Odd though it may seem, a great many people still appear to get a buzz out of hauling their boats around the world in pursuit of that special summer cruise. I am most certainly not one of them.
For those who trailer their boats, the effort involved can be quite profound. There’s the ferry travel, the road regulations and the necessity for compliance with the maritime laws at your intended destination. There’s also the wear and tear on your rig, the agonies of the long-haul road trip and the often considerable costs of the fuel bill, the launches and the berthing. And if your boat is too large to be trailered, that opens you up a whole new level of costs and logistical difficulties.
In short, the availability of cheap flights and highly sophisticated charter venues makes it far more sensible to leave your boat at home and rent someone else’s instead. It’s much simpler, it can be surprisingly cost-effective and the freedom of access to some of the globe’s most special boating venues is very tough to beat. From the French Riviera to the piratical heartlands of the Caribbean; from the fabled attractions of San Francisco to the tropical islands of Thailand; and from the deep glacial fjords of Norway to the volcanic ice sheets of Patagonia, the cruising potential of the committed charter boater is virtually without limit.
Renting versus chartering
Though an internet search of the well-used phrase ‘yacht charter’ tends to throw up wave after wave of A-list superyachts in exclusive international harbours for celebrities and billionaires, there’s no need to be intimidated by it. It’s little more than a posh way of saying boat rental – but there are some crucial distinctions to bear in mind. Renting tends to involve a small boat that you load up with your own equipment and helm yourself. You use it for a very limited time (usually from an hour to a day) and then hand it back. Chartering meanwhile is a more complex affair involving much larger boats, equipped for extended liveaboard stays and often crewed by professionals. If you are adequately qualified, you can still take charge of your own bareboat charter, but either way, a fully immersive charter experience with a bespoke itinerary of stopovers is plainly far removed from the simple transaction of paying a man to borrow his boat.
The chartering basics
Your first step is to take advantage of the excellent online assets offered by the world’s major charter operators. You can browse destinations, vessels and itineraries, inspect some prices, do a few sums and work out what kinds of destination, boat, season and service are most likely to work for you and the rest of the people in your group.
Once that’s done, you’re ready to give your favoured operator (or broker) a call. You will be asked to list your requirements in great detail, from venues and timings to interests and special requests. You should be as candid as you can, including the ages, tastes and profiles of the people you intend to take, because from cultural tours, sporting events and active pursuits to lazy days ashore or long, undisturbed evenings at anchor, your yacht, destination, meals, activities and cruising itinerary can all be orchestrated to match your ambitions. In fact, you can even tell your broker or operator what kind of crew you favour – because from relaxed and outgoing to slick and formal, a yacht can often be selected to match your preference. And don’t worry. If you favour a particularly hedonistic form of holiday, nobody in the world is more discrete than a professional charter crew.
10 key charter considerations
(1) For overseas charters, it’s generally best to operate through a well-established broker or an operator with an extensive network of bases and a broad and varied fleet.
(2) For charters within the UK you may get better value and a more personal service operating through a smaller company.
(3) As regards your itinerary, be as candid as possible about your needs and take advantage of the company’s advice on local attractions and highlights.
(4) Make sure the company you use is available for help and advice 24 hours a day, throughout the duration of your holiday – and if you opt for a bareboat charter, make sure the permitted cruising range encompasses your ambitions.
(5) Reluctant though you might be to haggle, it’s always worth pushing your broker or operator to get you a better deal.
(6) You can reduce costs by going in low season, but even the largest vessels can be kept in dock by adverse conditions so opt for a place and time when the weather is known to be reliable.
(7) If chartering a large, crewed vessel, it is commonplace to set aside an additional 25% of the price for ‘advanced provisioning’ (the remainder of which will be returned) and 10% for a tip at the end of the holiday.
(8) Inviting friends to share your charter can help minimise costs and give you greater confidence - and if there are lots of you, two smaller charter boats can sometimes save money as well as provide extra fun and versatility.
(9) Don’t forget about the toys. A locker full of personal watercraft, tenders, kayaks and dive equipment can expand your cruising grounds and add a fresh dimension to your recreation (see: Top 10 coolest superyacht toys).
(10) If you want the broadest possible choice, a broker (rather than an operator) is the way to go.
Is it better than ownership?
For those bitten by the bug, the rental and charter of powerboats and yachts can be so easy and so rewarding that full-time boat ownership becomes an unnecessary and gratuitous liability. After all, with the UK boater averaging no more than 50 hours on the water per season and the UK climate providing little in the way of predictable weather windows, there’s a powerful argument for avoiding the fuss, the doubt and the year-round costs of outright ownership and dedicating your annual boating budget to a simple ‘turn-up-and-enjoy’ charter in a destination of your choice.
And in case you think this is an odd point of view, here's Paul Grimes on boats.com posing a similar question: Is there any logic to owning a boat? Or perhaps Lenny Rudow's explanation of the opposite viewpoint might make you see sense: 5 reasons you should own a boat. You can also read about yacht charter in Rupert Holmes' Yacht charter holiday guide.