung Shing Yeh beach on Lamma Island, Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock / eWilding

If you want to keep your yacht on the move, exploring each little town along the coast, the yacht’s speed, size, draft depth, and flag will determine how many stops you can make and where. For example, cruising in the Bahamas requires a shallow draft if you want to visit the Out Islands, but plenty of ports have deeper waters. Or if your yacht cruises at 12 knots you may see fewer ports than if it cruises at 24.

And how long do you intend to charter? Do you want two weeks: one week for friends and one week for family? Or will one week on board be perfect? Charter brokers usually list pricing per week.

Icon Legend expedition yacht spa

The spa on expedition yacht Legend, which charters through Camper & Nicholsons. Photo: Christopher Scholey

Once you know when and where you’re headed, how many people will you be traveling with? Most charter yachts are certified to carry 12 guests plus crew. If you plan to vacation with more than that, you will need a PYC- or SOLAS-class yacht, which is licensed for up to 36 passengers. Yachts such as the 254-foot Legend, an expedition vessel that cruises Antarctica, has 18 staterooms for 36 guests plus crew. Many yachts have cabins designed for kids bunking together with either twin beds or actual bunk beds, or they may feature a Pullman bed in addition to the regular berth if you want to sleep three people together. Don’t forget to include in your count any personal assistants, babysitters, or other security guards. Charter brokers can also help you choose a yacht based on the number and type of crew. Some crew members can teach yoga, give massages, and style your hair, while others may make the meanest cocktails on the water right after they teach you how to sail. The level and type of service you are looking for varies with each yacht.

Another question in terms of type of yacht is whether you go sailing yacht or motor yacht? Do you want a quiet, smooth sail with maybe not as much deck space but the quintessential romance of the sea? Or do you want to go fast while sipping a cocktail in your on-deck Jacuzzi? Everyone has something in mind when they picture “yacht.” Does your image have sails or engines? Does it have more intimate spaces or room for all 12 guests to spread out?

Brooklin 91 Sonny III designed by Bruce Johnson

Mobility features. Photo: Billy Black

Related to number of guests and type of yacht are mobility accommodations. Does someone in your party have limited mobility? Is an elevator needed? Or perhaps a stair-climber-type accessory? Yachts such as sailing sloop Sonny III feature all kinds of thoughtful mobility helpers, but not all do. It’s worth looking into before you’re dead-set on a particular yacht.

When to Book

So now you have destination, activities, time of year, length of charter, number of guests, and type of yacht, how far in advance do you need to book? You’ve spoken to your reliable charter broker or swiped and starred any number of yachts; what’s the best window for getting your first choice? Keep in mind that, like any other holiday, chartering over the break, and other events such as the Monaco Grand Prix makes for the high-demand season. If the timing and the yacht are both important, book a year in advance. If you are flexible with both dates and the yacht, most brokers can find a yacht for you.

Dutch superyacht Amels Here Comes the Sun megayacht

Main-deck cinema on board Amels Here Comes the Sun. Photo: Mark Sims Photography

Is There Wireless?

These days, you don’t have to leave your email, Netflix, Facebook, and favourite online gaming behind. If you or your travel partners are inclined to remain plugged in, most yachts feature high-speed Wi-Fi, allowing you to keep in touch as much or as little as you would like.

Privacy

Depending on how high- or low-profile you and your guests like to live, privacy should not be of concern. The entire yachting industry is built on privacy. For example, builders usually don’t share who the owner of a yacht is, nor do the brokers or crew. Oftentimes, yacht builders are required to sign an NDA to ensure privacy of the person commissioning the yacht. This can extend to those chartering as well. Discretion is key to the charter business, but if you are worried about exposure you may have your charter broker sign an NDA as well. The choice is up to you.

Lost Boys charter yacht

Personalise your experience: Be sure to give dietary restrictions and preferences. (Shown: Sunseeker Lost Boys) Photo: Bruno de Marquis

Personalization

Once you have decided which yacht you would like to charter when, your charter broker will ask about all of your group’s preferences, such as special dietary needs, favourite foods, drinks to have on hand, what you like to snack on, and so on. It is also the time to nail down some of the activities you all would like to take part in. Do you want to stop in all the ports for shopping the local artisan goods, sightseeing ore even taking a cooking class? Or would you rather stay in one cove and dive and fish all day? Costume party? Beach party? Wine tasting? Paddle-board race? The choice is completely yours, but you do need to give the crew a heads-up so they know what to be prepared for.

CRN's Cloud 9 superyacht

The beach club on board CRN Cloud 9, which charters through Burgess. Photo: Maurizio Paradisi

Contracts and Cost

The contract is the next step. Most brokers use the Mediterranean Yacht Brokers Association’s (MYBA) or something similar.

All of these choices and decisions lead down to the bottom line: How much does it actually cost? As an example, for the 2018 summer season, the 245-foot CRN Cloud 9 superyacht, with eight cabins (but only legally sleeping 12 guests) and 22 crew chartered in the western Mediterranean for from approximately £857,349 week. The overall price varies with fuel consumption (staying in port or cruising), location (Central America or South of France), the number of people you are travelling with, food and drink, as well as activities. Adding in food and drink; expenses for docking, fuel, and other fees; and tips will tack roughly 30 to 50 percent of the charter rate to your trip. So if you were on Cloud 9 for a week last summer, it most likely cost you between £1,114,554 and £1,286,024 depending on how often the yacht moved, how many bottles of rosé you went through, and what kind of gratuity you left the crew for your incredible stay on board.

Anka Princess Yachts exterior rear

The beach club aboard Princess Yachts Anka. Photo: Courtesy

A smaller superyacht will cost less. For example, the 132-foot Princess Yachts Anka chartered for £128,913 per week in the Mediterranean during high-season summer 2017. In addition to a large water-level beach club and a seven-person on-deck hot tub, Anka features five staterooms for 12 guests, as well as cabins seven crew members. After provisions, day trips, and tip for the crew, the week of charter would cost you £167,587 to £193,369.

Abeking & Rasmussen’s Cloudbreak

Abeking & Rasmussen’s Cloudbreak features a helipad. Photo: Courtesy Christopher Scholey

Heading to Patagonia may bring a different set of fees. The 238-foot Abeking & Rasmussen Cloudbreak spent last winter cruising British Columbia, Patagonia, and Antarctica. This expedition-style yacht is built for adventure—think heli-skiing—and will be traveling to the most remote parts of the world with its owner. The yacht accommodates 12 guests and a 22-member crew and offers up a winter garden, gym, sauna, and a large swimming pool, as well as a flotilla of tenders and toys. For the 2017–2018 winter season, Cloudbreak chartered for around £683,394 per week for its six to seven staterooms. This makes it between £1,118,282 and £1,025,092 with food, drink, fuel, fun, and tip. As you can see, pricing varies quite a bit on size of yacht, number of crew, and the yacht’s location.

Back to the tip, how exactly does one do that on a yacht? I mean, a server doesn’t come to your table and deliver your check, prompting you to pay and tip. Standard procedure is to leave the gratuity with the captain at the end of your stay so he or she may divvy among the various crew members you may or may not have seen, based on their duties. MYBA suggests five to 15 percent as customary. And, of course, whatever you feel is reasonable.

And that’s all there is to it. Ready to climb on board?

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