Yacht chartering for a holiday

DR Howard MBE

President, Yacht Charter Association

Whereas a yacht owner is limited to cruising within a radius dictated by his base and the time available, a charterer literally has the world in his sights. The choice of base is his and he is able to cruise in home waters, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Barrier Reef and all stations west or east.

At one time yachting was the exclusive prerogative of the well heeled or obscenely rich. No longer. If you wish to do your own skippering on a modest yacht (say, up to 40ft), £200 per person per week will give you temporary 'ownership' of a well found sailing or motor vessel. Remember, a medium-sized six-berth yacht will cost about £1,200 whether you fill all the berths or not. This form of 'self-sail' is commonly known as 'bare boat charter'. Bare boat does not necessarily mean that the vessel is ill equipped or badly maintained: however, as with everything in life, you get what you pay for and your choice may range from the floating equivalent of an old banger to a Rolls Royce. The Rolls will cost you more. Cheap charter is generally inferior charter. Travel to the pick up point for the yacht is, of course, extra and may be arranged by yourself or be part of a package.

Skippered charter is another avenue open to customers who either have insufficient knowledge to take charge of a yacht, or who have the knowledge but wish to sample the luxury of being looked after by an experienced Skipper and crew. This type of charter will be more expensive as this service has to be paid for.

Flotilla sailing (most common in the Mediterranean and Caribbean) is another alternative. Generally this system is used by the inexperienced as they are lead around by a 'mother duck' which carries spares and effects minor repairs when necessary. The lead ship is skippered by someone who has intimate knowledge of the cruising area and who looks after the needs of the yachts in the flotilla. Some elementary instruction on boat handling and mooring is given and there is usually a party atmosphere with organised barbecues and beach parties, etc.

Some experienced yachtsmen choose a flotilla holiday so that they may become familiar with a new cruising area. After two or three days they can hive off and continue on bare boat charter. A word of warning is necessary here - a flotilla yacht probably will not carry all the spares and tools, etc, which the lead ship usually carries, and which are necessary to bare boat charter. Hence, if the intention is to hive off from the flotilla the boat must be properly equipped.

Whichever you choose - Bare boat, Skippered or Flotilla - remember that the payment of all consumables (this includes gas and fuel) and harbour dues will be your responsibility unless your charter agreement states otherwise. It has been known for charterers to hire yachts without any written agreement between themselves and the Owner/Operator. Such a charter could be disastrous. A yacht charter is a business transaction and a written agreement must be used.

Everything advertised about yacht charter for holidaying is glossy - from the idea of saving money by not owning one's own vessel, (or by owning and appointing a charter operator to manage it for you so that it provides you with an income), to the attractively coloured brochures which flood the Boat Shows. The gloss will even extend right throughout the holiday if you are careful.

It would be easy, as - be warned - many do, to write an advertising puff to add gentle zephyrs to a back drop of blue seas and cloudless skies. The writer's object is neither to overstate nor be a killjoy - merely to recommend caution in selecting a charter company, if booking direct, or a reputable agent if a disappointing holiday is not to result.

These are the rules to observe if you want both money and person to be safe:

  • charter from a well known company with a good track record - the only way to ascertain this is by recommendation from someone who has had actual hands-on experience of that company's service, or by chartering from a member of a long standing, recognised, association which exists to protect the public and which has carried out the necessary inspections.
  • have a written charter agreement. The YCA produces these and runs an independent complaints' service;
  • request sight of an inventory. The Yacht Charter Association will provide an inventory of what should be on board any vessel from the point of view of safety and comfort;
  • always use a check list and have it signed at your 'take-over' (noting any damage or deficiencies) and 'handover' at the end of your holiday - again making note of any problems so that there can be no incorrect claim for damage or losses which you were not responsible for;
  • make sure that the charter vessel is fully insured for charter and that your deposit monies are 'bonded'. This is a legal requirement if a 'package holiday' is booked. The Yacht Charter Association requires bonding of all its' members for protection of the public whether working packages or not.
  • if the yacht is under British flag and under 24 metres length it must be inspected and certificated by a 'Certificating Authority' appointed by the Marine Safety Agency (Department of Transport) - or possess a Load Line Certificate. These rules applies no matter whether the yacht is based in the UK or abroad.

N.B. If Nos: 5 and 6 are not observed then the vessel's insurance will be invalidated and the customer will be completely at risk. Ask to see evidence of the fact that the vessel is insured and certificated and that your holiday is bonded.

The Yacht Charter Association makes no charge for its assistance: A list of members etc is available from Geoff Collins, of: 11, Bassett Close, Southampton, SO 16 7PE. Specific advice on charter and to those thinking of setting up charter businesses is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Don Howard MBE, (President YCA) Tel: 01425 619004