If this is your first time on a crewed charter boat, you will definitely need some guidelines as to what to expect. And if it is not, this should be useful anyway! This should prevent some surprises in terms of lack of right attire/equipment, (un)appropriate behavior from your party and/or the crew, etc. We have tried to put together all this useful information below, mostly for Caribbean charters. Some of this content applies mostly to boats under 70ft. And remember, the author has been a crewed yacht owner himself for many years, so he knows a thing or two on the subject.
Before Leaving for Your Cruise
Here are some suggestions for typical and efficient packing. (Be sure check our complete run-down of what to pack.)
The "Must's" of Packing
- First and foremost, some yachts (50 to 60ft) simply do not have enough room to accommodate the storage of hard-shell suitcases. Check with the broker or the Charter Company. If they confirm this, your packing cannot be in hard cases, but has to be only in collapsible duffel bags. Very often, charterers do not pay attention to this and they are forced to keep their hard luggage on their beds. Not fun!
- Your passports.
- Tee shirts. Lots of them.
- A couple of sweatshirts (optional) as nights are usually very mild.
- Shorts (jeans or long slack are really not a necessity unless you are intend to visit some restaurants with strict dress code - they are relatively rare in the Caribbean and you can spend a long time there without going to one.) So in general, for your clothing, nothing fancy; it's totally unnecessary, since the Caribbean are very laid back and casual.
- Several bathing suits
- The sun is unforgiving in those regions, so bring:
- Sun-protection lotions (lots of it)
- Sun glasses of good quality
- Beach and/or walking Sandals
- Basic toiletries - shampoo, tooth paste, etc. — all the rest is provided on the boat: soap, towels, tissues, etc.
- Any medication you need (although mostly everything is available over there). If you prone to seasickness, bring the medication that is appropriate for you.
- Music CDs, a Walkman or Discman.
- A disposable under water camera.
- Books / magazines, lots of reading
- Cell phones: If you have to stay connected to the outside world, all crewed yachts carry on-board equipment. But you can bring your own phone and subscribe a temporary phone number with your credit card. (Beware of the rates though). That said, I have noticed that (I have an AT&T iPhone) i am getting the St Thomas or St John AT&T signals farther and farther inside the BVI. That way, I am not roaming.
- If you are bringing the kids, check with the Charter Company if the yacht carries the appropriate sizes in life jackets and snorkeling gear.
Do not pack:
- Any kind of dress — OK, OK one if you insist
- Long slacks
- Any kind of towels
- Snorkeling gear: Not necessary, as all crewed yachts have their own equipment in all sizes.
- Fake nails (they break immediately)
- Fake eyelashes (they fly immediately)
- Extensive make-up: you're in the water most of the time.
Rules for the Chartering Party
What to expect - How to behave
A good crew has a very simple and very complicated job: Do everything they can to make your cruise the absolute best vacation memory of your life. They really do — IF they are good. Therefore, they will cater to all your reasonable requests. Here is a sampling of what to expect.
They will discuss with you the daily itinerary that will suit your wishes, at the beginning of the cruise and every morning according to the weather conditions and your party's mood; they will keep the boat very clean at all times; they will take you to this dream anchorage you've been reading about; they will be at anchor with drinks ready in the "golden hour" just before the sun starts going down; they will set up the windsurf board 3 times a day if necessary; they will cook your meals according to your preferences; they will let you, or teach you how to, steer the boat -under supervision- if you so desire; they will be very discrete — you know, when you feel like being romantic with your wife under the moonlight; they will take you to this great snorkeling spot filled with incredible corals and tropical fish; they will be patient with the kids, teach them how to make knots and tell them great stories; they will pick you up at the beach or at the restaurant with the dinghy; etc.
In one word, they will be very nice - at least they should be. a) Because you are their livelihood and b) because they do not want you to send a poor after-cruise report to the Charter Company or the broker. That would mean trouble for them. Lots of it.
Now, how should you behave? Well, there are two important types of situations where problems can arise.
• Safety: If you request to go to this great anchorage you read about in your magazine, or ask to do anything involving safety, and the Captain says it is presently unsafe, or the sea/weather conditions are not suitable, or whatever, do not insist. He is a professional, you're not, and he is responsible for your safety. So do not push him, because he will to have to change tone and be very firm. If you understand that, you'll be fine. If you don't, you'll have a big problem.
• General Courtesy: I have heard many stories from many crews. One of the situations they dread the most is when guests are discourteous, arrogant, unreasonably messy or dirty, rowdy after drinking too much, etc. You see, some guests view crew members as their servants. Guess what, they're not. They are professional sea(wo)men and hosts who try to do a very difficult job the best they can. At least a vast majority of them. So treat them with respect and friendliness and everything will be fine. The opposite behavior is sure to make for a nightmarish cruise.
Lastly, there are two things you can do.
• It is customary to treat the crew to a dinner ashore at least once during the cruise. You do not have to, but it is a nice thing to do or at least offer.
• Very importantly, if you are satisfied with your cruise, you must give a gratuity to the crew. Not all Charter Company brochures or brokers will mention that. And if this is your first time, you're in for a surprise. So know that the customary gratuity goes from 10% to 15 or even 20% (if you are ecstatic about your cruise) of the cruise total rate. Gratuities represent about 50% of a crew's earnings. Remember that.
Rules of the Board
The first priority for a good, professional Captain is the safety of his guests and of his vessel; therefore, when you step on board, it is usual that he give you a briefing of the do's and don'ts. Just think about the yacht as a luxury guesthouse where the crew are the host/home owners and you'll get the idea.
Here are a few examples (they will vary depending on yacht type —sail or power— yacht size, equipment and Captain)
• Usually, Captains do not allow guests to wear any shoes while on board. Shoes can damage teak decks or leave skid marks everywhere.
• Zero tolerance on drugs and guns. A Captain has the right to terminate the cruise on the spot if you violate this rule. And good luck to get a refund!
• No smoking in cabins
• Follow instructions on head/bathroom operation. Marine gear does not operate like at home!
• Try to save water, even if the boat is equipped with a water-maker. I.e., do not leave tap water flow while brushing your teeth! For the same reason, ladies washing long thick hair are Captains' nightmare, especially if the boat does not have a water-maker. So simply be considerate and save.
• All crewed yachts have a power inverter, so you can plug any electrical device like at home. However, before plugging your big 1500-watt hairdryer, ask the Captain about any power usage precaution.
• Strictly follow the yacht's safety rules if you sail at night and decide to go wander on deck or participate in the night watch cycles.
• Do not use the galley (kitchen) equipment/stove yourself unless you are specifically invited to do so: Chefs/cooks absolutely hate that. Similarly, do not help yourself with food and drinks in the fridge unless the chef/hostess has set up an area where such are available at will.
Always remember and respect what the Captain explains to you, and do not dismiss it as mere hairsplitting annoyances. Those are simple, common sense rules that combine your safety, your comfort and allow the crew to do their work to your entire satisfaction. Very often, I heard crews complain that an hour after the briefing, all instructions are out the window and guests are acting as if they had heard absolutely nothing!
If you want to make the crew purr on right on your arrival, one of the best presents a crew can receive is worthy reading material. So bring them recent newspapers; the Sunday New York Times last edition is very appreciated in the Caribbean, as well as any other magazines relating to general topics, computers, fashion, and boating of course.
As you can see, come to think of it, all of the above is really common sense. So it is relatively easy to follow those simple guidelines. If you do, you will have the time of your life. Guaranteed.