Moving a boat under its own steam is one of the most common means to move a vessel to another area, whether for a new owner, or to cruise in the different region. Advantages include flexibility, easy logistics and, in many circumstances, lower cost. However, there are also some drawbacks, particularly if the delivery is to take place out of season, if the boat has ageing systems, or if recent maintenance has been skimped.
In addition, it’s inevitable that there will be wear and tear on the boat, the amount of which will vary with the distance and with the weather encountered en route. If the boat’s in good shape and the distance is under 1,000 miles, then on most occasions wear and tear will be minimal. However, there’s no guarantee that heavy weather won’t be encountered and in general boat delivery skippers will tend to press on in stronger conditions than a boat’s owner might do.
Nevertheless, despite the pressure to maintain good daily distances – in order to earn a realistic fee - good boat delivery skippers are adept at minimising problems during the delivery. You can expect them to take a holistic approach, protecting the vessel’s interior as well as keeping an eye out for the first signs of problems developing with either deck gear or sails.
A key plank of this is time spent in advance checking the boat over and getting any problems sorted, which of course needs to be factored into the fee. Even for passages of only a few hundred miles a delivery skipper may spend at least a day on general preparation, including checking all the boat's systems. Before a long voyage you can expect them to take more time checking the boat over and ensuring the extensive safety equipment necessary is on board and has been serviced up to date. A reputable delivery skipper won’t take a boat out if they don’t think it’s seaworthy – given that both the boat and the safety of crew members is their responsibility, you can’t blame them for walking away from a boat they know may not be safe or reliable.
While a good delivery skipper will do their upmost to minimise wear and tear – and will be expert at foreseeing and fixing problems that would leave others stumped – some wear and tear is inevitable, especially during a long delivery. With new boats, all vulnerable areas of joinery and so on are routinely taped up and protected with foam, while protective covers are put over the upholstery to ensure that vessels arrive in as new condition at the end of the every voyage. As a result of this level of preparation, after a 4,000 mile trans-Atlantic passage there are numerous examples of boats that still look as new as when they left the factory a few weeks earlier.
Nevertheless, there’s still potential for things to go wrong. The engine will often be used for much of the distance – if light winds or extensive calms are forecast it’s not unknown for crews to fill half the cockpit with fuel containers so that they can motor for many hundreds of miles without refuelling. It’s therefore worth considering the possibility that, for all but trans-ocean deliveries, the engine won’t be turned off, other than for routine checks, and any implications that has for engine hours and servicing.
Timescales for boat delivery by sea
Out of season, this method of delivery is the one in which it’s hardest to predict timescales – in benign summer weather it might be very quick, but there’s plenty of scope for unseasonal weather to force several successive days in port. As an example, the last delivery I skippered, in the Mediterranean in November, we sailed around half the total distance in following winds of up to 40 knots, while the other half of the trip was non-stop under engine in a lengthy near calm.
Above all, try to avoid the temptation to pressurise the skipper to stick to a schedule in bad weather – to do so risks significant wear or damage to the boat. A responsible skipper will therefore let you know if at any point it becomes likely that they won’t meet the deadline
Delivery skipper costs
Most deliveries are organised through agencies that engage self-employed delivery skippers. These tend to be some of the most experienced sailors you will find anywhere, often having notched up a significant number of miles as crew on deliveries after gaining their Yachtmaster or other professional qualifications. Prices can vary widely, with much depending on the experience of the skipper. Payment tends to be on a per mile basis, although in some cases a per day basis will be quoted.
When comparing total costs with other types of yacht delivery, it’s worth remembering that a long trip carried out to a deadline can find the weaknesses of even the most well found and well maintained vessels, especially if it takes place out of season. This can be a particular problem for new owners of second hand vessels, whose systems may not have been thoroughly tested by inclement conditions at sea in a number of years. Having said that, even new yachts may not have been fully tested to ensure all systems are operating as they should, and in some cases have a minimal inventory of equipment.
The larger the yacht, the more likely the costs will favour this solution, as the delivery will be quicker and the boat more able to withstand inclement weather. On the other hand, smaller and older vessels can be more difficult to deliver by sea, as they may be significantly slower – and less reliable – than a larger and newer boat. At the same time, the compact size of smaller boats may make options such as delivery by road more viable, depending on the distance and route. Equally, for larger vessels delivered over longer distances, delivery by ship can make sense. Read our full guide to boat transport here.